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Featuring the talents of THE WIZARD OF GORE‘s Jeremy Kasten,
DUST DEVIL’s Richard Stanley, COMBAT SHOCK’s Buddy Giovinazzo, NIGHT OF THE
LIVING DEAD’s Tom Savini, SISTERS’ Douglas Buck, SUBCONSCIOUS CRUELTY’s Karim
Hussain and PLAGUE TOWN’s David Gregory, I couldn’t wait to see THE THEATRE
BIZARRE…and that evening had finally come. Not that I had particular
expectations, but having heard all about it from friends David Bertrand and
Kier-la Janisse and fellow Montrealers and filmmakers Buck and Hussain
themselves, I was excited to experience the film on my own. People had given me
their personal rankings of the segments, their thoughts on rough cuts and it
all sounded quite marvelous.
Considerably packed, this was the first film of the fest so
far—aside from the opening film, RED STATE maybe—that truly felt like an event.
Half the theater was packed with various filmmakers, actors, producers and
writers that had been involved with THE THEATRE BIZARRE at some point, and when
the cast and crew took the stage at the end for the Q&A, it was quite the
sight. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. (Also, a special thanks to Adam Abouaccar for taking these photos of THE THEATRE BIZARRE's cast and crew after its Fantasia screening.)
THE THEATRE BIZARRE opens with an appropriately Grand
Guignol sequence, introducing Kasten’s wraparound aesthetic, which reminds one
of the filmmaker’s WIZARD OF GORE remake, as well as establishes the film’s
host: a definitely fitting and endearingly creepy Udo Kier (pictured below, right).
Stanley’s “The Mother of Toads” opens the ball and offers a
simple “witch” narrative, which, while being visually accomplished—mostly due
to Hussain’s cinematography and the breathtaking location of the French
Pyrenees—is far from being a standout. Hokey in its dialogue and
characterization, the very TALES OF THE CRYPT-esque segment redeems itself with
its glorious atmosphere, slimy batrachians (some of the most aesthetically
pleasing beasties I can think of) and Lovecraftian elements. Quickly eclipsed
by the other segments, Stanley’s short does feature Catriona MacColl from THE
BEYOND and will nonetheless find its fans.
“I Love You” takes us from France to Germany, as Giovinazzo
revisits the crazed character study of COMBAT SHOCK. André Hennicke stars as a
delightfully unhinged man madly in love with his understandably cheating wife.
Hennicke carries the segment with mesmerizing insanity and Giovinazzo is great
at creating tension and unease, which only builds and builds until the shocking
conclusion. The dialogue sounds false at times, but you get behind the unstable
quality of the whole short and start appreciating the isolated universe it
takes place in.
Next up is Savini’s segment, “Wet Dreams,” which once again
explores marital conflicts, this time via the deep, dark and unforgiving realm
of nightmares. Although it features some gruesome dismemberments (SFX by ToeTag
Pictures, not Savini), a striking case of vagina dentata, a campy performance
by Savini and an interesting Russian doll structure, the segment trips in its
own wires and fails to deliver any sort of interesting progression, momentum or
resolution, aside from the nuggets of shock value that constitute it. United by
the common thread of failed relationships and the monstrous feminine, the first
three shorts strikingly demonize women in their assertion of masculinity,
coming off as borderline misogynistic, yet perfectly in synch with horror’s
legacy of personal male-centric cinematic fantasies.
An interesting organization of the shorts, to say the least,
this very masculine opening trilogy is given the perfect contrast with Buck’s (pictured below, right) sublime “The Accident,” which instantly and completely knocks it out of the
park with its quiet and masterful meditation on mortality, as seen through the
eyes of a child (Lena Kleine), who witnesses a life-changing accident.
Hussain’s cinematography is ethereal and the storytelling device is as
refreshing as it is inventive and beautiful. A much needed breather after the
intensity of the first three films, “The Accident” immediately struck me as a
work of art far above and beyond its contemporaries and remained my favorite up
until the very end.
Hussain’s own segment, which I was anticipating quite
eagerly for its visuals and rumored intensity, starts off beautifully, but
quickly becomes extremely over-reliant on voice-over narration, impeding the
sublimely horrible imagery to speak for itself. Hussain, a great
cinematographer (TERRITORIES, HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN), fills every frame with
enough information to render the superfluous and overbearing narration even
more extraneous. At its core, Hussain’s segment benefits from an excellently
twisted idea that would’ve also been philosophically charged and open to
greater analysis had it not been for the entirely didactic voice-over. The
pacing, performances and skin-curling effects are great, but you know what they
say: show, don’t tell.
Finally, Gregory’s “Sweets” brings the game to a different
level, offering an excellent hint of comedy, before handling an unprecedented
and masterful change in tone and launching the viewer into a universe of
culinary mayhem and food fetishism. Finding its horrific grammar in the act of
eating, “Sweets” transforms known textures into unnatural abominations and
features possibly the two best performances of the whole omnibus, from Lindsay
Goranson and Guilford Adams as a couple on the verge of a deadly break-up.
Culminating the film on a high note, Kasten (l to r: Hussain, Buck and Kasten) closes the curtain of his
wraparound short, letting Simon Boswell’s haunting score resonate.
THE THEATRE BIZARRE is an engaging anthology, with a wide
array of influences and tastes (from Stanley’s knack for the occult to
Hussain’s fascination with street-level atrocities) that should please hardened
horror fans and offer much food for thought, inspiration and stimulation.
Wildly uneven, THE THEATRE BIZARRE, when at its strongest, has a lot to offer,
and luckily, when it’s at its lowest, it’s only for limited screen time.
As a film that came together over the year under Fantasia’s
roof, Saturday night’s screening was a very special event, as an immense family
of friends and colleagues came together to celebrate some of the genre’s most
fascinating creators. Mitch Davis hosted a crowded but successful Q&A—considering the unholy amount of people down there—and I got the opportunity to briefly catch up with my pal
and one-time-teacher Stu “Feedback” Andrews, from Rue Morgue Radio, before a
bunch of friends, Sam Toy (from Empire) and I trekked to the after-party,
thinking we got a good head start.
Held at Blue Sunshine (Kier-la and Dave’s Psychotronic Film Centre, where I spend most of my non-Fantasia
days, interning and learning all sorts of things at the hands of the very best
via the Miskatonic Institute for Horror Studies), which was packed light years
beyond capacity, the event was one of those short-lived, but extremely memorable parties.
I ran out to look for some change, brushing past Savini and Stanley discussing
down the stairs, which only added to the surrealism of the whole night.
Flash-forward four hours later and I’m sitting on a couch with Kier-la and Dave,
reassessing an evening which they worried was going to spin out of control, but
through which I got to congratulate Karim, Buddy and especially Douglas,
introduce myself to Udo, got my friend Adam to grab some glamor shots of
Karim, Doug and Jeremy in Blue Sunshine’s infamous mirror-walled bathroom and
so on and so forth. I finally walked back home at 5:30 in the morning, already
anticipating the rough wake-up. When my alarm clock went off a mere four hours later, I
was reminded of the harsh truth: Fantasia is relentless and this was going to
be my life for the next three weeks. Fair enough, I thought, bring it on! Click here to read part one of Ariel Esteban Cayer's Day 3 at Fantasia.
FANGO AT FANTASIA
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