Gore for the sake of gore
By Mark Jenkins
Friday, Feb. 3, 2012
Call it "The Twilight Zone" or "The Theatre Bizarre," but there's always a place where scare-seekers can visit to get creeped out. Of course, the horror-show ante has been raised considerably since Rod Serling's tame little 1959-64 television show. Most of the six tales in the seven-director "Theatre Bizarre" include graphic violence and extreme sexuality, both seemingly inspired by terror of women and their desires.
The movie begins in a near-abandoned theater, where an audience of one fascinated, yet appalled, young woman is greeted by the emcee, a decrepit mechanical puppet. Each of the stories is introduced by the automaton, played by the reliably weird Udo Kier. He's German, and much of "The Theatre Bizarre" seems to be set in foreign climes. But the dialogue is in American English, aside from a few words, and the European accents aren't always authentic.
The anthology begins, to its detriment, with one of the weakest episodes. In "The Mother of Toads," an American anthropologist and his naive, bikini-wearing girlfriend stumble upon a section of rural France where old pagan beliefs continue to flourish. Bad things happen to the couple, but then anyone who purchases a pair of pentagram earrings from a witchy woman is sort of asking for it.
"The Mother of Toads" features a female victim as well as a female victimizer, while "I Love You" and "Wet Dreams" unite both roles in a single figure. But the women in the candy-colored "Sweets" and the literally eye-popping "Vision Stains" are outright predators, and the wronged wife in "Wet Dreams" (whose unironic title would be "Bloody Nightmares") takes retribution to diabolical lengths.
It finally turns as gory as any of the episodes, yet "I Love You" is one of the more artful tales; it cleverly uses flashbacks to sustain the mystery as it shifts sympathies between an overly needy husband and his male-ego-annihilating wife. Even subtler is "The Accident," in which a mother tries to explain a random fatality to her earnest young daughter. This chapter, the package's best, fails to deliver a profound moral, but at least it doesn't treat death as a cheap thrill for the peanut gallery.
That's why "The Accident" doesn't really belong in "The Theatre Bizarre," which is most interested in bare breasts, spurting arteries and the sudden intersection of hard objects and soft flesh. These elements may be shocking and even bizarre. But, like a lot of midnight-movie provocations, they soon turn predictable.
Contains violence, sexuality, nudity and profanity.