Horror anthologies are sometimes great, sometimes atrocious, and sometimes a crazy mish-mash of all kinds of unpredictable stuff. The Theatre Bizarre, available now on DVD from Image Entertainment, doesn’t boast the cohesive bleed-over mentality of classic anthologies like Creepshow and Tales From the Darkside, but taken essentially as a collection of horror shorts with a loose, hat-tipping wraparound device (featuring a memorably creepy and surreal onscreen appearance by Udo Kier), it’s a solidly bloodthirsty and creatively bold installment in a perennial tradition, featuring contributions from genre notables like Buddy Giovinazzo, Tom Savini, and Douglas Buck.
Theatre Bizarre boasts a total of six short vignettes, each conceived and shot by a different filmmaker, and tied together less by pronounced thematic consistencies than by their uniform dedication to dreamlike, genre-busting experimentality. Though not every short is stellar, even the ones that don’t live up to their full potential are creatively innovative and interesting to watch. Mother of Toads relies too heavily on practical effects and vague body horror elements without a strong enough mood or story structure to support them, while Vision Stains projects a confusion of social sensitivities that want badly to resonate, but can’t quite articulate themselves fully. Both shorts are brooding and ambitious, but don’t quite hit their respective marks.
Other entries, like Giovinazzo’s harrowing I Love You, and David Gregory’s climactic cannibal opus Sweets, are so deliriously exceptional that they validate the entire project singlehandedly, even without one another’s support. The strongest offering by far is Douglas Buck’s The Accident, a boldly muted and contemplative exploration of a little girl’s first experience with death. The weakest is probably Tom Savini’s Wet Dreams, which features genre goddess Debbie Rochon as a vindictive housewife and contains buckets of provocative gore, but lacks originality despite its reality-bending story structure. Even Savini’s entry is watchable, however, despite its inability to adequately compete with the other films in the set.
Image’s DVD is appropriately pimped out, with a behind-the-scenes reel, a commentary track, and a forty-minute collection of director interviews. Theatre Bizarre is a strong collection overall, and its greatest offerings go far above and beyond the call of duty, while even lesser counterparts remain competent and respectable. Gregory, the producer of Theatre Bizarre, as well as the director of Sweets, reveals in one of the disc’s interview segments that a sequel to the anthology is already in the works, and with such an impressive predecessor, it already deserves to be considered a highly anticipated release.