The Theatre Bizarre (2011) Review

Aleshia Howell

Theatre Bizarre PosterIn one of the six short films that make up The Theatre Bizarre, a girl asks, “Mommy, why do we die?”

I don’t know the answer, but if we couldn’t die and we were forced to watch The Theatre Bizarre at gunpoint, we would have no way out. And that would be unfair.

The Theatre Bizarre is awful in practically every respect. It’s rife with awful characters doing awful things for awful reasons. Aside from gore, nudity and an undercurrent of misandry, each story would seem completely disconnected from the next if it weren’t for the root framework, in which a woman visits a mysterious theatre and is herself subjected to the shorts – which is indeed proven to be a fate worse than death.

Where the film becomes interesting, and probably why it has received critical acclaim, is in its inspiration: the Grand Guignol (translation: The Big Puppet), a Parisian theatre that offered audiences naturalistic horror shows until the mid-20th century.

Just like the segmented structure of The Theatre Bizarre, a show at the Grand Guignol would feature five or six plays, usually brutal and bloody, that adhered closely to the theatre’s naturalistic sensibilities. Theatrical naturalism was a novelty in the Guignol’s heyday – it meant that plays were less about fantasy and poetry and aristocratic characters and more about regular people being stabbed with chisels. These shows paved the way for the short horror anthologies we’ve come to know and love, like Creepshow, Tales from the Darkside, The Twilight Zone and Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected.

Unfortunately, though indisputably bizarre, The Theatre Bizarre seems a weak homage to the Guignol’s legacy. The acting is poor; of the six, only four segments really fit the “naturalistic horror” bill – one is supernatural soft core porn, and the other is just plain boring; and, finally…it’s not scary.

Horror is hard. Like comedy, it’s about tension and release; however, while comedy is about truth and pain, horror is about threat and the unknown. In perhaps the best of the shorts, Vision Stains, a trampy woman fascinated with other people’s memories discovers a way to experience them personally – by killing homeless people and extracting their memories from their eyeballs via syringe.

The concept is interesting, but the threat is misplaced. If anything, the woman is a threat to others, except since her victims are all junkies we aren’t compelled to fear for them. It surfaces that her curiosity is a threat to her own safety, but we don’t really care about that either, since it’s illogical. Instead of being afraid, we’re mostly just confused.

Rumor has it that a second installment of Theatre Bizarre is set to shoot later this year, and I say: Bring it. Short film is an ideal medium for horror, and modern audiences are ready for more splattery throwbacks to Edwardian France. However, the new directors better amp up the threat, the tension and the terror if they want to do their inspiration justice. Many of the Grand Guignol’s former patrons are deceased, but I doubt very much that they died of confusion and boredom.

1.5 / 5 stars     


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      1. jayfles April 9, 2013 at 6:48 pm

        You are way too harsh on this movie, the acting left allot to be desired but it was secondary to the plot. Everything occurring within the mise en scene was over the top and theatrical, and the acting had to reflect that. Don’t you see the relationship between the stage and theatrical acting? This movie was fantastic, because it was just a play on gore and violence as a spectacle. people didn’t criticize bad acting during the gladiatorial battles.

        Your doing yourself a disservice by looking for any logic in horror. There is no logic to gore and violence; it is a bloody ballet where the dancers lash machetes at each other for no reason. This film becomes more like a painting or a poem rather than a film. It is experiential and the joy is in having no freedom of logic and no natural story arc. A short horror vignette should be illogical and corrupt the same way that Picassos’ paintings are corrupt and show a completely illogical image. The key to horror is mans natural attraction to the unknown and our fear of it. If Vision Stains had gone into any more detail about the logic or function of her system of memory theft the entire enticing element surrounding it would be hopelessly lost in a sea of convulsion and reason, two things that have no place in horror.

      2. Aleshia Howell April 9, 2013 at 7:13 pm

        Thanks for your reply, jayfles. I just want to clear a couple of things up.

        First, I do understand the difference between stage and cinematic acting (which is what I assume you mean). However, I didn’t find the acting over-the-top as much as I found it wooden and unconvincing. And, at the end of the day, whether the acting is on stage or screen, the acting should inspire some emotion to the audience. (Obviously, there are a few exceptions to the rule, like Guilford Adams in “Sweets.”)

        Second, I think we might have different expectations of horror, just as we might have different expectations of film in general. In order to feel the fear, I need a clear threat and motivations that make sense, even if they are shrouded in mystery. Films that are inherently illogical (i.e., violence and gore for the sake of violence and gore) don’t really do it for me.


        Also, with that said, I would argue that none of the shorts in The Theatre Bizarre are meant to be inherently illogical. For example: I liked Vision Stains, but what I didn’t understand is that she had clearly explained that a person’s memories were withdrawn from their eye fluid, but then she stabbed the pregnant woman in the stomach with the syringe without any method to her madness. Wouldn’t it have to come from the fetus’s eye fluid? Did the fetus even have eyes yet? What made her think that this would work, when she is normally very careful about following a certain procedure? Then, when it does work (inexplicably), she is confronted with the unoriginality of the stories she writes down and it seems to upset her. Why? She says explicitly at the beginning that she is committed to writing down the stories of other women. She already knows that the material she’s writing isn’t original. It’s her organic methods that are unique. And, somehow, the thought that the memories she’s recording are unoriginal drives her to stab out her own eyeballs? I get that it’s supposed to be a statement on addiction, but this train of thought seems silly.

      3. jayfles April 9, 2013 at 8:31 pm

        Thank you for the review, I agree with allot of what you’re saying, but thought I would play devil’s advocate with a few points,
        You are totally right about the acting, it varied a bit, but for the most part it was sort of stern and wooden (I think that a really good word for it). And your right that acting should create emotion, and ill agree that for the most part it didn’t, I suppose had the vignettes themselves had more to do with the concept of theatre it would have made more sense for the acting to be intentionally wooden or over the top.

        It’s also true that although were both horror fans we both may expect/take something totally different from horror films. I suppose I liked this movie a lot because I reject logic when watching horror. The problem with this is that I don’t even require a story or vignette to obey its own rules and this can make for simply a bad story. It has been a few weeks since I originally watched this movie and so reading your problems with the holes in vision stains helped me to pt what you were saying in better context, and you have a really good point, it does seem silly. I think that that particular vignette had some confusion with the entire system of memory theft

        I appreciate you responding, I had a lot of fun reading your review and I like your taste in film, hope I didn’t sound too passionate in my comment, I really favoured your review which is why I felt the need to comment and clarify

        Out of curiosity, are you excited/planning on seeing the sequel?

        • Herner Klenthur April 9, 2013 at 11:21 pm

          Thanks for giving Aleshia some feedback. She is new here but has a great style and I am sure appreciates you taking the time to comment and make her reflect on the review :)

          Aleshia good review

      4. Aleshia Howell April 9, 2013 at 9:23 pm

        Passion is good! I always like a good discussion. I’m always interested in what makes horror work for other people. The genre is very intimate in the way that it affects us all on a very primal level.

        I’ll definitely give the second Theatre Bizarre a whirl — I love the concept and think that everything at least deserves a chance. (Proof: I watched The Human Centipede 2 this week…)

        • jayfles April 9, 2013 at 11:41 pm

          it is a very intimate genre and a fantastic one for it. I love this site and i love the people who review on it, that was the first time i commented and im very happy to have had an aweosme response. i appreciaste what you guys are doing for the horror community

        • Herner Klenthur April 9, 2013 at 11:56 pm

          As owner of this site since day 1 I can assure you that my biggest expectation of writers that they respect the film, even if they hate it, be honest and stand behind their convictions.

          In the same token I encourage them to respond to readers because this site is as much about you Jay as much as it is me and my team. Without you we mean nothing :) Thanks for reading and commenting.

        • jayfles April 10, 2013 at 12:00 am

          thankyou for being the person who is willing to put the time in for all of us. i can honestly say that i adore this website and many of my most cherised movies have been on recomendation from your site, i host free screenings of horror movies for freinds and strangers in my community and i couldent do it without you guys giving me amazing intelectual and cerebral choices. please forgive the gratuitious spelling errors by the way, im typing in a bit of a hurry)

        • Herner Klenthur April 10, 2013 at 12:06 am

          Hah we all have our hobbies this is mine :) Glad to do it and I cant do it without the help of folks like Aleshia

        • jayfles April 10, 2013 at 12:15 am

          of course, im thankful for all the people who put effort towards this site. thanks agai to Aleshia for riting the review, i enjoyed reading and discussing alot

      5. bob101910 April 9, 2013 at 11:30 pm

        Thought it was very boring and not fun at all. Will also watch the sequel, but I’ll be going into it with very low expectations.