'The Theatre Bizarre': the return of the anthology horror movie
New horror movie anthology The Theatre Bizarre caused something of a ruckus when it screened at a film festival in Oldenburg, Germany, last September. The specific source of said ruckus? A segment called “Vision Stains” in which a young woman uses a hypodermic needle to transfer fluid from the eyeballs of her murder victims to her own ocular apparatus so she can “see” their memories.
“It was the first festival we played that wasn’t a genre festival,” says David Gregory, who produced the film and directed one of the segments, along with Richard Stanley (Hardware), Douglas Buck, and the “Vision Stains” -making Karim Hussein, amongst others. “Doug went to the bathroom and some dude came in, fell, and hit his head on the urinal. Doug ran out to tell everybody that someone was sick. Just as he did, another guy collapsed in the doorway of the auditorium. Both of them were fine but the combination of eyeball and needle just made the gentlemen pass out. They were there with their dates and the girls were like, ‘Whatever. P—ies.’”
On Jan. 27 and 28, it will be the turn of American males to test their manhood when The Theatre Bizarre plays at midnight in New York, Los Angeles, and other selected markets (with more screenings the following weekend). And if they pass that test, the good news is that there should be plenty of other anthologies to check out on the big screen in the near future. In fact, the portmanteau terror flick has become horror’s hot new trend.
Last fall saw the release of the parodic Chillerama, which featured one segment called “The Diary of Anne Frankenstein” and another, “Wadzilla,” about a sperm that grows so large it has sex with the Statue of Liberty. Meanwhile, this year’s Sundance Festival will host the debut of V/H/S, a hush-hush project with one segment directed by much tipped horror auteur Ti West (House of the Devil, the currently available-on-VOD Innkeepers) “It’s a found-footage anthology,” West says of the film. “I don’t want to be like, ‘I can’t talk about it,’ because that’s stupid. But everyone wants to have a united front. I’m looking forward to Sundance to see how it all goes down.”
West has also overseen a segment of the forthcoming The ABC’s of Death, an ambitious, 26-part venture co-produced by the Alamo Drafthouse cinema chain’s film production company. In addition to West’s chapter, the movie will feature short tales directed by Jason Eisener (Hobo With a Shotgun), Xavier Gens (The Divide), Ben Wheatley (Kill List), and actress Angela Bettis (The Woman).
The result is the most significant batch of anthology horror movies since the early ’80s when George A. Romero and Stephen King collaborated on 1982’s Creepshow and, the following year, Dan Aykroyd asked Albert Brooks if he wanted to see something “really scary” in Twilight Zone: The Movie. Adam Green, who produced Chillerama and directed the “Anne Frankenstein” segment, says youthful viewings of those movies played a significant role in the decision to make his own anthology film. “With horror, you see this sort of cyclical thing where, once people start making their own movies, their influences usually go back about 20 years,” he argues. “For me, growing up on Creepshow and Twilight Zone, I love the chance to see an anthology movie.”
Green agrees that another attraction of the anthology movie is the freedom it gives directors to go creatively crazy without the responsibility of carrying a whole movie. “It was definitely for fun,” says the director, who worked on the movie with filmmakers Joe Lynch (Wrong Turn 2), Adam Rifkin (Detroit Rock City), and Tim Sullivan (2001 Maniacs). “At the same time, sometimes I had to put on [my producer’s] hat and be like, ‘I know you want creative freedom, but we’ve got to be able to sell this thing!’”
It turns out an anthology movie is not the easiest thing to persuade distributors and, ultimately, stores to purchase. “Anthologies are sort of a tough sell,” says Green, whose movie is now available on DVD. “Because, for the average customer, it’s hard to know what it is. But we made the movie at such a low price that the moment the first DVD was sold, the movie was making money. And even places like Netflix and Target and Best Buy, they all really stepped up with their initial orders.”
David Gregory says he only discovered that the horror anthology had a bad rep marketplace-wise after he finished The Theatre Bizarre. “I didn’t know this when we were making it,” he laughs. “It seemed to me that it shouldn’t be a problem. When you tell people you’re doing an anthology movie, everybody’s like, ‘I love anthology movies!’ But industry people see it as a collection of shorts rather than a feature film.”
Gregory has nevertheless been encouraged by the reaction he has gotten from festival audiences — encouraged enough to start work on a sequel. “The good side is that it lends itself so easily to sequelization, if that’s a word,” he says. “Because you just pick another six or seven filmmakers and do the same thing. It’s not like you have to bring Michael Myers back to life. You can just do whatever you want! So, yes, I’m reading ideas at the moment from a bunch of filmmakers and trying to find the right fit for the next volume.”
And trying to find something that will make German men faint? “Absolutely.”
You can check out the (at times gruesome) trailers for The Theatre Bizarre, Chillerama, and Ti West’s The Innkeepers below. You can also watch Lee Hardcastle’s short film T Is for Toilet, which won the competition to find the 26th chapter in the ABC’s of Death.