‘What about the girl in your dreams? The one with the Lovecraftuan vagina? Is she someone you know in your waking life?’
An anthology movie with a nice range of interesting fringe horror directors, who have varying ambitions – it’s consistent overall, though Douglas Buck is playing to a much higher standard than the others, so the placement of his outstanding short here is like finding a John Cheever story in an issue of Tales From the Crypt. In the frame story (directed by Jeremy Kasten, written by Zach Chassler), a woman (Virginia Newcomb) visits the title theatre, where a clay-faced puppet (Udo Kier) cavorts on stage and introduces the stories – as the evening progresses, the puppet becomes more human and the woman turns into a doll (the reveal with her eyes is very good). The stories vary in setting, style and approach, but the majority of them turn on bad relationships – though this isn’t quite a theme anthology about couples being horrid.
The Mother of Toads (directed by Richard Stanley; written by Stanley, Scarlett Amaris and Emiliano Ranzani). A couple (Shane Woodward and Victoria Maurette) in France come across Lovecraftian omens and visit a seeress (Catriona MacColl) who owns a Necronomicon, and turns out to be a gloopy weretoad-woman out to seduce the young man to spawn a new generation.
“I love you” (directed and written by Buddy Giovinazzo). Mo (Suzan Anbeh) tries to leave jealous Axel (André Hennicke), and it ends badly – a break-up scene, followed by a cut-up scene. Well-acted and intense, with a hint of ghostliness at the end, but it feels like an exercise.
Wet Dreams (directed by Tom Savini; written by John Esposito). Another bad couple (Debbie Rochon, James Gil), and a lot of dick-lopped-off jokes – cartoonish with a Creepshow vibe, albeit obsessed with cock-chopping. The man has a fear of castration (Savini plays a shrink), and the woman eventually obliges – as in “I love you”, the wife turns around and fulfils all the horrible fantasies the husband has about her.
The Accident (directed and written by Douglas Buck). A mother (Lena Kleine) talks about death with her daughter (Mélodie Simard), using a road accident – after which a grizzled biker-type (Bruno Decary) mercy-kills a wounded deer – as an example. This is an allusive, subtle, chilling-yet-affecting piece, and is notable in the company of mainly cynical, comic-horrific nastiness for depicting actual love (mother-daughter) in an unusual, convincing way. Amid so much negativity, it’s refreshing.
Vision Stains (directed and written by Karim Hussain). A seeming serial killer (Kaniehtiio Horn) syringes out the memories of women who want to die from the vitreous humours of their eyes and injects it, to relive their lives. A grimy, nasty piece, this has a premise but not enough development. Of all the segments, this feels most like a sketch for a feature – though Hussain’s unremitting junkieworld horror might not be bearable at any greater length.
Sweets (directed and written by David Gregory). A stylised, colourful gross-out charade about overconsumption that looks like a Stephen Sayadian take on La Grande Bouffe/Blow Out, albeit with a rich sauce of black humour (maybe the Monty Python Mr Creosote sketch lurks about in there too). It’s a ritual rather than a story, but offers memorable guignol recipes. With Lynn Lowry as the hostess of the excess party and Lindsay Goranson and Guilford Adams as another couple en route to a terminal break-up in the most flamboyant manner.