As far as true crime stories go, it's got a good hook: it's 1988, and a naked man wearing a dog collar is found wandering the streets of Kansas City. When questioned, the man, Chris Bryson, leads them to the home of Bob Bedella, a serial killer who kidnapped, raped and killed several victims before one managed to escape. The documentary itself has a good hook as well: true crime writer James Ellroy, the author of L.A. Confidential and The Black Dahlia will be the host. Sadly, the end product, Bazaar Bizarre, is hampered by a schizophrenic tone that stems from indecisive waffling between graphic re-enactment footage and solid documentary thrills.
The film opens with Ellroy, coldly talking about the psychology of serial killers and psychopaths. Ellroy's contributions are almost hilariously bombastic, insisting that the viewer have no remorse for Berdella in an almost insistently pulpy way. It's a touch unintentionally funny, but the low-budget, poorly-acted dramatization that kicks in shortly thereafter is less laughable. The initial clip is just weak in conception and execution, in which a bunch of kids in a van play a harmless (not to mention pointless) prank on Berdella, but the second is more indicative of the rest of the movie: an exploitative recreation of Bryson's escape from Berdella's home in which Meade makes sure we get plenty of shots of Bryson's naked form and the blood gratuitously smeared on his ass. Meade even goes so far as to have the actor step over the camera, so the viewer gets the full "upskirt" experience. Later, Meade is nice enough to include graphic, uncensored footage of cucumbers and carrots being anally inserted into various victims, with a realistic clip or two of Berdella sawing off a foot or disemboweling someone for good measure.
At first, the extreme approach seems to have been taken to get a rise out of the audience, as if Meade thinks the only way the viewer will take Berdella's crimes seriously is if he depicts them with the utmost realism. Yet, as the film progresses, Meade's vision begins to snake off in wildly divergent tonal directions. Someone in post-production elected to use a "spooky" dripping font to identify the victims on-screen, which is both unintentionally funny and also gives the already cheap-looking footage the feel of a YouTube video, but it's even more surreal that by the time the credits are rolling, Meade's playing the footage over the sounds of a rock band singing a fairly jaunty, up-tempo song about Berdella.
The graphic nature of the footage becomes another problem when combined with the rest of the film, because the candid, intriguing interviews with many of the real-life players form a perfectly watchable, even interesting telling of Berdella's story. Combined with archive footage of Berdella himself (whose quiet demeanor and complete lack of remorse is much creepier than any of Meade's created footage), the film touches on intriguing topics, like Meade's extensive, detailed notes; whether Meade was killed in prison; and the possibility that he killed more than the six victims he admitted to murdering. It's the kind of stuff that'd be perfect for The Discovery Channel or History, were it not for Meade's insistence on such extreme re-enactments. (On that note, it would also be nice if Meade labeled his re-enactments; although 90% of them are obvious, there's one or two bits that are a bit vague.)
Ultimately, Bazaar Bizarre is a hit-and-miss experience, in need of someone with a firmer hand on the steering wheel. Meade endeavors to make both a candid and even somewhat funny true crime documentary that showcases the unfiltered impressions of those who knew Berdella, and a brutal, realistic "based on a true story" horror movie, but his "have cake and eat it too" approach leaves both twisting in the wind. Having seen the film, the documentary might be the better choice, but even if Meade chose to go full steam ahead on a fictionalized retelling, at least the recreations would be all of a whole rather than overly grotesque, R-rated padding surrounding what would otherwise be a solid half-hour TV special.
Bazaar Bizarre comes with eye-catching, nicely-designed artwork that depicts Berdella's face made out of Polaroid photographs. The back cover is a little cheaper looking, indicative of Troma's usual hand-made quality. The artwork is housed in a nice-looking transparent plastic case, with more polaroids on the inside cover. No insert is included inside the case.
The Video and Audio
Presented in 1.85:1 non-anamorphic widescreen, the picture looks fine. The segments with James Ellroy are clean and colorful, befitting a modern production, while the other footage is intentionally distressed, designed to look like 16mm filmstrips unearthed by the production, perhaps in Berdella's basement. Some of them actually look distressed, some of them look digitally distressed (and therefore less convincing), but n any case, the footage looks good.
Dolby Digital 2.0 audio is surprisingly active for a stereo track, probably because Meade feels the louder and more abrasive the visual and aural design of the film are, the more impactful it will be on the viewer. All things considered, it's a little overzealous, but I've also heard flatter, less interesting 5.1 tracks, so I can't really complain. No subtitles or captions are included.
First up is "Postmortem: A Talk With Cast and Crew" (9:30) is a short chat with Meade, cast members Justin Daniels (Bryson) and Chris Leo (Berdella), director of photography Mike Adams, and composer Bill Gladden, who all seem like pleasant, amusing, well-adjusted fellows. An extra marked deleted scenes (6:50) -- really three deleted scenes, one of Ellroy, one a song, and one interview, plus a bunch of assorted B-roll, including a large chunk of weird greenscreen footage focused on Leo as Berdella -- close the film-specific extras out. A sub-section marked Tromatic Extras leads to four clips: "Vintage Troma" (14:38), "Troma T&A" (2:07), a "PSA" (1:31), and the classic "Radiation March" (0:54), as well as a reel of Tromatic Trailers.
A "35 Years of Reel Independence" spot for Troma plays before the main menu, while the aforementioned "Tromatic Trailers" section contains spots for Grim, There's Nothing Out There, Father's Day, Dark Nature, A Nocturne, and Pep Squad. No trailer for Bazaar Bizarre is included.
Although I found the film more satisfying than fellow DVDTalk critic Ian Jane (you can read his review here), there's no denying that Bazaar Bizarre bites off more than it can chew, and beyond that, it's hard to justify the effort when it comes to Meade's overzealous re-enactments. Worth a rental for true crime nuts....who haven't already heard the story.
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