Synapse Films // R // $19.95 // June 28, 2005
Review by Adam Tyner | posted June 4, 2005
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If I wanted to be halfway clever...and yeah, "halfway" about covers it...I could quip that Bizarre's title is all the review you need. The 1969 British sex anthology, originally released under the title Secrets of Sex, has been unavailable for decades on these shores, but Don May Jr.'s Synapse Films has plucked it out of obscurity and given it a reasonably impressive release on DVD.

Bizarre opens with a naked blonde spinning around the hay (not a euphemism) with two nekkid men, and then a quote from Milton's Paradise Lost splashes across the screen. Okay, so far, so good. The first full segment in the anthology centers around an Arabian judge who discovers that his wife has a large trunk in her bedroom that she refuses to open. A servant suspects that a lover may be hidden inside, so the judge has the trunk buried. Okay, your mind is probably racing -- what's the big reveal? Does some vengeful relative return to bury the judge alive in a big wooden box too? Does the victim claw his way out of the trunk, seeking retribution? Nope! End of the story; cue opening titles.

From there, a mummy starts prattling on about the battle of the sexes he's witnessed over the countless millenia, requesting that the viewer imagine (twenty-two times, is it?) that he's making love to one of the scores of scantily-if-at-all-clad girls and overly-phallic-machine gun-wielding boys that pop up on-screen. A bunch of girls lightly dancing against a black background start stripping, and after being relentlessly pelted with vegetables, the shirtless boys with their machine guns stroll in and mock-attack them. The truly amazing thing...? All of this happens without the counter even having hit the fifteen minute mark. The next story follows a sadistic photographer who's been commissioned to photograph torture, and after she and her assistant enjoy a prolonged lunch of bloody steak and something that looks suspiciously like eyeballs, they return to find their subject with a cleft cock. Another tale focuses on an eldery, impossibly wealthy man in need of an heir, and his working-class scientist fiancee seems ready, willing, and able to bear him a child. Oh, but there's a chance that her child will be horribly deformed, and...yeah, you can see where this is going.

Another story has a beautiful brunette breaking into a married man's house while his wife is away, and upon being discovered, she bathes with him and has an incomprehensibly long sex scene with a hairy male ass taking up an inordinately large amount of the screen. It's all intercut with footage of planes landing, and the voice on the radio kinda-cleverly relates to what's happening on-screen. Oh, and there is something resembling a twist at the end of this one too. Next up is a secret agent romp where two spies watch a faux-vintage Keystone Kops-ish sex comedy, and then the female agent has to knock out the Moranian military attaché and raid his safe, soon discovering why the couple dozen agents preceding her failed to complete this same mission. Next, a contact lens-wearing pet-happy-pet-lover calls up a doughy hooker, and after a flashback where he's toting around a deflated red balloon and looking at putt-putt-grade plaster dinosaurs, he learns that the new love of his life really doesn't like iguanas. The final story is about a woman who traps the souls of her former lovers in flowers, and then she gets strangled to death. One last mock-orgy, intercut with a bunch of fireworks (Peter? Millicent?), and there you go! The end. Roll credits.

See? Several unnecessary paragraphs of rambling summary, and I could've left it at "bizarre". That extended synopsis isn't a total waste, I guess; if you've made it this far in the review, there's a pretty good chance you'll find this disc worth owning. So, is Bizarre really an erotic and horrifying journey into the mind of the undead, as the tagline boasts? Not really. If you gloss over the fact that the movie is narrated by a mummy, the horror elements are pretty light, and only the torture sequence is remotely gruesome. Standards for what deserves the "erotic" stamp have obviously shifted a bit over the past thirty-six years, and if hordes of British boobs still qualify, then I guess Bizarre gets the job done, even if it's softcore enough to snag an R rating. Still, don't get Bizarre because you think it might be sexy. Don't get Bizarre because you think it might be scary. Grab this DVD because the movie's so compellingly, fascinatingly strange. The fact that this movie is so...well, its appeal, and DVD collectors whose shelves are overflowing with similarly off-beat releases from Synapse Films and Something Weird Video should try to clear up some space for Bizarre.

Video: Bizarre is presented in anamorphic widescreen at an aspect ratio of 1.66:1. In keeping with Synapse Films' usually astronomically high standards, this DVD looks spectacular. Some very light speckling is visible throughout, but the flecks are too tiny to be particularly intrusive, and no other notable wear in the source material or authoring hiccups were spotted. There is some very slight variation in quality -- the bookending hay romps look softer and grainier to me than the rest of the movie, and apparently some alternate source material had to be unearthed for the meat of the burglar sex. Those aren't meant to be taken as complaints, though; I'm just being unnecessarily comprehensive. It's sharp. It's colorful. It's detailed. It's all the usual stuff that nets a bunch of stars in DVD reviews. Very nice work.

Audio: The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track (192Kbps) is reasonably robust. No, there aren't any thunderous low-frequency booms or anything, but the dialogue comes through cleanly and clearly enough, and it's not overwhelmed by any of the sound effects or music scattered throughout the film. No complaints. Aside from the commentary track, there are no other audio options, so viewers reliant on subtitles or closed captions may want to take that into consideration.

Supplements: The featured extra is an audio commentary with executive producer Richard Gordon and film scholar-slash-writer Tom Weaver. Neither Gordon nor Weaver were on the set of the movie, but they discuss the environment of independent distribution at the time as well as the talent involved, particularly director and legendary distributor Antony Balch. Bizarre really isn't mentioned until sixteen and a half minutes in, although from there, it remains the dominant topic. Weaver compares the movie to Glen and Glenda, comments on the shortcomings of the script, and notes the somewhat unpleasantness of the women in the movie. He also provides quotes from interviews with Balch, including the intended interpretation of the ending of the Spanish Horse sequence, as well as reading from vintage reviews of the film. There are occasional and somewhat lengthy lulls in the discussion, and it's not screen-specific at all, but I still enjoyed it and would recommend giving it a listen if you have ninety minutes to spare. The commentary is on the "Audio Setup" submenu, incidentally, not "Special Features".

There's also an eleven minute interview with Elliott Stein, who comments on how he got involved with the film, discusses the "strange young man" sequence he both wrote and starred in, and chats about playing the physical presence of a narrating mummy who had to hobble around the streets of Great Britain because the makeup crew wouldn't unwrap him for lunch. Stein also talks about the aborted The Sex Life of Adolph Hitler as well as the shorts starring William S. Burroughs also provided on this disc. Those two short films are Towers Open Fire and The Cut Ups, the former running ten minutes in length and the latter clocking in closer to twenty. I'm not capable enough a writer to describe these deeply experimental films and do them any justice. Towers Open Fire seems to be about civilization coming to a destructive close, and my attention span isn't long enough to sit through the "yes?" "hello?" "good?" "does it seem to be persisting?" of The Cut Ups without wanting to run some hot water and grab a straight razor. I'm sure they're very welcome additions for William S. Burroughs fans, though. The extras are rounded out by a two and a half minute anamorphic widescreen theatrical trailer.

The movie's sixteen chapter stops are listed in the provided insert, along with an excellent set of liner notes penned by Chris Poggiali. The DVD also includes a set of very nicely-designed animated 16x9 menus, as well as some more poster-worthy cover art by Wes Benscoter.

Conclusion: Bizarre's title is truth in advertising, and in all the usual technical respects, this is yet another pretty thoroughly impressive DVD from Synapse Films. It should go without saying that a movie as deserving of its title as Bizarre isn't for everyone, but viewers with a taste for off-beat cinema should unquestionably give this DVD a look. Recommended.

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