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Synapse Films presents
Bizarre (1969)

"For a thousand years these eyes have been hidden in the darkness of time. That is, a thousand of your years."
- The Mummy (voice of Valentine Dyall)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: June 16, 2005

Stars: Richard Schulman, Janet Spearman, Dorothy Grumbar, Anthony Rowlands, Norma Eden, Valentine Dyall, Elliott Stein, Sue Bond, Nicola Austin, Maria Frost, Peter Carlisle, Cathy Howard, Mike Britton, Laurelle Streeter, Bob Raymond, Yvonne Quenet, George Herbert, Kenneth Benda
Director: Antony Balch

MPAA Rating: R for (nudity, sexuality)
Run Time: 01h:32m:18s
Release Date: June 28, 2005
UPC: 654930304297
Genre: experimental

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B B+B+B A-

DVD Review

Originally released as Secrets of Sex in 1969, this one-of-a-kind Antony Balch-directed exploitation anthology of completely strange battles of the sexes sports a deep-thinking mummy as a narrator, a quote from Milton's Paradise Lost over the visual of a haystrewn three-way, more bare boobs and softcore loving than you can shake a stick at, and a general undercurrent of major league, superfreaky weirdness. And that's a good thing. To properly explain away the nutty freewheeling sexuality that surges through this film is nearly an impossible task, because it is so completely unusual, making it one of those genuinely unique viewing experiences that the late 1960s exploitation was so very, very full of.

Bizarre begs to be looked at, if nothing else just to bask in its overt sexuality of strange. The really good news is that Synapse has given it a Criterion-worthy treatment, so if you prefer things kinky and somewhat unsavory, then by all means step right up. Balch is all over the map with Bizarre, using the lethargic mummy and his musings as a tether to hold together a slew of unrelated bits of storytelling, some linear, but many just as dementedly experimental, and coming from a director who spent a large amount of time with one of the lord gods of strange (in the person of William S. Burroughs) it shouldn't come as that much of a shock to the system.

The less I harp about the way nearly every one of the stories builds to absolutely no substantial payoff the better, but Balch almost makes up for it in Bizarre by filling the screen with nekkid female lovelies (and yes, there is a fair amount of male full frontal and hairy derrierres to go around too), leaving viewers to endure meandering plots about horny cat burglars who love a good shower or photographers who will string a man up in a torture device and then go out for a vile-looking lunch or the birth of a mutant baby and geeks with lizard fetishes. But usually it's all buildup and no satisfaction, but by that time the next story has started.

With Bizarre, Balch is apparently trying to explore "the endless struggle of the sexes", and I know this in part because the mummy told me so during one of his rambling diatribes. The mummy couldn't explain why there had to be endless scenes of top-heavy girls getting hit with rotten tomatoes, but I guess I can't have everything tied up in neat little bows. Where's the fun in that?

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: One of the few constants in the DVD world are the high quality of the image transfers from Don May at Synapse, no matter how obscure the title. With Bizarre, the 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen has been completely remastered, though there are some minor age-related specking (most evident during the opening/closing nude trio in the hay sequences). Detail is good, colors are consistently bright, and to just sweeten the deal May has used an uncut print that has never before been shown in the U.S.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Audio is provided in a standard issue 2.0 Dolby Digital mono track, and while there are some scenes that contain some audible hiss, overall the sound quality falls within acceptable limits for an experimental late 1960s exploitation anthology.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
2 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Tom Weaver, Richard Gordon
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Call it happy-happy-joy-joy time for the extras on Bizarre, the jewel being a commentary track from executive producer Richard Gordon and film historian Tom Weaver. It's not a screen-specific track, but anything with Weaver is generally a first-rate history lesson, and he pokes and prods Gordon for all sorts of great stories about Balch and the production. Weaver, as usual, has done his homework, and the breadth and scope of info here is excellent.

There is also a Video Interview with Elliot Stein (11m:18s), one of the film's writers, who also starred in one of the stranger segments in Bizarre, about a nerdy guy with a thing for lizards. Stein's piece is worth a listen, and he has remarkably serious and reflective thoughts on Balch and the project as a whole.

The next two segments are for adventurous types, consisting of a pair of Balch-directed William S. Burroughs short films from the early 1960s. Towers Open Fire (10m:25s) and The Cut Ups (19m:09s) tip the scales on strange, but with Burroughs this isn't much of a surprise. These make Bizarre look completely linear, so much that you can almost smell the mind-altering substances coming through your screen.

The disc is cut into 16 chapters.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

Every DVD library needs one of those really odd titles that will make a given collection unique, and Bizarre is it. Synapse has dressed up this release to give genre fans like myself an adrenaline rush, with the history lesson from the terrific Tom Weaver-led commentary a must.

Take a chance. The mummy would never lie.



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