After the triumphant collaboration on 2008’s REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA, a film hailed by The Hollywood Reporter as “the next Rocky Horror Picture Show”, director Darren Lynn Bousman and writer/actor Terrance Zdunich had no where to go but down—ALL THE WAY DOWN… TO HELL. These showbiz black sheep invite you dive into the ashes with them on their groundbreaking, new musical film fusion event, THE DEVIL’S CARNIVAL. In THE DEVIL’S CARNIVAL, sinners are invited to a theme park where they endure the repetition of their transgressions. What chances do a conniving kleptomaniac, a gullible teenager, and an obsessed father stand when facing their own moral failings? Lucifer and his colorful cast of singing carnies invite you to grab a ticket to THE DEVIL’S CARNIVAL to find out!
One expects certain things from a film titled The Devil’s Carnival. Bizarre carnies, sinister tents, judgments grumpily pronounced by the Prince of Darkness. Darren Lynn Bousman and Terrance Zdunich deliver on all of these points, but their manner of delivery provides some interesting and unexpected twists to what initially seems like a played-out theme.
Pulling from hell’s tried-and-true legacy of contrapasso, Zdunich’s Lucifer has established an afterlife that crafts punishments to fit any given sinner’s primary flaw. A career thief bets her soul in a coin toss for a chance to win a gigantic diamond; a girl with a thing for bad boys is seduced by a smooth-talking, knife-tossing greaser. What gives this underworld its unique flair is the spirit in which these punishments are doled out. Rather than espousing the classic motif of eternal agony just for shits, Lucifer administers each sinner’s fate as a sort of trial, a theme that should come as no surprise to those familiar with Bousman’s filmography. The Great Deceiver wants to know if his latest tenants have learned from the sins that brought about their untimely deaths. Although their ultimate fates are not surprising, the film gives the impression that our sinners could have avoided them by not falling for the obvious traps set before them. The closing number confirms this theme as the Traitorous Angel decides to offer grace for sinners at a lower price than they might find in heaven, here portrayed as the workshop of a doll-maker (Paul Sorvino) who may or may not share family ties with Tony Soprano.
What really sets this film apart, however, is the music. As a general rule, I am not a fan of musicals; I believe the genre is perfectly suited for satire and should only be given a serious tone if death threats are on the table. The Devil’s Carnival is a rare example of the exception to this rule. The songs move effortlessly through the film’s many moods, capturing everything from the energetic insanity of the carnies to the introspective grieving of a father for his son. Zdunich himself only sings one number, modestly taking a back seat to the film’s other talent. Said talent includes Emilie Autumn, Skinny Puppy‘s Ogre, Five-Fingered Death Punch‘s Ivan L. Moody, and Briana Evigan (whose smoky, seductive voice is tragically wasted on the likes of Step Up 2). With solid arrangements and clever lyrics supporting them, these artists supply the Carnival’s heart and soul.
Despite its strengths, the prominent cast also ends up being the film’s largest pitfall. Bousman commented on this very issue during the showing I attended, saying that having over a dozen main characters in an hour-long film cuts screen time for everyone. Characters like Alexa Vega’s Wick and Bill Moseley’s Magician felt tacked-on, a sort of in-joke for fans of Repo! The Genetic Opera. I don’t fault Bousman and Zdunich for giving the larger roles to those who never dwelt in the shadow of GeneCo; they were making a different movie, after all. Still, making posters for the minor characters leads one to think they will have a larger role than they actually do. There’s a reason Star Trek never showed red shirt guys in episode trailers.
My other complaint can and should be taken as a compliment: The Devil’s Carnival ends far too early. Lucifer’s decision to put heaven out of business has scarcely left his lips when the credits begin rolling, eliciting agonized groans from the audience (or maybe that was just me). I want more of this underworld. I want to see how God(father) reacts to Lucifer’s ambition. I want to know how the carnies came to serve the Fallen One. The world Bousman and Zdunich have created intrigues me, but all I can do for now is listen to the soundtrack and hope they receive enough support to continue the story.