I guess it shouldn't be surprising that The Devil's Carnival showed up in Scottsdale on Easter Sunday. It was a perfect day for the gleeful underground horror/ rock musical freaks and geeks to get dressed up and go out to play while everyone else is decorating eggs and eating jellybeans?
The dark rock musical/experimental short horror film was put together by Repo! The Genetic Opera creators Darren Lynn Bousman (
Saw I, II, III IV) and Terrance Zdunich, and features an impressive array of figures from music, including Five Finger Death Punch frontman Ivan Moody, Clown from Slipknot, Nivek Ogre from Skinny Puppy, and more well-known actors like Paul Sorvino and Bill Moseley.
Upon arriving at the UltraStar Cinema for the premiere (an unlikely place for such a Halloween-inspired, twisted idea), I obtained my tickets from an interesting character dubbed Spooky Dan, who looked exactly like he sounds, but was so friendly you immediately felt as though you were being welcomed into some new, dysfunctional family.
Movie-goers were dressed to the nines, from young guys dressed as actual Devil's Carnival characters to girls dressed as zombie carnies, dominatrices, and, well, strippers -- and the plethora of leather, lace, cleavage, and corsets was promptly presented in a costume contest within the theater prior to screening, hosted by fiery-eyed burlesque ringmaster with long blond curls and a girlish, yet slightly evil giggle. The best costume was chosen by a cheering crowd, and half of the contest participants were covered in perverted balloon animals, compliments of a mime-type, creepily dressed clown walking around before the show, creating figures that would of made most normal carny blush.
The theater was oversold yet extremely giddy and excited, as the majority of the attendees were hardcore fans of these guys' work, clear by the crowd's in unison singing along and word-for-word script readings when a 15-minute Repo! The Genetic Opera behind-the-scenes reel came on.
As a large vintage countdown appeared on the movie screen, the ringmaster led the crowd in chants of "Take...me...to Hell!" causing cheers and screams. Once the film finally began around 9:00 pm, the crowd became surprisingly quiet and enthralled immediately in the opening scenes. But the buzz of excitement among this crowd was electrifying the entire night, and could only be described as fun and playful.
The Devi's Carnival focuses on three individuals who that somehow found their way to a carnival set in Hell: a suicidal, obsessed father, a kleptomaniac woman, and a heartbroken teenager, whose purpose is to repeat the very sins that delivered them to the carnival's doorstep in the first place.
The plot and soundtrack were darkly, enchantingly comedic. It's not so much a scary movie as it is a look at society's underbelly and the concept of Hell.
Hell, Lucifer in the film (played by Zdunich) is almost presented as a relatable character with compassion -- displayed by certain phrases as "Hey! I'm not in the market of killing innocent children. That's God's jurisdiction. I just deal with the guilty people."
After the short film, the packed theater didn't seem to speak or move. The credits completely rolled through and then the two creators stepped up on the mini-stage for a Q&A. While it's clear that influences range from Tales of the Crypt to David Lynch films, these guys should get props for what they are trying to do. They've seen both sides of the entertainment spectrum, from the success of the Saw films that, according to Darren Lynn Bousman would've been created by the production "machine" whether he fucked up while directing or not, to indie films that have only been booked on five screens -- ever.
"I want to make movies that make me feel something ,whether it is good or bad. Most people don't want that. They wanna go to the movies and eat their bucket of popcorn and laugh because they wanna forget about the problems they think they have," Bousman explained. "But we wanna make the anti-Glee."
The Devil's Carnival was shot in a remarkable seven days, an impressive feat for the distinctive and intricate movie set, props and costumes (Lucifer alone took four hours in makeup every day). The budget was scraped together between the creators and a few friends and actors. When it comes down to, the entire carnival experience was about the creators showing the mainstream media that there is an audience for "dark fucking musicals."
And after spending time in the carnival last night, I can attest to the fact that yes, there certainly is.
Last Night: The Devil's Carnival
The Crowd: An excited, surprisingly well-behaved sold-out group of goths, carny-wannabes, underground horror movie buffs, and intrigued admirers of the dark world, ranging in age from late teens to middle-aged.
Personal Bias: I had no idea what to expect, but by the time I left I made a mental note to check out Repo! The Genetic Opera. The film was short, dark and funny, but had a strong tone that led to deeper problems in society, which I liked. These guys are traveling cross-country in a small van (that they dub the "rape" van because it's disgusting and they aren't really getting much play at all) to promote their film with no help from an actual production company.
Overheard: "Terrance! I want to have your abortion!" (Girl in the crowd yelling to one of the creators on stage introducing the film). Terance paused. "Well, see you in the van!"