What do you do when Hollywood tells you to go to hell? Set up a carnival there of course!
Hollywood has truly turned into a heaven-like hierarchy, letting in safe movies and well-knowns, while many aspiring filmmakers who dream of making it up to those pearly gates get close only to be turned away. This journey rings true for Devil’s Carnival director Darren Lynn Bousman, who made it through with the successful Saw franchise, but when he decided to break away with his passion project Repo! The Genetic Opera, the reception was mixed.
“I had such a greater experience making Repo! than I have anything else I’ve done,” said Bousman. “You walk into a soundstage and you’re in another world. It was also great because no one was there for a paycheck, they wanted to be there.”
After Repo!, Hollywood’s heavenly gates seemed to remain shut for Bousman, no matter how many people TESTIFIED! While his films 11:11 and Mother’s Day were handled poorly by the higher-ups, Bousman responded by pursuing a project with Repo! creator Terrance Zdunich for their faithful followers that they didn’t care if they were damned for going forward with –and thus the Devil’s Carnival was born.
“These movies are hard to make,” he said. “You’re fighting an uphill battle, and instead of an army you’ve got a small platoon. I’ve got a handful of people who believe in what we are doing, and that’s basically it.”
So what is the Devil’s Carnival? It’s a ride-like film fusion event.
After years of “bad” ideas Zdunich said he and Bousman tossed around, they finally set upon one.
“We had a discussion about how much we liked dark carnival rides, rides like the Haunted Mansion,” said Zdunich. “It’s just so cool and visually striking. We were thinking what it would be like to create a world within a ride where the ride is the world, and the characters on the ride are not just singing to you, they’re singing at you.”
With a carnival ticket in hand, I was ready to experience this unique film experience when the Devil’s Carnival made a stop in Anaheim. The attendees were fellow devotees of Bousman and Zdunich’s work, with many dressed as carnies, and the enthusiasm of the crowd was palpable. One of the best things about the night was the sense of community in the theater. It wasn’t like when you go to a movie on any ordinary day and sit silently by a stranger; you knew the people there shared the same excitement to embark on the experience Bousman, Zdunich and co. prepared.
As with any grassroots endeavor, there were some technical difficulties getting the show started, but luckily, there were side-show acts to keep us entertained, including a twisted (literally twisted) woman contortionist and two daredevil babes that definitely set off sparks to say the least.
Next, we were treated to behind-the-scenes footage from the making of Repo!, during which the audience sang along to their favorite numbers. Then, the real show began.
The Devil’s Carnival tells the tales of three recently departed souls that find themselves in the playground of hell. Briana Evigan (Sorority Row) plays Ms. Merrywood, a kleptomaniac who might not have learned her lesson. Jessica Lowndes (“90210”) plays Tamara, a girl who keeps falling for the same tricks. Sean-Patrick Flannery (Boondock Saints) plays John, a guilt-ridden man searching for his son. Aiding each character in giving the Devil his due are the carnies, which include familiar faces from the Repo! cast, including Alexa Vega, Nivek Ogre and Bill Moseley.
One unfamiliar face is the unrecognizable grave-robber himself, Terrance Zdunich, who went under a complete transformation to play the Devil.
“The character of Lucifer has always been of interest to me just as a literary character,” he said. “I like the idea of somebody who in essence was exiled just for having the audacity to question authority. I tried to give people a Lucifer that they liked. We all love the bad guy, but to give it a new twist, this Lucifer is a storyteller.”
And a storyteller he was to the enraptured audience. Each character’s journey mirrored an Aesop fable that spoke to the carnival attendees. Personally, Tamara’s tale spoke directly to me, and I found myself falling for the handsome Scorpion’s sting along with every other woman in the audience.
When the show was over, there was a sense of overwhelming support and excitement for the next episode. The screening was followed by a Q&A with Bousman and Zdunich, during which we were informed that if the demand was there, this would only be the beginning of their plans to turn the movie-going experience into a rock show of sorts, with the Devil’s Carnival as an episodic touring adventure. The project has great potential to go against the Hollywood grain if audiences allow, and based on the reaction I witnessed it seems like it will have great success.
“I made this movie because it’s a movie I want to watch, and it speaks to me,” said Bousman. “I wish more filmmakers did that kind of thing –do things that speak to them instead of things expected of them. It’s definitely dangerous to do something like this because it doesn’t fit with them norm of the movie business. Originality is not dead.”
Bousman is waging a war with the gatekeepers of the filmmaking industry, and if the showing at Anaheim is any indication of the army growing, it can be rest assured that pretty soon audiences and filmmakers will no longer be knocking on Hollywood's heavenly doors, but joining the Devil’s Carnival.
To find out more about the Devil's Carnival and CHECK OUT THE ENCORE SHOW on August 17th in Santa Monica, visit thedevilscarnival.com/.
Photos Courtesy of Quintein Vazquez