Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Review: The Devil’s Carnival

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2018
Images from the Internet

The Devil’s Carnival
Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman
Cleopatra Records / Blah Shank Productions / Empire Film & Entertainment Group / Execution Style Entertainment / MVD Visual
56 minutes, 2012 / 2018 

Don’t let this film’s short runtime fool ya, there is a lot to unpack in this Blu-ray and DVD twin package, including that it’s a horror musical, which I’ll be getting to, but let’s start with the plot proper.

There’s three interlocking tales based on greed/ego, blind trust (via lust is my interpretation) and grief/suicide, mixed with the telling of Aesop’s Fables. That’s the basic premise, but there is just so much going on at the same time. The carnival is the entranceway to hell, and each person coming through is tested to get to the next step, making sure not to break any of the “666 Rules” (a song reminiscent to a twisted version of “Seasons of Love” from Rent; yeah, I went there).

Shot on a set in the open California desert (i.e., outdoors) in the middle of winter (Jan), this plays out more like a garish – err – play than just a movie, though it’s obviously not just a filmed performance. It’s deeper than it looks at first glance. And in that glance there is garish red and green lights, harlequins, clowns, a little person, and a ticket master (as opposed to the actually evil Ticketmaster service) who reminds me of a twisted Fagin (Dayton Callie; he was a regular on both “Deadwood” and “Sons of Anarchy”).

Dayton Callie
One of the stories involves a man named John (Sean Patrick Flanery, who played Indiana Jones on the 1990s television version) who is fitfully depressed, thereby taking the step to end his life. Another is about a woman, Ms. Merrywood (Briana Evigan, the lead from 2008’s Step Up 2: The Streets), who is an unrepentant thief and narcissist, leading her to meet the cops with a weapon, sending her on her way south; the last is a married woman, Tamara (Jessica Lowndes, from the “90210” reboot, and a professional singer/songwriter) who is guilty of having really bad taste in men, such as her abusive husband, who takes matters into his own hands when she won’t obey. All three end up with tickets to the carnival and have to work their way through it. The problem they faced in life is also those they need to work on in the post-living.

Terrance Zdunich, by the writer of the film and its music and plays a very interesting looking Devil, does not take the obvious road when it comes to the songs. Yeah, “666 Rules” is kinda catchy, but most of the music is dense, off-beat and dissonant, and sometimes lyrically hard to make out; thankfully there are captions.

Jessica Lowndes
Everyone in the film seems to be having fun doing it, and there are some “names” in the cast, such as Alexa PenaVega (from the Spy Kid series), musician Emilie Autumn, and Bill Moseley (from House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects). The film is definitely dark in tone – though not overwhelmingly so – but that’s not surprising considering Darren Lynn Bousman also directed the likes of Saw II through Saw IV.

Not only are the songs odd, but so is the whole production, and again, that’s meant complimentary. For example, rather than filling out the film to the usual 90 minutes, Bousman kept it where it was supposed to be, even if it fell to under an hour. I wish more filmmakers could figure out that shorter may work better than a forcefully filled-out longer release.

This is a smart and brave film. It goes in a direction that one usually would imagine any piece of cinema with money behind it doing (this cost under $200K) but not only does it work, but it obviously was geared for the cult audience that followed Bousman and Zdunich with their earlier film, Repo: The Genetic Opera (2008). They took a live version of that show on the road, and it was quite successful with people dressing like the characters. They did the same with this film, with equal success. What it made me think of in style (though not spiritually the same) is the cult and extremely hard to find (but worth it) Dr. Caligari (1989).
Alexa PenaVega
Being a Blu-ray and DVD combo, you just know there are going to be hours and hours of extras. For example there are three full commentaries. The first is with Bousman and Zdunich and is worth the listen to hear about the background behind not only the actual filming, but all the stuff that went on around it from creation and on. The second is with Evigan, Autumn, and a very loud Flanery. For this one, egos reign, so everyone talks at the same time and it’s hard to get much out of it, other than Flanery’s mind is in his pants. I couldn’t make it through this one, giving up pretty early on at 10 minutes. The third and final one is a Repo reunion, with Bousman, Zdunich, Paul Sorvino, Moseley, ohGr (aka Ogre; also a musician, who was in Skinny Puppy), and PenaVega. It’s a bit noisy and chaotic with that many people at once, usually a mistake in my opinion, because with the exception of Sorvino and PenaVega who have distinctive voices, it’s hard to tell who is talking, and again, lots of overlap.

The next extras section is the documentaries. First up is the 49:41 “The Devil Made Me Do It: The Making of The Devil’s Carnival.” It’s mostly interesting interviews with cast and crew, with some footage from the film and even more behind the scenes shots. While it could easily have been half the length, it still wasn’t boring, just that parts were redundant from the commentary.

Terrance Zdunich
Next is “A Devil of a Time: The Devil’s Carnival Road Tour” at 31:17, which explores two “tours” the film did around the US with members of the crew and cast going to each show and doing talks and signings of shirts, CDs and posters. Many of these members are interviewed and discussed being on the road. These tours were held in 2012, and helped pay for the next film in what is probably going to be a series (see the last paragraph below). And as a sidenote, it was great seeing a brief interview with Miss Hannah Jinx/Minx (konichi wa!), who has since retired from acting and her YouTube channel.

The last documentary is “The Devil’s in the Details: The Special Make-up and Prosthetic Effects of The Devil’s Carnival,” which lasts 13:45. This one focuses on Vincent Caustini, who handled the special make-up F/X.

Another group of extras is five different forms of trailers from the film, including two for the live show and an extended dance sequence with Emilie Autumn fluttering around what appears to be a dressing room.
There was a sequel in 2016, Alleluia! The Devi’s Carnival, which I have not yet seen, that picks up where this one left off, but with a more mainstream cast, such as Paul Sorvino again, Barry Bostwick, David Hasselhoff, and Jesus…I mean, Ted Neely. Most of the cast of this film also returned. If this did become a series, that would be cool as hell.



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