After helping to turn the “Saw” franchise into the highest-grossing horror series in history, writer-director Darren Lynn Bousman hit a roadblock with his original 2008 horror musical “Repo! The Genetic Opera.” Lionsgate didn’t give the film much of a release, so Bousman and his collaborator, co-writer-composer Terrance Zdunich, turned screenings of “Repo!” into a traveling tour in the vein of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
A bit of a cult fanbase formed around it, and Bousman realized there was an audience out there for a whole different kind of low-budget, scary-funny experience. Even though he then went on to write and/or direct other more straightforward films — a remake of “Mother’s Day,” the originals “11-11-11” and “The Barrens” — Bousman eventually dove back into the traveling horror musical world with “The Devil’s Carnival,” the first in a planned series of audience-interactive song-and-sin spectacles that he created with Zdunich.
In the big-screen version of “Carnival,” Alexa Vega, Marc Senter, Sean Patrick Flanery, Emilie Autumn and Paul Sorvino (as a singing God!) play out a scenario involving lost souls condemned to face their earthly sins. But the real performances came in the never-the-same-show-twice public screenings the “Carnival” filmmaking crew booked around the country, altering the format, elements and prizes each time and encouraging fans to bring their own private freak shows.
After two separate mini-tours during 2012, one in the spring and one in the summer, Bousman was raving about the potential for more and the possibilities for other creative types with the right kind of crazy energy, genre-playful imagination, innovative flexibility and functional drinking problem. Next for him is the second installment in the "Devil's Carnival" series, revealed here for the first time and scheduled to begin filming early in 2013: "Episode One dealt with establishing the rules of Hell," Bousman says, "but Episode Two will pull back the curtain on Heaven... and in 'The Devil's Carnival,' God and his angels are a whole lot darker than Lucifer and his carnies."
With limited copies of the first “Carnival” coming out on DVD and Blu-ray Oct. 23 — along with a slew of commentaries, featurettes and collectibles from the many events — Bousman shared with Indiewire the ingredients that go into making the macabre “Repo!”/“Carnival” stew.
“It's all about the material. I mean, there are a million movies better than ‘The Devils Carnival’ that wouldn't work with what we're doing. You couldn't take ‘Terms of Endearment’ or ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’ out and do a road tour. It just wouldn't be fun, and it wouldn't be funny. The movie itself encourages absurdity. I mean, we're in Hell, we have Lucifer singing, we have Paul Sorvino belting out ridiculous tunes, and it makes it laughable in a way that the audience is encouraged to participate with it. Now, if I'm gonna watch ‘Glengarry Glen Ross' in a touring situation, it's not gonna be cool. It's a great movie, I love it, but it's not fun. It's the same way that something like 'The Big Lebowski' has turned into Lebowski Fest. It’s a fun movie to start off with, you’re watching it, and the Dude is fucking awesome, so a bunch of people can congregate, drink white Russians and have a good time, because the movie encourages it. A movie I think it would work for is ‘Tucker and Dale vs. Evil,’ because a movie like that is ridiculous, and it promotes that.”
“The biggest component that we have going for us is the musicality of it. People like to sing — be it in the shower, in a car, in a club, in a concert, they like to sing. They sing out loud, whether they know how to sing or not.”