Courtesy of Carlos Serrano Cubells
The horror musical “The Devil’s Carnival” Encore Tour brought its act to town for a one night only show Wednesday, and presented an unconventional movie-going experience for audience members at the Drexel Theater.
The film is the latest pet project from director Darren Lynn Bousman, whose past credits include “Saw II, III and IV,” and writer and actor Terrance Zdunich. This particular film reunites the two, as they previously worked together on the horror 2008 film “Repo! The Genetic Opera.”
If you know anything about Bousman and Zdunich, you’d be right in guessing that the film flies in the face of everything mainstream. “The Devil’s Carnival” has the feel of a “Rocky Horror Picture Show” live show … only darker … but like “Rocky Horror,” it attempts to create a movie-going experience that normal film distribution models would have denied.
“Seeing (‘The Devil’s Carnival’) in a theater with people who are interacting, dressing up, really having a party, you’re not going to get at home,” Zdunich said in an interview with The Lantern. “So we figured, let’s just go directly to the people – hop in a van, travel the country, and make each night an event so that you couldn’t download it even if you wanted to, but even if you could, it wouldn’t be the same as being in a theater with this community.”
Bousman described the show as “part freak show, part costume contest, part giveaway, part movie, part rock concert.” Nevertheless, he said that’s what he thinks makes the show cool. “It’s not one thing, it’s many things … it’s indefinable,” Bousman said.
“The Devils Carnival” tour began in April, and after a successful first run, it followed up with a 24-city encore tour that began in mid-July.
It is with an open mind that I took my seat for “The Devil’s Carnival,” the musical that Zdunich called the “anti-f*****g ‘Glee’ and Bousman called a “f*** you” to the normal movie distribution system.
At this point, I should probably add a disclaimer. As a girl who grew up in the ‘burbs of Lancaster, Ohio, for half of her life before moving to small town Ohio in the country, I’m fairly certain I’m not the target audience here.
I was among the minority in an audience where moviegoers overwhelmingly looked like they could join the circus – and in fact, one man I talked to at the show was a former circus performer. Sporting jeans and a blouse, I looked more like I would be picking my kids up from soccer practice after the show.
I don’t know that I can convincingly argue my case for not being mainstream, but I think that’s the reason why I needed to see a film like this. Otherwise, I’d just be another person dismissing the “weird” film that only “weird” people watch.
The film was nestled at the end of a series of live performances and entertainment. These included “Hail Satan” chanting, the Cleveland-based crew Infusion’s “grind show,” where group members wear metal pieces that they strike with grinders to form sparks, a segment for people to share their “dirtiest” sin and a costume contest involving audience members.
The pre-show entertainment was all a little disturbing, especially if you try to imagine where the metal pieces on the costumes might have been strategically placed for the “grind show.” But things began to pick up with behind-the-scenes footage from “Repo!,” and then finally it was time for the main attraction, which was introduced by Bousman and Zdunich.
The hour-long film follows three sinners who are brought to “The Devil’s Carnival” to either commit the same sin that brought them there and go to hell or redeem themselves and enter heaven. Ms. Merrywood, a kleptomaniac played by Briana Evigan of “Step Up 2,” is plagued by her greed, Tamara, played by Jessica Lowndes of “90210,” is dangerously gullible and John, played by Sean Patrick Flanery of “The Boondocks Saints,” is consumed by grief for his dead son. Each sinner’s tale is a modern retelling of one of Aesop’s Fables.
For some of us, the pre-show may be a little too over the top. But there’s something very intriguing about the film itself. With a film that’s half as long as most others, character development is understandably lacking. But the film makes up for it with visually appealing cinematography and catchy music numbers. The song “A Penny for a Tale” by Five Finger Death Punch’s Ivan Moody as Hobo Clown to accompany Ms. Merrywood’s fable, “The Dog and Its Reflection,” and the Painted Doll Emilie Autumn’s “Prick! Goes the Scorpion’s Tale” to help tell Tamara’s tale, “The Scorpion and the Frog,” are among the more memorable songs on the 12-song soundtrack.
But without a doubt the best song on the soundtrack is Marc Senter’s seductive “Trust Me.” Senter, best known for his role in “The Lost,” plays the Scorpion who seduces the naÃ¯ve Tamara. Senter’s character charms Tamara, and in the process charms the audience.
“The Devil’s Carnival” is not as scary as the name might suggest, much to the relief of the squeamish and faint-hearted. No character had to cut off his own limb or cut out his own eye to retrieve a key like in “Saw” movies, and no one got his organs ripped out of his chest by the Repo Man as in “Repo.”
For me, the film was the perfect length. And since I could do without the pre-show entertainment, I can easily picture the show turning into a television series that I’d be willing to set aside an hour each week to watch.