Editor’s Note: The links within all point back to the original sources. Perhaps one day I will fix them but more than likely I will keep them as is to honor the past (and because it is so much easier). Links to the AVC are likely off due to the Kinja switchover.
10/10/2016 – Musical: Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival (2015)
Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman
If so many of these subgenres are mashing together horror with an established genre, the musical is just about the last genre you’d expect (or in my case want) to see this done to. While both genres have enthusiastic and loyal fans, they rarely overlap with horror generally targeting a male audience (though this does seem to be changing) and musicals a female audience. The stereotypical fanbases of each can relate in that theater kids and big horror fans are weird as shit (guilty as charged) and horror musicals in general attract a “unique” and cult audience. Like action-horror films, they tend to use horror more as a setting since it’s frankly hard to generate fear or terror aside from the promise of a solo number by Alexa Vega.
As a genre, it had its roots in the 60’s in an attempt to combine two things teens love in the creatively named teen flick and horror movies with the execrable The Horror of Party Beach and Hillbillys in a Haunted House. The genre became more recognizable in the 70’s with Phantom of the Paradise and The Rocky Horror Picture Show the latter of which is arguably the biggest cult success of all time. It’s also a pile of rubbish that not even Tim Curry can save and I’m on the side of Tim Bisley when it comes to talk of the awful “Time Warp”. The 80’s and 90’s gave us far better in the film adaptation of Little Shop of Horrors (which was original a decent low budget, non-musical film) and of course Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s “Once More with Feeling”. It’s hard to say the genre came into its own in the 00’s since exactly one of the films burst into the mainstream (Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street which I much prefer to the 1982 filmed stage version with Angela Lansbury) but at least for me, it’s hard to deny that my two favorites (and two of my favorite musicals period), The Happiness of the Katakuris and Repo! The Genetic Opera, were both released in this decade. Other notable titles include Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter, Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead, Suck, Don’t Go in the Woods, and Stage Fright but calling those films of a “mixed” reception is usually pretty generous.
One (short) film I intentionally failed to mention is The Devil’s Carnival from Repo!director Darren Lynn Bousman and his cowriter Terrance Zdunich. I know my love for Repo! The Genetic Opera is a minority opinion and I won’t deny that it has problems, but I genuinely like the music which was produced by X Japan’s Yoshiki Hayashi and it’s just a fun film to watch, a crazy cast (it’s not often you think to combine people known for Buffy, Spy Kids, Law and Order, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Skinny Puppy, classical music, and reality TV), plenty of gore drawing on Bousman’s Saw sequel experience, almost no traditional dialogue, and just about any genre and style it wants to from scene to scene.
The Devil’s Carnival on the other hand was still enjoyable, but the music was not nearly good (with maybe three songs I’d even listen to out of the film including one from Five Finger Death Punch’s Ivan Moody and an end credits song which is the only one that measures up to Repo), a much more straightforward tone, actual dialogue, and a parable influenced anthology format. Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnivalis a return to feature length which returns Paul Sorvino (Law and Order, Goodfellas), Bill Moseley (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, The Devil’s Rejects), Marc Senter (The Lost), Dayton Callie (Deadwood), Emilie Autumn, Briana Evigan, and J. Larose from the first film, while bringing in Adam Pascal (Rent), rapper Tech N9ne, David Hasselhoff, Nivek Ogre (Skinny Puppy, Repo!), Barry Bostwick (The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Spin City), Lyndon Smith (Parenthood), and Ted Neely (Jesus Christ Superstar). Already this cast brings back the right sense of weird this film needs.
It’s not often does a film get a previously on, but I love its use here as it quickly established the goofy storybook tone. The film then starts off right with “Shovel and Bone”, an awesome high energy song.
As it is, the music is much better though still not likely to be able stand on its own the way Repo did for me (he says having had two songs on repeat since finishing the movie). I was quite fond of “Hitting on All Sevens” though I have no clue why you hire a rapper known for his speed for a mostly slow paced song requiring singing (though his skills certainly come into play at the end). Thankfully he nails the performance.
Once again we are treated to a minimalist set design (step above stage production) and I generally like the stagey set up especially of hell where the background is left completely black. Heaven (only briefly glimpsed last time) is given a very “city in the 1920’s: setup as opposed to the carnival setup of hell. With many of the servants of heaven dressed as early 20th century soldiers, I am starting to come around on the far more consistent design even if design based on that period has become a bit tired in media. As indicated by servants of heaven dressed as soldiers, there is a very dictatorial feel complete with banned and burned books, strict codes, caste system, and arm bands that seem to evoke Nazi connotations all lorded over by the biggest Big Brother of them all, God.
The three Aesop’s Fables format of the first reduced to a single fable and there’s a much greater emphasis on “the present” storyline. While the plot is seemingly derailed to give a backstory for The Painted Doll and serve as a prequel to the first film, it does neatly tie itself up in the end. It doesn’t make such moments any less awkward, but it at least feels appropriate. Of course the film once again doesn’t end so much as stop, ending with a clear sequel hook that will presumably actually finish the story.
I have a real mixed relationship with intentional camp and for the most part Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival handles it well. You know what you are getting in a film that intentionally lets David Hasselhoff sing. The exaggerated sound effects (a Bousman musical trademark) can still be a bit trying at times especially since they seem to have only increased in quantity, but such things as a follow the bouncing ball moment, multiple cases of the onscreen info typically featured at the beginning of music videos, and the exaggerated make up are like no other film being made and its refreshing to watch. I have no clue what exactly Jimmy Urine and Chantal Claret are doing with their slapstick routine (it’s clear they are meant to be this film’s version of Pavi and Luigi) but I found it more tiresome than anything else.
It’s not all camp though and for once there’s even some subtlety and character development going on which wound up being the best part of the movie. Zdunich gives the Devil a personality and depth beyond the charismatic storyteller of the first (and Graverobber in Repo) reflecting the more somber tone throughout (which both informs and is informed by the story). Paul Sorvino is the one given the chance to devour the scenery as an angry, brutal God and he’s perfect at giving off that feeling of a dad come home to play with his children yet still hold them in line. He has a way of commanding the screen anytime he shows up and continues to handle his more operatic singing well. I know I keep comparing the film to Repobut what else am I going to compare it to and while it doesn’t reach the heights of that film, it is an improvement on the first The Devil’s Carnival and is probably the best made film of the three (and the one most likely to be enjoyed by normal).