Massawyrm buys a ticket to THE DEVIL'S CARNIVAL and ends up giving it his heart!
Hola all. Massawyrm here.
If THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW was the movie REPO: THE GENETIC OPERA really wanted so terribly to be, then THE DEVIL’S CARNIVAL is the very sort of film that THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW desperately aspired and failed to become. Unlike its campy, absurd predecessors, THE DEVIL’S CARNIVAL isn’t a pastiche of styles, music and pop culture stitched together to create an aesthetic hoping to be art. It *is* art. Profound, inspired, blood-soaked, sweat stained art. It is at once a film drenched in its own, carnie worshiping, Jim Rose Circus by-way-of Tom Waits SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES sensibilities, and steeped in a rich, literate, intellectual structure that only opens its mouth when it has something important to say.
It is an allegory. A fantasy. A fable. It is also one of the single greatest Devil-centric stories ever told, and one of only a few such tales that aspires to make the devil out to be more than a mere tempter or villain. It gives him a soul. And in the final few moments of this film, the Devil does something so incredibly interesting, that it changes the rules about how such stories can even be told.
After three senseless deaths, the souls of the deceased find themselves faced with the bizarre, unkind performance of the Devil’s Carnival – each character playing out their clichéd life and death in the form of an Aesop’s Fable. But as the performances of the fables unravel before us, we see a deeper, richer tale unfold – one in which the Carnival’s master tries to reconcile his position in a cruel, unforgiving universe.
It is the William S. Burroughs story Uncle Bill never wrote, told with all the elegant fanciful style and care for the human condition as a Neil Gaiman tale. And it is far and away the single best thing Darren Lynn Bousman has ever made.
How I came to find myself purchasing a ticket to this particular carnival is almost as interesting a story as the one it had to tell. A few years back, Bousman brought his film MOTHER’S DAY to the Alamo Drafthouse for Fantastic Fest, content that it would be the screening that would launch his first big, non-SAW hit. Instead, it would prove to be the screening that would define him. Half of the audience celebrated the film as a brutal, well-crafted genre surprise; the other half of us reviled it. His reaction was not to blast or turn a blind eye to his critics. Instead he became introspective. He realized that he would never be a Tarantino or a Scorsese, lauded with almost universal praise. Instead, he was a divisive filmmaker who rarely made films people shrugged at – making only films one loved with all their heart or loathed with unbridled hatred.
And he decided he was okay with that. He wrote a wonderful blog post laying bare the kind of soul artists rarely show in this day and age, citing fairly both positive and negative critics, and embracing his lot in life. In the subsequent 18 months he would begin writing blogs and tweeting thoughts not of a cloistered Hollywood type trying to protect a career, but instead of a man who saw the writing on the wall, realized that Hollywood was never going to let him make the movies he REALLY wanted to make, and set out to warn other artists of the great struggle trying to make art in a profit driven industry.
And until I bought a ticket to the carnival, I had no idea what kind of movies Bouseman really wanted to make. Turns out he wants to make musicals. The kind of musicals Terry Gilliam would make – were he so inclined. And knowing that no studio in their right mind would ever fund such an endeavor, he cobbled together a small budget, called in every favor he could, and set out to make the very best movie of his career under conditions that would force him to make no compromises while simultaneously leaving no room for error.
If he failed, this would be the end. It just might well have been the proof in the pudding that he was destined to be nothing more than a mediocre filmmaker remaking horror franchises for studios. But that’s not what it was; that’s not what it was at all. It would prove instead to be the first truly great film from a fascinating artist struggling for several years to find his voice. Now that he’s found it, I want very much to see him express it time and again.
This movie is badass. Is it a cult movie? Yes. Very much so. But not because it, like so many cult films, is trying to be; it is a cult film because there is no other way to otherwise tell this story and do it justice. It is a film that never spoon feeds its audience, always asking the viewer to keep up, pay attention, listen close to the words. THE DEVIL’S CARNIVAL doesn’t want to hold your hand. Bousman decided that since he couldn’t please everyone, he would try only to please the people who loved his work. So he made a movie for them. And they’re a literary crowd. They’re fantasists. And they love dark, brooding tales and tragedies.
By narrowing the band of the kind of film he wanted to make, he instead found a film that had much broader appeal amongst those who otherwise didn’t care for his work. Doubt it? Google my reviews for SAW 2. And REPO. And MOTHER’S DAY. I assure you they weren’t kind. I bought my ticket to the carnival because I wanted to support a filmmaker with a big pair of balls who was willing to put them out on the block and smile if I chose to chop them off. I wanted to see what a film by a filmmaker who had everything in the world to prove, but was fearless about the outcome, looked like. In truth, while I wanted to love it – as I want to love every film I walk into – I fully expected to dislike or even loathe it.
Instead I fell deeply, madly, hopelessly in love with it.
Written and composed by Terrance Zdunich (along with Saar Hendelman), the movie is a smart, cleverly crafted experience that pairs words and instruments perfectly with its story. In a stroke of mad genius, Zdunich chose to compose entirely with instruments available to carnies – a trumpet, trombone, tuba, violins, light percussion, piano, accordion, viola, cello and a banjo. The result is a soundtrack that feels entirely organic. There is no mishmash or culture clash to this film. It looks and feels and sounds like a timeless carnival in hell, one that could be happening fifty years ago or fifty years from now. THE DEVIL’S CARNIVAL never dates itself with gimmicks or winks at the audience. It merely tells a great story, and does so in a manner that can only be described as unique.
Right now this film has no distribution – they haven’t really sought any. This is about artists proving themselves. So they’ve taken their show on the road. 40 cities – with 31 still left to go as of this writing. Each show has its own carnival-like atmosphere, with local carnie acts and burlesque dancers entertaining the crowd along with a REPO: THE GENETIC OPERA making-of Doc/music video and Q&A by the cast and crew. The tickets are a little pricier than normal, but prove well worth the extra cash.
This is the type of movie and experience we geeks suit up for. This is what we live for. You want something different? You want to see someone put themselves out there fully prepared for you to hate it? Want to see something you’ve never quite seen before? Buy a ticket to THE DEVIL’S CARNIVAL and see if it doesn’t win you over like it did me.
I love this film. See it big and see it as an event.
Until next time friends,
C. Robert Cargill
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April 13, 2012, 8:19 a.m. CST
Considering that I found Repo to be a downright god-awful smattering of laughably bad performances, terrible songs, with some piss-poor singing, with the sort of style and culting look & casting that endeared it to certain of my friends whom I DONT go to for critical opinion.... I might give this a fair shake. Purely because you said so.
April 13, 2012, 8:23 a.m. CST
Darren is a cool dude. Met him at SDCC. When I heard he had this project coming I was interested in seeing it. Damn shame I had class and couldn't make the drive to Austin the other night. I loved Repo! too, so I can imagine this would be good seeing TZ was involved as well.
April 13, 2012, 8:46 a.m. CST
by Cletus Van Damme
Sounds like a worthwhile experience.
April 13, 2012, 9:03 a.m. CST
...Hannah Minx's tits.
April 13, 2012, 9:03 a.m. CST
Is this the only movie you could review that didn't conflict with your deal? I assume that's why you haven't graced this site with your presence in many moons, no?
April 13, 2012, 9:06 a.m. CST
Enough to blast the previous day's stories off the main page, huh? Holy glut, Batman!
April 13, 2012, 9:10 a.m. CST
Since you're name-dropping Tom Waits, Terry Gilliam, Jim Rose, William Burroughs and Neil Gaiman... there's no way I won't love this, right?
April 13, 2012, 9:11 a.m. CST
You seem like one of the last sane people on this site, but honestly this: If THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW was the movie REPO: THE GENETIC OPERA really wanted so terribly to be, then THE DEVIL’S CARNIVAL is the very sort of film that THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW desperately aspired and failed to become. I'm not a huge Rocky Horror fan but that film was inspired because of it's odd structure and "throw it on the wall and see what sticks" approach. Now maybe the devil's carnival is great, but that trailer only suggests a film that may have some interesting ideas but is trying way to hard to be dark. I can't imagine people dressing up and singing those lyrics at a midnight showing. And please don't invoke the name of Tom Waits so casually.
April 13, 2012, 10:30 a.m. CST
It's awful, but somehow a great film. That it became an initiatory school for high school kids for generations is what has cemented its influence. T.'.
April 13, 2012, 10:32 a.m. CST
based on their potential upon release. I would buy stock in this one
April 13, 2012, 10:35 a.m. CST
The only reason I'd watch this would be to ogle Emilie Autumn. And I'm not sure that's enough of a reason to put up with the kinds of howling shite music I would have to put up with.
April 13, 2012, 12:37 p.m. CST
April 13, 2012, 12:37 p.m. CST
April 13, 2012, 4:59 p.m. CST
Saw this on both its Arizona stops. dlb and tz are old friends of mine from the REPO days, but even so, I walked into this open-eyed and unbiased, and was blown away. Bousman is the future of quality, integrity filmmaking, and the touring model he's developed since REPO (all respect to Kevin Smith & RED STATE) brings him to fans in a way that few Hollywood filmmakers ever attempt. He's the real deal, and even his detractors should own up to that. If TDC hasn't hit your city yet, I strongly urge you to check it out when it does, and spread the word to your friends. This is a true theatrical *event*--as Bousman says, one that can't be downloaded--so, the more, the merrier.
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