Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman
Get your copy – ORDER HERE or HERE (Note: This review is of the Hot Topic combination DVD and expanded soundtrack, which does have slightly different special features than those available on the version available from The Devil’s Carnival website.)
It’s been a pretty good year for fans of director Darren Lynn Bousman. The filmmaker who gave us Saws II-IV and the cult hit rock opera Repo! The Genetic Opera has had four films released to disc within the past year. First was the religious thriller 11-11-11, then the crazy-intense remake Mother’s Day, and then the well-made Jersey Devil flick The Barrens (featuring a great performance by “True Blood” lead Stephen Moyer). And finally, we have The Devil’s Carnival, a just-released-to-disc horror/musical that plays like Repo!’s twisted younger sibling.
Co-written by Terrance Zdunich, Bousman’s partner on Repo! and creator of the kickass comic The Molting, Carnival concerns the damnation of three pour souls: John (Flanery), a suicidal father overcome with grief for his dead child; Tamara (Lowndes), a young girl who just can’t help falling for the wrong men; and Ms. Merrywood (Evigan), a kleptomaniac and jewel thief who’s easily the least sympathetic of the group.
Upon their deaths, the trio find themselves in the titular carnival (picture Hell, as designed by the Ringling Brothers and Jim Rose), where they are each treated to musical numbers that underscore their sins and seals their fates. Along the way, they are introduced to a wide array of colorful characters, including: The Ticket-Keeper (a fantastic Callie); the beautiful Painted Doll (Autumn); the creepy Hobo Clown (Moody); reptilian doppelganger The Twin (Ogre); handsome but dangerous The Scorpion (Senter, great as always); and of course, the Devil himself (Zdunich, so good you’ll wish he acted more often). Our protagonists make their way through the carnival, past the people populating it, until they finally arrive at their ultimate fate (each corresponding to a story from Aesop’s Fables that Lucifer reads to a young child).
As with Repo!, Carnival is wonderfully stylish, with songs that will defy you to resist humming along or tapping your feet (a few days later, and I’m still absent-mindedly singing a few of the movie’s tunes). The film, while brief (less than an hour, and reportedly the first installment of many), feels wholly original and unlike anything I can recall seeing. Bousman’s direction is energetic as always, the story and world are intriguing, and the performances are all fantastic. Along with Bousman’s regulars, there are plenty of new faces in this film (at least for this writer), and I look forward to seeing them again in the future.
This musical isn’t without the occasional hiccup, however. While it’s wonderful once it hits its stride, the introduction to the world is a bit uneven at first, stumbling through scene after musical number after scene without bothering to set the stage properly for what’s to follow. But by the time we reach the “666” musical number, all is well.
In addition, the three leads are little more than sketches, and one character’s climactic redemption is over and done with before it has a chance to register emotionally. Also troubling is the story’s dodgy morality.
While one of the trio is let off fairly easily, another is damned for…what? Being attracted to the wrong kinds of guys? While that poor soul’s tale may align nicely with Aesop, it’s a bit of a stretch to believe that she’s earned damnation for liking bad boys. Still, those are quibbles.
The bonus features on the DVD include The Devil’s Interval, an extensive thirty-minute look at the film’s music production. Also included are an audio commentary which focuses on the production of the film’s score and musical numbers, and a set of trailers (for the film, the roadshow tour the movie enjoyed earlier this year, and the soundtrack). And speaking of the soundtrack – a second disc included with the DVD features the expanded soundtrack (which contains sixteen tracks from the film and two bonus tracks from the film’s marketing). Whether you’re getting a movie with the album, or an album with the movie, it can’t be denied that this package is pretty impressive when it comes to its bonus features.
Ultimately, while The Devil’s Carnival may not be the slam dunk Repo! was, it’s a bold and original tale that will stick with you long after the credits roll. Here’s hoping that we won’t have to wait too long for the next in the series.
Expanded Soundtrack Listing
1. Storytime / Heaven’s All Around
2. Tears, John / The Devil’s Carnival
3. In All My Dreams I Drown
4. It’s Showtime (Score)
6. Kiss the Girls
7. The Midway (Score)
8. The Dog and Her Reflection / Beautiful Stranger
9. A Penny for a Tale
10. You’re Prettier Anyhow (Score)
11. The Scorpion and the Frog / Trust Me
12. Prick! Goes the Scorpion’s Tale
13. The Devil and His Due (Score)
15. Grace for Sale
16. Off to Hell We Go
17. Bonus Track: 666 (Web Teaser Version)
18. Bonus Track: The Devil’s Carnival (Web Teaser Version)
3 1/2 out of 5
5 out of 5