A Visit to the Set of Repo! The Genetic Opera!
Flying out to Canada at a moment’s notice is not something I’m accustomed to, still being fairly green to the whole movie industry press gig. When the films to be talked about are Saw IV (review) and Repo! The Genetic Opera, I throw my gear in a bag and take off without further prompting.
Right now, you are amid the swirl of Saw IV’s first opening weekend and you might be wondering, what the hell is this Repo business all about? Repo! The Genetic Opera is that awkward new kid in high school. His big brother may be the Saw franchise, but this is not a Saw movie.
Ogre from Skinny Puppy stands alongside Paris Hilton who shares a smile with Bill Moseley and Paul Sorvino. In walks opera diva Sarah Brightman, surely poised to lead Darren Lynn Bousman's "merry band of misfits" in a chorus of "We Are the World". A recent Scream Awards taping proved the horror fan's confusion with Darren's casting as each uttered word from Paris Hilton was met with resounding boos from a bloodthirsty audience. But those familiar with Bousman know there’s always a method to the proverbial madness and just like in the Saw films, all will be revealed in the final act.
The world of Repo centers around a city built on the dead, literally. This fact is hammered home from the opening frames of the film. Comic book panels set the scene and soon we see a man singing. Immediately you’re pulled into this reality where words are not spoken and as you’re settling in, the Grave Robber hoists a dead body as a battering ram, tearing a hole in a wall opened to an ocean of corpses with more being dropped as we watch.
In the future, human organs have been successfully replicated. At first, this breakthrough saved countless lives, as it should. After a time, the processes are streamlined and the rich elite surface to swap out parts in their quest for immortality. A middle class housewife's money is just as good as a Senator’s, and as the technology becomes affordable, they partake as well. Soon after, these lifesaving processes are tweaked and distorted to meet the needs of the vain and upgrades are born. It’s a world where practically anything can be had for a price, but what happens when you’ve claimed your new kidney and can’t keep up with the payments?
The Repo Man comes calling.
This is where things get bloody. The Repo Man is not polite. His employer’s merchandise is within your body and he’s come to claim it, without damage, as quickly as he can. The rest of you is of no concern to him; meat for the grinder in a world born of nightmare images that harkens to films like Brazil and Pink Floyd’s The Wall. This is Tommy on crack. This is Moulin Rouge without a conscience. Aristocrats in pseudo Victorian suits play to a crowd of techno industrial Goths in front of an imposing stone archway. By the looks of childlike amusement, beyond the gate lie their fondest delights.
Within a world of such horrors, there must be something to keep the populace complacent. Repo has The Opera and Blind Mag (Brightman) is its star. As you would expect, Mag is also a shill for Genco, the corporation that owns a stake in every one of its audience members. In this scene, Mag expresses her wishes to quit this life to Rotti Largo (Sorvino), but Mag owes her eyes to Genco and should she leave their warm embrace, they will be in foreclosure.
As we wandered through the dusty, cavernous warehouse space, we come across a dying Victorian house where the Repo Man, Anthony Stewart Head, lives with his daughter (Alexa Vega of Spy Kids fame). For a man whose viciousness is emphasized to the nth degree in this film, this shack of a home seems filled with certain sadness. Within these walls, the Repo Man does his best to raise his daughter as any man would, dolling out equal parts tenderness and discipline. As night falls, he dons a sinister mask, which illuminates his eyes, most certainly the last thing some people will see tonight. The Repo Man is a sort of twisted Clark Kent to Superman transformation, becoming more intense as the film progresses. His theme song in the film is entitled “Thankless Job”, assuring the audience almost absurdly, it’s a living.
Nearby we are taken into an area cordoned off with plastic tarp, allowing the contents therein to remain a mystery until you work up the guts to step inside. As it turns out, working up the guts is exactly what this room is made for. Suspended from chains like mistletoe at Clive Barker’s Christmas Party, we find plastic-wrapped corpses of all shapes and sizes. Light pouring from a gap under a door on the far wall allows you to make out the faintest details amid the wrappings. Center stage sits a Dentist’s chair with signs of age and constant use. Bits of the last “operation” are still present. Here, the Repo men perfect their craft. The creators of Repo talked to transplant surgeons to find out how these procedures could be done on a practical level. The relentless carnage of the Repo man is only made more chilling as we witness the inhuman nature of those who take on this job. We’re told of a scene of playing catch with body parts, a spinal pull sequence and Anthony gleefully performing a full dissection on some poor sod. “Thankless Job”, indeed.
We’re moving down long alleyways of a sort, past brick walls littered with posters reminiscent of Russian propaganda. These signs call out “2057: Replace Your Face”, “Amber Sweet and the Zydrate Support Network reminding you to Z-Up responsibly!” We head to prop master Jim Murrey’s room where we are greeted with a handful of organs and a smile. He remarks, "Once you start touching (the body parts), you can’t stop! You know it’s been a good day when you go home covered in blood", Tools here range from the Repo Man’s implements of de-construction to the more passive, like the Zydrate gun.
Zydrate is the drug used to lull you into dreamland while your body parts are swapped for shiny new ones. The glowing blue liquid is ripped from the skull of a human being, said to be produced at the moment of their passing. Who wouldn’t like a shot of immortal soul?! This drug is thoroughly intoxicating and as always comes with the territory, highly addictive. Paris Hilton’s character Amber Sweet is at once the daughter of Rotti Largo and slave to Zydrate. Amber transforms her appearance all throughout Repo, true to her scalpel junkie nature, signing her signature song “Try All My New Parts” to entice the Grave Robber into a free fix. The entire cast periodically assures us that Paris is taking this endeavor very seriously, busting her ass for the good of the project. You can feel the enthusiasm dripping off of crew and actor alike and that in and of itself is addictive.
Now we’re led into a circus tent, literally ducking under the tarp to enter as if this place is NOT meant for entrance. Once inside, we’re told we’ll be treated to a little taste of the culmination of everything we’ve seen today. Darren Bousman pops a DVD into a player and the nearby TV screen sparks to life with a cacophony of sound. The overlying theme of the singers is "At The Opera Tonight". Anthony Stewart Head dons his leathery/welding mask and the eye plate lights up…his eyes immediately transformed into a monstrous glaze. Paris Hilton struts down an alley as her part becomes a siren song to the Grave Robber, seated comfortably in a dumpster, knowing exactly what she’s after. Sarah Brightman, undoubtedly the most smoking hot opera diva on the planet, writhes with the song cutting to Bill Moseley and Ogre (wearing the face of Darren’s girlfriend) practically attacking the camera like two teenagers with a hidden porno mag. It’s angry, raw and practically a self aware entity and then all at once, it’s over.
Not a sound in the tent and my only impulse was to blurt out “Holy Shit!” You have to understand; you come out to Canada to do press with the cast of Saw IV and are told you’ll get to visit the set of Darren’s new project as well. I don’t know a single person who doesn’t love the guy, so we are all there to support him. I don’t think any of us expected what we saw. Forget about Sweeney Todd. We were asked if we had any questions and one reporter asked “Can we watch that again?!” Unfortunately, Darren had snatched the disk as we stood there, jaws agape, and smashed it into little pieces seconds later. That’s Darren!
This is in no way a tiny indie movie experiment. 400 extras have blazed through this set at one time or another. Sets resembling three-dimensional versions of grandiose opera backdrops stand, awaiting CGI magic to extend their reach out into the night. On one particular day, 3 enormous boxes of decomposing bodies are delivered from LA. Apparently, there are not enough corpses in Canada. Production is winding down now in anticipation of shooting Saw V after Christmas. Most of this crew will undoubtedly be back for the task. Alexa Vega has even expressed an interest in dying in the new film. No doubt, Repo! The Genetic Opera> is fueled by the passion of one big, sick, depraved, and thoroughly happy family.
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