Friday, April 20, 2012

The Devil's Carnival Road Tour- A Review

It is said that a great creative work should inspire creativity in those who see it.  If that is so then The Devil's Carnival is a great work, for it inspired me to began writing about it almost immediately after having seen it.  And yet, it has taken me several days to write this column as I struggled to find the right words to describe it properly.  There are many ways I could go about it, for The Devils Carnival is a tricky beast to define.

Perhaps I'll stick to my roots as a comic book historian and focus on the film's thematic roots as a spiritual successor to the classic EC Comics Tales From The Crypt books?  I could approach it as a scholar of theater, talking about the influence of the Commedia dell'arte and medieval passion plays on both the film The Devil's Carnival and the road tour promoting the film.  I might take on the role of a film buff and speak on the show as a modern revival of the classic horror films of Lon Chaney and Tod Browning and compare The Devil's Carnival Road Tour to the road tours MGM founder Irving Thalberg organized where actors were sent around the country to stage their films as plays, allowing the actors a chance to try different things in front of an audience before filming. 

I could do all these things.  But I think it best that I put on my traveling reporter's hat and tell you simply and truly about everything that I saw as I joined The Devil's Carnival.

I journeyed to The Lakewood Theater of Dallas, arriving about an hour before they were to begin seating the VIP ticket-holders.  I was clad in suitable raiment for the affair - basic black, as is my habit.  Not having the time, money or talent to dress as one of the characters from the show, I opted to dress as a gothic ringmaster.  Black Renn Fest garb with a black jacket over it, black shoes underneath and a riding crop in my hand.  I was dressed for trouble and knew where to find it.


Waiting in line, I got spotted by some of my fellow malcontents from the Amber Does Dallas shadowcast.  Most of them were working crowd control, camera crew and all the other various duties you need on a theater's house team.  Me?  I employed myself as a marker of the start of the VIP line and a dispenser of helpful advice.  My main piece of advice?  "Ask someone else!  I don't work here!"  Such is the curse of wearing all black and carrying an instrument of torture.  Everyone just assumes you are in charge and know what you are doing.

While I was waiting, I did flag down a merch girl and lay down hard cash for a copy of The Devil's Carnival Soundtrack.  Being one of those old-fashioned types who likes to buy an album rather than download it, I probably would have done this even before learning that the physical discs the tour is selling are part of a limited autographed collector's edition run.  I'd hold out for one of these babies if you can.  And if you can't, well that's what the Amazon link up above is for.


After being let into the theater and some slight confusion over where the VIPs were meant to sit that I did nothing to alleviate (Ask someone else!  I don't work here!), we were herded up into the balcony like so many gothic cattle.  I joined up with several of my cast mates and we were joined shortly thereafter by Director Darren Lynn Bousman, Author/Actor Terrance Zdunich  and Actress/YouTube Japanese Instructor Miss Hannah Minx.  Their objective?  Provide the VIPs with a shorter, specialer Q&A session than the one that would be open to the masses later on.

Rather than recall all the questions that were asked, I will attempt to answer some of the questions that I've heard at every single Q&A involving anyone involved in Repo! The Genetic Opera I have ever attended. 

Yes, Paris Hilton is a nice person.  No, she was not a diva.  No, she did not have an entourage.  Yes, they would like to give Anthony Stewart Head more work but plane tickets from England are expensive.  Yes, they have heard about that Jude Law movie and anything they had to say about it has already been said on their blogs. No, Terrance will not shout "GRAAAAAVES!" for you.

The most interesting and inspiring thing to come out of the Q&A was Bousman's answering a young man's question regarding why they chose to promote The Devil's Carnival with a traveling concert show rather than the more traditional methods used to take a film to the masses.  Bousman spoke movingly on how TDC was a labor of love, forged in opposition to the usual Hollywood studio style.  They did not go through agents or casting directors to bring in the actors they wanted - they asked them directly, bringing in old friends and new talent alike.  Bousman's enthusiasm was clear and infectious and the message he hoped to give the audience - that nothing should stop you from attempting to create art on your own terms - was received loud and clear.

It was at this time that the VIPs were escorted downstairs into the main part of the theater and allowed to choose their seats before the teeming masses were allowed in.  After milling around the front where there were reserved seats for the VIPs, I took a seat in the middle-right side of the house.  This allowed me a clear view of the stage and a relatively clear shot at the emergency exit if needed.  It is my firm belief after two decades on stage that theaters are like airplanes - you should always know where the exits are in case of a water landing.


Pre-show entertainment was provided by The Braggart Family Side Circus and Circus Freaks.  The former is a Houston-based troupe of circus performers.  The latter is a Dallas-based group that is pretty self-explanatory, given the name of their organization.  In deference to more sensitive readers, I will not go into extensive detail of their acts.  Footage is freely available on YouTube for those with the drive to look for it.  Suffice it to say I was amused by their antics and it does my dark heart good to know that it is still possible in this day and age for a man to make an honest living by dancing on hot coals while playing The Star Spangled Banner on a kazoo while smacking himself in the balls with a rubber mallet.

After that, the crowd was given a rather vigorous warm-up by the leggy redhead MC, whose name I'm afraid I never caught.  And then came the magic moment - when Darren and Terrance emerged to speak to the crowd, dodge the moist undergarments and keys being thrown their way and introduce a brief film of behind-the-scenes footage from the shooting of Repo! The Genetic Opera.  The film displayed a mix of footage - alternative filming angles, test shots taken during rehearsal and the occasional footage of people being recorded singing their songs in the booth.  Damn entertaining stuff if you're a Repo! fan.  But the moment that really got the crowd worked up and bothered came when several of my fellow ADD members began to dance down the aisle as the song We Started This Opera Sh*t (aka Testify!) began to play. 


After that there was a costume contest, which was won by some manner of fantastic fairy-bat creature.

Immediately after that came the announcement of the winners of a singing YouTube contest where fans covered the TDC song In All My Dreams, I Drown.  And then  we finally came to the main event!  The Devil's Carnival itself!

The Devil's Carnival begins as three people find themselves standing before the titular traveling show.  Ms. Merrywood (Briana Evigan) is a magpie, always looking for more and more shiny baubles to decorate herself.  Tamara (Jessica Lowndes) is a young lady whose taste for dangerous men always gets her into trouble.  And John (Sean Patrick Flannery) is a frantic father, desperately seeking the son that he has lost. 

Organized by the rules-minded Ticket-Keeper (Dayton Callie) and overseen by the big man downstairs himself (Terrance Zdunich, under a most impressive make-up design), the denizens of the carnival promise their guests much for the price of a ticket.  But what will these three lost souls find among the carnival's attractions?  A chance for redemption... or their just deserts?

I regret to report that Repo! fans expecting more of the same may be sorely disappointed. While many of the usual suspects like Alexa Vega, Bill Moseley and Ogre are in attendance, The Devil's Carnival is more of an ensemble piece than Repo! The Genetic Opera, so there are far more full-cast numbers than there are solos and duets. Thankfully, these ensemble numbers shine and TDC boasts a greatly varied soundtrack.

From the divine doo-wop ditty Heaven's All Around (performed by
Paul Sorvino, who plays the part of God) to the cheerfully childish Off To Hell We Go, no two songs in this film sound at all alike stylistically.  In All My Dreams I Drown sounds like a lost track from a collection of classic sailor shanties.  Prick! Goes The Scorpion's Tale owes much to the suggestive innuendo-filled folk songs of yore.  And A Penny For A Tale as sung by The Hobo Clown (Ivan Moody of Five Finger Death Punch, who for my money steals the show) is a classic comedic vaudeville song.

While this may seem jarring to some after the smooth unity of all the songs in The Genetic Opera, I found the variety fitting given the anthology style of the stories told here.  We are not told one story by the all-seeing Graverobber.  Here we bear witness to three different tales within a series.  Yes, you read that right – series!  This show is intended to be the first volume in a series of frightening fables for overgrown children and arrested adolescents of all ages.  This tidbit of information came out during the final event of the evening – a full-audience Q&A session for Darren, Terrance and Hannah.  

Once that was done, the masses were assembled once again in a great line that stretched all the way around the side of the Lakewood Theater.  Those who had not yet bought merchandise were given a chance to do so and those who braved the long lines were granted a brief audience with the guests of honor, as swag was signed and photos were snapped.  And that is how your humble author wound up with this picture, flanked by Miss Nako Sweet of Amber Does Dallas on one side and Miss Hannah Minx on the other, looking far more awesome than he has any right to ever appear.

To my astonishment, Mr. Zdunich remembered me from a meeting of the minds some eight months previous.  What is more, Mr. Zdunich had read my review of The Molting and had been pleased by it.  Talk about an ego boost!

I had a wonderful time at The Devil's Carnival and believe you will have much the same yourself.  If you can, catch a future show.  If you cannot, get the soundtrack and await another chance in the future.  I assure you it will be worth the wait.  



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