It was 40 years ago on this very date, September 25, that a campy, cult, musical, horror film called The Rocky Horror Show had its theatrical premiere. Rocky Horror still screens (along with the audience participatory shenanigans that have become inseparable from its theatrical experience) at arthouse theaters like The Frida, in Santa Ana. Last night, The Frida hosted the Santa Ana premiere screening of Alleluia! The Devil's Carnival -- the latest film from the Rocky Horror-esque Devil's Carnival film series.
Alleluia! The Devil's Carnival is the second Devil's Carnival film and the third cult, musical, horror film by the creative team of director Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II-IV, Mother's Day) and writer / actor Terrance Zdunich. Back in 2008, the duo and their ensemble cast and crew first teamed up to make Repo! The Genetic Opera, which also still enjoys a midnight screening life at art theaters (including The Frida). Additionally, Repo screenings -- like Rocky Horror screenings -- are usually accompanied by shadow cast performances, where costumed audience members perform physical accompaniments to the onscreen action.
Independently produced and distributed by Bousman and Zdunich, Alleluia! The Devil's Carnival is not only the second film in the Devil's Carnival series, but it is also the second film which the duo is premiering by way of a road tour. Given the cult following that the Bousman / Zdunich projects have amassed, it was no surprise to see a line of fans stretching around the block waiting to gain admittance to the show -- many of them wearing the elaborate garb of Devil's Carnival characters.
The showing at The Frida is number 19 on the duo's 33 city tour, and for each stop, the screening is an event. Last night, the event began with a belly dancer performing a sword dance for the enthusiastic crowd of about 200 people. Following the dancer, the MC invited the more elaborately costumed audience members to the front of the auditorium, and the winner of the costume competition was declared via audience response. Next, Bousman and Zdunich led the audience in a pledge not to film or photograph the screen -- lest they be punched in the balls or the cooch.
During the screening, select members of the audience (most likely veteran Rocky Horror Show and / or Repo! shadowcast players) shouted various comments in response to the film in an attempt to forge new "official" audience responses for future screenings of the film. Some of these were clever, some were not. Most of them were generally warmly received with laughter; however, some folks were not in on the gag. Towards the end of the film, someone who clearly only wanted to watch the film for the film's sake, shouted for the principal audience voice to shut up.
The film, itself, is an overwhelming spectacle. The native cinematography and the CGI embellishments make Alleluia! a bedazzling visual beauty. The music, written by Saar Hendelman, was a calliope-esque and fitting complement to the visuals; interestingly enough, Zdunich, who had a hand in writing the music for both Repo! and the first Devil's Carnival film, does not have a music credit in this film. Some of the actors in the film included Bousman / Zdunich regulars such as Paul Sorvino, Bill Moseley, Nivek Ogre, and Zdunich, as well as guest stars Adam Pascal, Ted Neeley, David Hasselhoff, and Barry Bostwick. Returning from the first film were Dayton Callie, Marc Senter, and Emilie Autumn.
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Under Bousman's direction, the cast pulled off an impressive balancing act that provided equal measures of campiness and dramatic gravity. As for the narrative, this film essentially has a sympathetic Devil (Zdunich) plotting to go to war against a cruel God (Sorvino). The minutiae can at times be hard to follow given the context of the grander scheme of the story, the large number of colorful characters, the fact that there are several narrative threads happening concurrently, and the knowledge that the filmmakers are participating on an inside joke with a niche audience demographic. That being said, the experience of watching the film with its intended demographic was definitely enjoyable. The film invites repeated viewing and sets up the next installment in the series.
Following the screening, Bousman and Zdunich, along with cinematographer Joseph White, and associate producer "Spooky" Dan Walker were joined by actors Marc Senter and Emilie Autumn for Q & A with the audience. The cast and crew were very receptive to their devoted audience and afterwards, everyone in the audience who wanted to say hello, get a selfie, or an autograph was welcome to do so. The film and its following are a rare and special symbiosis. The art behind the project is of the highest order, and it subsists outside of the studio system. At the end of the Q & A session, Bousman reminded the audience that the ticket sales on this tour and the profits that the company generated through merch sales allowed them to keep creating their projects. It would be nice to see more film events with these dynamics because not only do they demonstrate a direct correlation between art and its market, but they also help demystify the barrier between creators and their audiences.