When the Hot Topic crowd is bored with Rocky Horror and Sweeney Todd, they can gorge themselves on… a doubly garish mix between… Rocky Horror and Sweeney Todd?
Cast: Alexa Vega (Spy Kid!), Anthony Stewart Head (Giles!), Sarah Brightman, Paris Hilton, Ogre, Terrance Zdunich, with Bill Moseley and Paul Sorvino
Director: Darren Lynn Bousman
the not-so-distant future, a wordwide epidemic of organ failures
devastates the planet. Out of tragedy, a savior emerge: GENECO, a
biotech company that offers organ transplants… for a price. Those who
miss their payments are scheduled for repossession… and hunted by the
Having started as a stage show in rock clubs, Repo! made it to feature length “future cult status” through the combined effort and talent of the film-makers. By the time the dvd debuted, the film was 7 years in the making. This goth burlesque horrorshow did beat the similar-in-premise-only, Repo Men, to the punch, even if the Phillip K Dick-ish take (with Jude Law and Forest Whitaker) got a much wider release.
With that said, the tunes are not quite catchy enough for the wider release Broadway crowd, but may grow on you in repeat viewings, as they did with me. The music stylings range from industrial rock to funhouse cabaret to Tom Waits-esque jingles to classical opera. It’s a cartoonish, yet classically tragic opera hodge podge at least. It was an easy out for me to label this musical as “Rocky Horror surgically attached to Sweeney Todd” in the Pitch section above, as it blends the debaucherous mad science and pageantry of Rocky with the twisted tale of revenge and strained father-daughter dynamic of Sweeney.
But the familiarities to other properties don’t stop there. This kitchen-sinky flick also grafts on comic-book transitions of Creepshow beneath the oppressive dystopia (and main character as “wrench in the works”) of V for Vendetta and grimy neon cityscape of Bladerunner. Paint it in Clive Barker gore and leather and drape it with Baz Luhrmann velvet and you get the picture. Despite all of these implants, Repo! manages to be a unique enough experiment on its own.
… An experiment that’s cleverly cast. Sarah Brightman (object of the original Andrew Lloyd Weber Phantom’s affection) adds just the right amount of CLASS, as Paris Hilton (typecast here as a vain drug-addicted celebutante) adds just the right amount of TRASH. Alexa V has a serviceable vocal talent, Skinny Puppy’s Ogre is a treat as the face-wearing Pavi, and horror-staple, Bill Mosely, butchers his songs with camp and crass. Zdunich, one of the original show’s creators and comic artist, fittingly conjures up more than a bit of Rocky Horror’s Riff Raff. I was surprised by Sorvino’s talent for operatic bellowing, but the real standout here, the heart beating at the center of Repo! is Buffy’s handler himself, Anthony Stewart Head. Not only does he have a Joker’s grin and bone-structure/hairline befitting a Hammer classic, he brings glee, pathos, and (as witnessed in the Buffy musical ep) pipes to the role.
I was hesitant at first when I discovered this was “from the producers of Saw”. I’m no fan of that franchise. But when I volunteered for this review, I had already been drawn in by Repo’s marketing and style and WTF premise. If anything, it’s ambitious, if flawed. It makes use of its budget (8-9 mill) and every dollar is on screen. The film-makers championed their labor of love through hardships without compromise and promoted it themselves, and that’s to be commended.
Secrets, twists, self-destructive dependencies, and copious amounts of gore and raunch are all on display here. There are clever Soviet-style propaganda and color saturation tweaks that set the tone. Singing stuffed animals and a Joan Jett cameo! Set pieces that look like they may have been filmed during off hours at the Haunted Mansion! It will surely polarize audiences (the film-makers are aware), but Repo! will surely find its niche crowd (the film-makers attest), if it hasn’t already. What a crazy world we live in when Pre-Fans had already tattooed themselves and demanded a travelling road-show before its release. A road-show that I hope resembled the opera/church/gameshow finale of the film.
For those few looking for depth in a gory rock opera, Repo! resonates as a parable for present-day surgery addiction and murderously expensive health care. The ghoulish greek-chorus graverobber acting as a mirror for the equally ghoulish Repo Man was also appreciated. The sequestered “girl in a bubble” daughter who keeps a collection of pinned bugs in her room (of all things) did not go unnoticed either. Lots of small touches and connective tissues like these within.
If anything, hearing Bill Mosely “sing” the lyrics “I’m the smartest and the toughest! I will find a hole and fuck it! If there ain’t one, I will make one!” as he pelvic thrusts for emphasis, is quite… something.
Are they trying too hard? Maybe, but the EFFORT won me over.
2 commentaries (and a featurette) are nice and all, but I feel that a visually and musically lavish effort such as this deserves more behind the scenes glimpses. There’s more supplemental material on the official site. Why this (or supposed cut sequences/songs) didn’t end up on the disc is beyond me. And somewhere out there is a 10 minute pitch version (mentioned here and in the commentary), featuring Shawnee Smith and Michael Rooker (???). Is it a rights issue that keeps this off the dvd? Stinginess? Oh well… perhaps it’ll appear on a not-so-distant-future release. Hopefully, before all my funds are relegated to med bills and inevitable drug/surgery addiction.