Blah Shank // 2012 // 55 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // November 16th, 2012
Aesop's Fables are played out in the lives of lost souls...in hell!
We are living in the future. With theaters increasingly clogged with multi-hundred million dollar blockbusters and $50 million opening weekends being seen as weak, smaller, riskier productions are getting squeezed out of the multiplex. Luckily, there are more and more venues outside of theaters for movie distribution and more and more filmmakers are finding success with alternate funding and distribution models. Of course, some relatively traditional films (like Red State) have found success in these alternate models, but it would be silly to think that in the age of YouTube television shows and Kickstarter funding models that the movies would stay the same. The Devil's Carnival is a short horror film (55 minutes, making it like a long episode of television) from Darren Lynn Bousman that owes much to his previous effort, Repo! The Genetic Opera. It's likely to appeal to fans of that previous effort, though the smaller budget and shorter running time do detract.
As the film opens, three souls find themselves at the gates of Hell with a ticket to the Devil's Carnival. As these poor souls wander through the carnival, they meet its denizens and discover that they must pay for their sins in a musical extravaganza.
The Devil's Carnival plays like Repo! The Genetic Opera crossed with a particularly gothic episode of The Twilight Zone. There's a very heavy musical focus -- one of the stars is noted musician Emilie Autumn playing a character not too different from one of her stage creations -- the damned-souls-in-hell angle feels like something from a bleaker morality play, and the length helps give it that television-drama feel.
The comparison is particularly apt because The Devil's Carnival once again pairs scribe Terrance Zdunich and director Darren Lynn Bousman for a film that relies on techno-gothic touches and musical accompaniment executed on a shoestring budget. Much of the cast from Repo! returns as well for roles of varying sizes. Expect to see Paul Sorvino (as God!), Bill Moseley, Alexa Vega, and Terrance Zdunich as Lucifer himself. All of these returning actors have fun with their roles, but it's the new faces that will likely draw viewers to The Devil's Carnival. Sean Patrick Flannery does a fine job as a father distraught over the death of his daughter, and Emilie Autumn goths things up with her character Painted Doll.
The question, of course, is does it work? The answer is -- largely -- yes. However, it works only if the facts surrounding its production are kept in mind. Those looking for another goth-musical extravaganza like Repo! will be bitterly disappointed. That disappointment stems from two things. First, this is a shorter piece that had to be filmed in a very limited amount of time -- it's even shorter and more quickly made than Repo!. Thus, it goes through much more of a television-episode structure. Character development would likely be deeper with a longer feature. However, fans can be content that further episodes in The Devil's Carnival are on their way.
The budget restricts some of what The Devil's Carnival may have been able to achieve, but Darren Lynn Bousman is a master of using lens and digital manipulation to suggest a world much larger than his budget can provide. That said, The Devil's Carnival never feels cheap, though.
If I sound a bit ambivalent about The Devil's Carnival, that's because I am. I admire many of the things that it achieves, especially given its constraints. However, the film does have to operate in the shadow of a very successful previous outing by the creative team, and given the obvious heights of expectation, there is bound to be some disappointment. I also suspect that once a number of these stories have been released by Bousman and Zdunich, their appeal as a whole will be more obvious.
Bousman and Zdunich, however, know where their proverbial bread is buttered. They understand that without the fans, this flick is dead in the water. To appeal to the hardcore demographic, they've released this Ringmaster Edition of the film. Though you can buy a DVD version (at Hot Topic) and a digital download of the film, this set is aimed at the true fans. It's a Blu-ray/DVD combo, and will only be released in a numbered edition of 6,660 copies. The 1.78:1/1080p AVC-encoded image is strong, especially given the budget. Detail is generally excellent, black levels are deep and consistent, and colors (especially reds and oranges) are well saturated. The DTS-HD 5.1 track included on the Blu-ray disc is also pleasing. Dialogue and singing come through clear and well-balanced, while the music sounds rich and detailed. Some directionality is evident as well. Again, given the constraints of time and budget, this is an excellent release.
The extras, though, are where the love really shows. Things kick off with three commentary tracks. The first includes Bousman and Zdunich, the second a number of cast members, and the third is a "Repo! Reunion" that includes most of the group who worked on both productions. The first track is a great technical discussion of the film and what is was trying to achieve, the second does a fine job documenting the atmosphere and stories of the shoot, while the third is fun for fans of both productions. Three featurettes follow, including discussion of the making of the film, its makeup effects, and the tour used to promote the film once it was finished. The film's trailer and web teasers are also included. Finally, in addition to the DVD copy included in this edition, the case also includes a collectible booklet with lyrics from the songs featured in the flick.
The Devil's Carnival is absolutely worth a rental for fans of Darren Lynn Bousman's mad aesthetic from Repo! The Genetic Opera. Re-teaming with his writer from that flick for a new musical was a brilliant idea, and though the 55-minute film included here isn't perfect, it's a solid bet for fans of Bousman and Zdunich. Those who saw the film during its road-show tour can buy this Ringmaster Edition with confidence, and anyone who thinks they might even like this a little is urged to spring for this set because the extras are great and the 6,660 copies are likely to go fast.
I don't want to visit The Devil's Carnival, but the film is not
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Blah Shank
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 55 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* DVD Copy