Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman
Written by Terrance Zdunich
While The Devil’s Carnival is not necessarily a companion film to 2008’s Repo! The Genetic Opera, both director Darren Bousman and writer Terrance Zdunich must have known that they would not be able to escape comparisons between the two. In today’s market, horror-tinged rock operas are hard to come by, so when I first watched The Devil’s Carnival I brought with me a certain set of expectations. My initial expectations were, unfortunately, not met by the film, but as soon as I left these expectations I realized that The Devil’s Carnival is actually a campy, fun short film that deserves a watch or two.
I was expecting to see high drama, interesting characters, and strikingly beautiful and surreal visuals, just as you see in Repo!. While The Devil’s Carnival fails to deliver the story and character’s with anything beyond superficial motivations, it thankfully brought the creepy surrealism… but not much more.
The loose premise of The Devil’s Carnival is that the devil (played by Zdunick) hosts a carnival where the recently deceased are brought to act as toys to his crew of carny demons in the same manner that excused them from the world of the living. Though this crew does not necessarily look like traditional demons, they do look like the demonic band of carnival, misfits that I was hoping for. The ring leader, the gymnast, and all the other side-kicks, are all decked out in their finest threads that would bring nightmares to anyone with even a casual fear of clowns.
The meandering story follows three departed souls who have been brought to the carnival to presumably get what they are due by the devil. Herein lies one of my major problems with the film. Two of those brought to the carnival seem to deserve what they have coming: a thief and a suicide. (Not that I agree with that, but it is commonly accepted in our society that those who commit suicide will be punished.) The third is a teenager who is all too trusting. Her only obvious flaw is being gullible. To put her in the same category as the other two sinners simultaneously makes me question the validity of her story line, and reaffirms the devil’s random and evil ways.
Each of these characters is forced to encounter their downfalls and they all returns to their bad habits in the arena of the carnival. The band of misfit carnies celebrate their downfalls, and delight in their pain through song and performances fit for the main stage of the devil’s circus. These songs are decent, though not nearly as catchy as the songs from Repo!. I can’t help but think the absence of Sarah Brightman’s powerhouse vocals from Repo! forced the songwriters to limit the scope of their music here.
The only real connection between the three victim’s stories is the carnival, which leads to the film running like an anthology, rather than a single coherent plot. Each vignette is edited around each other, with the audience following one story for a little while, before seeing what the other characters are up to. Were it not for the skimpy running time (just 55 minutes) this exercise in story telling with no real characters to relate to might seem tedious, but The Devil’s Carnival keeps swiftly moving and is over before you know it.
While the character development is thin, and the songs are forgettable, it is the visuals of the carnival that make this film worth watching. The sets are ambitious and beautiful, and look like they were all paid for with an extensive Hollywood budget. Each character’s costume and make-up is perfectly suited to convey the evil atmosphere of the carnival, so much so that is feels like you are in that hell yourself. If you are looking forward to a quick journey into the devil’s personal fairground, then you will love the dripping eye candy in The Devil’s Carnival. But be warned, that may be all that there is to love here.