On one level, it’s a cult flick, all right: Much like the early engagements of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (a few years before the kids made fun of it and the craze caught on), Repo!
flopped big time at the box office last November during its 11-bijou,
$146,000 theatrical run. And the movie version has been helmed by
Darren Lynn Bousman, who guided the gore for three Saw
installments, which means there will be blood. Its outlaw street cred
now secure, that means it’s cultishly cool to ghoulishly groove with Repo! as a DVD item from Lions Gate Home Entertainment.
Repo! playwrights Darren Smith
and Terrance Zdunich have set their opera in 2056, a time that has been
perceived in futuristic flicks as when the world will become a
dystopian society where corporations rule what’s left of the populace.
(Alas, I’ll be dead by then, so I’ll never know if such a bleak vision
becomes a reality.) A mysterious illness has caused organ failures on a
global scale, so the biotech crooks at GeneCo offer organ transplants
at a hefty price plus a Faustian clause attached: Those unable to make
monthly payments will receive a fateful visit from a repo man, who will
carve up the debtor’s body to retrieve the organ. Meanwhile, GeneCo’s
consumptive tycoon Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino, making like Pavarotti in
a powdered wig) has issues with his bratty kids; he also has a peculiar
interest in 17-year-old Shilo Wallace (Spy Kids’ Alexa Vega), a goth shut-in whose overly protective dad Nathan (Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Anthony Stewart Head) has an unsavory but key connection to Largo.
Beyond the expected grisly interludes of
hearts getting ripped out, Smith and Zdunich attempt some satire aimed
at the Botoxed wealthy who update their bodies with new skin grafts.
For example, Paris Hilton—in an acting stretch—plays Largo’s spoiled
rich daughter who is addicted to new surgical procedures; at one point
her new designer face falls off and what’s underneath resembles the
yucky kisser adorning 1958’s Queen of Outer Space. Ah, beauty is skin deep, remember?
More problematic is the playwrights’
music score, and if you’re expecting couplets and corpses, forget it.
Just because all the expository dialogue is sung instead of simply
uttered doesn’t make Repo! a genuine rock opera. It ain’t
Sondheim, either, especially when Shilo warbles the plaintive riff,
“I’m infected by your genetics/ And I don’t think that I can be fixed/
Tell me why oh why/ Are my genetics such a bitch.” If you’re in the
mood for 98 minutes of grinding guitars, however, have at it—and yes,
that’s Joan Jett rocking away in an uncredited cameo at the 58-minute
Still, it’s amazing that this macabre
magnum opus was green-lighted at all. Director Bousman apparently had
some clout with Lions Gate, thanks to the box-office millions that
flowed into the studio’s coffers with his Saw cinema, although he must have been given a low budget for Repo!
and a mandate to cram much crimson into this creepshow. (One scene has
a repo man performing some ventriloquist shtick as he removes the
entrails from his victim. Some fun, eh?) And while the
Metallica-flavored score lacks any memorable qualities, Head’s
emotionally tortured Nathan and soprano Sarah Brightman as the tragic
Blind Mag lend their powerful pipes to distinguish their musical
contributions. For gorehounds, this must be their Sgt. Pepper’s, by way of Hannibal Lecter.
Repo! The Genetic Opera’s DVD is
letterboxed at a 1.85:1 ratio; the box states an incorrect ratio of
1.78:1. Director Bousman can be heard on two separate audio
commentaries, one with Smith, Zdunich and music producer Joseph
Bishara, the other featuring actress Vega and co-stars Bill Moseley (The Devil’s Rejects)
and Skinny Puppy musician Ogre, who portray Largo’s despicable sons. A
two-minute trailer is included, along with the four-minute “Legal
Assassin: A Repo Man on the Edge,” which is a “webisode” that was once
found on the movie’s Web site, with tinny audio and fuzzy visuals as
primary distractions. The 11-minute “From Stage to Screen” vignette
offers a snappy overview of Repo!’s history as an evolving
performance piece mounted at Los Angeles rock clubs, including a video
clip from a June 2002 production. Co-creator Smith likens Repo! to a mix of Blade Runner and Rocky Horror,
and that opinion is certainly borne out via David Hackl’s impressively
grotesque production design, particularly his concept of an indoor
cemetery. Whatever its drawbacks may be, it’s evident that Repo! is indeed a lurid labor of love.
Face the music: Paris Hilton grapples with skin-graft issues in Repo! The Genetic Opera.