Repo! The Genetic Opera (dir. Darren Lynn Bousman, 2008) – During an epidemic of organ failures, a biotech company emerges with the antidote of transplants – for a price.
This post is part of Preamble to Halloween, an October marathon of horror features before the dawn of All Hallows’ Eve.
During a worldwide epidemic, biotech corporation Geneco forces millions to purchase costly organs in order to survive. On paper, it is hard to imagine any measure of success for a film that puts music to this near-future dystopia. While gorehounds may very well scoff at the idea of enjoying the Broadway experience, musical fans are just as likely to balk at the hungry scalpels’ excessive bloodshed, which make the Demon Barber of Fleet Street seem tame next to it.
But everybody’s got somebody. Repo! The Genetic Opera managed to find a large cult following in every sense of the phrase, gathering to savour macabre murders and soaring voices in opera alike. Some fans are practically worshippers of the unholy union. Echoes of “Testify!” rise as they arrive in theatres, decked out in character costumes, performing shadow casts of their favourite scenes before the big screen as recent as last year.
Their zeal is music to the ears of screen/songwriters Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich, who often show up at these shows in appreciation. How far had the pair come since their first meeting at an acting class. Back in the 90s when their partnership began, they had launched Repo! as a scaled down rock club performance. Then known as The Necromerchant’s Debt, it lasted all of 10 minutes and still charmed audiences in its short duration.
In 2002, Smith and Zdunich finally began their search for a director to stage a full-length play based on their brainchild. A serendipitous encounter led them to Darren Lynn Bousman. They put their trust in the then 23-year-old to bring their dream to life, despite him having no major directing credit under his belt. Well, not yet, anyway. Who knew that his filmmaking career would blow up in such a huge way just 3 years later? Talk about how the stars aligned.
When Bousman did enjoy success with his tremendous Saw sequels, one project remained at the back of his mind – what he, Smith and Zdunich had accomplished years before. But in spite of his rising name in the horror scene, he failed to convince the studios to take a chance with Repo!.
Bousman was nevertheless determined to make their passion project happen. Rejection did not faze him as he decided to finance and market the feature film himself. His admirable move took time to pay off. From Alexa Vega to Paris Hilton, the film’s eclectic cast was at first very much maligned, their competent acting and vocal abilities unfairly shot down based on preconceptions.
Even those who did give the actors a chance were confused. Horror fans who emerged from the Saw fandom had no idea what to make of the singsong proclamations that accompanied the violence. Critics lashed out at the grotesque torture, outlandish plot, over-the-top performances and over-stylised aesthetics.
Funnily enough, many of these latter alleged cinematic sins were precisely how Repo! The Genetic Opera came to be so well loved by others, even after all these years. With its cyberpunk aesthetics and gothic soundtrack, the musical seems uninterested in appealing to the masses. Instead, it wholeheartedly embraced fringe cultures, like few other films dared to do.
A low budget never once veils the sheer attitude and pure passion that fuel this unique opera, allowing it to live on loud every Halloween. We should be so thankful for the serendipitous encounters that birthed this audacious rock musical, embraced for its very oddity and willingness to venture beyond the conventional.