It’s the Sound of Screams month at Nightmare on Film Street and the minions here at the Video Vault have been digging through our shelves for something that not only embodies the theme’s celebration of sound, music, and, of course, screams but also honors this month’s more traditional theme… Halloween!
While this early turn of the 21st-century pick may be outside of our usual VHS vibe, we think we have uncovered a film akin to our more traditional programming. So strap on your leather trench coat, tack on your party masks, and get ready to rock and shock as we make a trip to Darren Lynn Bousman’s Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008).
BACK OF THE BOX OVERVIEW
In the year 2054, a pandemic of organ failures sweeps the planet and gives rise to GeneCo., a nefarious corporation offering life-saving transplants that only a few can afford. Those who can’t are given a choice; die, or sign your life away to pay for the operation, but those who become delinquent in their payments are put on the GeneCo. hit list where hired soldiers, Repo Men, track down and repossess the organs.
Enter protagonist 17-year-old Shilo Wallace, a teenager confined to her prison of a bedroom because of a rare blood disorder she inherited from her mother. She secretly sneaks out at night lurking through this dystopic world of drug addicts and legalized murderers in search of her independence. While out on these dangerous streets she soon discovers more than she cares to know about her family’s secretive history after she pays a visit to The Genetic Opera.
ORGAN DONOR’S LIST
The cast of characters in the film adaptation of the 2002 musical of the same name is as colorful as the S&M bound images that flash across the screen in a Blade Runner (1982) meets The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) meets Puccini’s Madame Butterfly (1904) meets Nü-Metal style in and of itself.
Alexa Vega (Mother’s Day, 2010) stars as Shilo Wallace, a teen imprisoned in both an illness and her home longing for autonomy. Paul Sorvino (The Stuff, 1985) plays Rotti Largo, the ailing head of the powerful Largo family and founder and president of GeneCo. Anthony Stewart Head (Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, 2007) is Nathan Wallace, Shilo’s father, widower to his deceased wife Marni, and head Repo Man for Largo’s GeneCo. Opera phenom Sarah Brightman (1st Night, 2010) plays Blind Mag, the born blind Godmother of Shilo who was given the gift of sight through GeneCo. only to be marked for repossession by the evil corporation later.
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Back when people were still casting her in movies, Paris Hilton (House of Wax, 2005) starred as Carmel Largo, better known by her stage name as Amber Sweet. Sweet is Rotti’s only daughter who happens to have a propensity for plastic surgery and Zydrate, an illicit drug she obtains through sexual favors. Bill Mosley (3 From Hell, 2019) is Luigi Largo the murderous eldest son of Rotti’s children who may dress fancy but will stick you with his trademark blade at the drop of a hat. Industrial metal pioneers, Skinny Puppy’s lead singer Nivek Orge (The Devil’s Carnival, 2012) plays the flamboyant Pavi Largo, Rotti’s middle child. Despite his effeminate facade, Pavi is a vapid, narcissistic, womanizer who wears the skinned face of a woman over his own deeply scarred visage to show just how much of a sicko he really is.
MUSIC OF THE NIGHT
Repo’s writer and composer Darren Smith wrote the film while going through bankruptcy and while his possessions were going into foreclosure and eventual repossession, the idea for the film struck him. Originally titled The Necromerchant’s Debt, Smith with fellow writer Terrance Zdunich (The Barrens, 2012), had envisioned a musical about a graverobber indebted to a repo man and a stage production debuted in 2002. It was such a success that Smith and Zdunich felt the need to expand upon the universe they had created to encompass all of the elements that would soon become Repo! The Genetic Opera.
A 7-track demo CD dubbed the Pre-Surgery Sampler was released in 2008 along with a 22-track soundtrack released on September 30. In February of 2009, an extended soundtrack titled Deluxe Edition was released online. The reissue contained 38 tracks with the film used version of the song Zydrate Anatomy which a slightly longer version than the previously released soundtrack. A 14-track OST was released as well containing original instrumental pieces featured in the film.
PITCHING THE PANDEMIC
While Repo! The Genetic Opera had sung to new heights on the stage, creators Smith and Zdunich wanted to take their dystopian story to new audiences, and what better way than to make a film adaptation? The story was ripe for a cinematic retelling and so the search was on for someone who believed in it as much as its architects.
Enter Darren Lynn Bousman (Tales of Halloween, 2015). The Saw franchise director envisioned such great potential in the story that he financed and directed a short ten-minute version to use as a pitch tool for studio funding. The short starred Shawnee Smith (Saw, 2004) as Amber Sweet (Heather Sweet in this version of the film), Michael Rooker (Slither, 2006) as the Repo Man, Kristen Fairlie (Goosebumps TV series, 1996) as Shilo, co-creator Zdunich as Graverobber (a role he reprised in the feature film), and J. Larose (Insidious, 2010) as Pavi.
REPO! THE EXPENSIVE OPERA
The ten-minute short worked. Lionsgate greenlit production on Repo! The Genetic Opera although director Bousamn was still going to be financing 90% of the picture. But with cameras, cast, and crew ready to roll principal photography began in September 2007 in Canada. Originally slated for an April 2008 release date was pushed back to November 7th due to production being behind schedule and a lack of support fromdistributor Lionsgate meant the production had more rough waters ahead.
The film opened on November 7, 2008, to a mere 11 screens. This was due, in part, to Lionsgate’s lack of faith in the niche film’s box office performance, but that didn’t stop Bousman, who had a considerable amount already invested in the project. He decided to take the show on the road, touring the film along with writer/creators Smith and Zdunich around the world on one night only stops. The Czech Republic, Spain, several US cities, and Toronto, Canada, where the film was shot, were all treated to screenings and it generated a groundswell of interest raising Repo into bonafide cult classic status. As word spread, fans started showing up to screenings in costume and acting out the film as it played on screen a la Rocky Horror. Bousman took a huge gamble (and likely a financial hit) but he had himself admission into the midnight movie club where his film would sit among classics like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Phantom of the Paradise (1974), and Pink Floyd: The Wall (1982).
HOME SWEET HOME MEDIA
Since it was made well after the death knell of VHS had rung its final toll, Repo! The Genetic Opera was released on DVD and Blu-ray in January of 2009. The US DVD release contained two commentaries; one from Bousman with actors Vega, Mosley, and Ogre while the other featured Bousman, Smith, and Zdunich. It also housed Stage to Screen and Legal Assassin – A Repo Man, two featurettes on the making of the film.
The Blu-ray held some different features such as a select-scene audio commentary by Bousman and actress Paris Hilton, a video sing-along complete with follow-along bouncing heart, four deleted scenes, and two additional featurettes; Zydrate Anatomy – Amber Sweet: Addicted to the Knife and Chase the Morning – Blind Mag: The Voice of GeneCo.
TRILOGY OF TRIAGE
Creators Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich have maintained for years now that Repo! The Genetic Opera is really the second chapter of a trilogy of films telling the twisted tale of GeneCo. and the degenrates of the future. The next chapter would be a prequel focusing on events leading up to The Genetic Opera tentatively titled Repo! The Beginning, but a poor box office return for Repo coupled with the loss of story rights for Smith and Zduinch, it’s not likely these films will come to fruition.
Regardless of studio fumblings, Repo, the little horror musical that could, managed to etch out a place for itself as a marquee musical in the annals of midnight movies. It’s a fun, gory, electric film that brings a fresh modern take on the old rock opera genre, but beyond the glossy exterior lies a poignant social commentary on corporate greed and privatized medicine. So grab yourself a fist full of Halloween candy, pour a drink or two, and sit back for a wild ride to the year 2054 with Repo! The Genetic Opera. You’ll be glad you did.
And that’s our pick for the Sound of Screams month. Before you go, be sure to help yourself to some complimentary Halloween ladyfingers made from real ladies, of course. While you’re enjoying your treats, be sure to head to the Nightmare on Film Street Twitter, Subreddit, and the Horror Movie Fiend page on Facebook for some tricks spooky enough to make you regret eating real ladyfingers. Until next time fellow fiends, stay creepy.