Going to see a movie tends to be a no-frills affair, unless you count over-priced snacks and the thrill of never knowing when a fellow patron is going to crush your toes as they stumble towards the restrooms. But those folks who attend the upcoming roadshow presentations of the Rocky Horror-esque musical Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival will get more than that — a lot more.
“We wanted to do something that could not be translated to a Torrent site, or Netflix,” says the film’s director, Darren Lynn Bousman. “So, we came up with this idea for a hybrid, rock concert-immersive experience-movie where we turn the theater into a crazy, punk-rock, rock’n’roll venue for the night. We have live-music opening acts. We have everything from magicians to burlesque dancers to sing-a-longs to R-rated clowns. And, most importantly, we have the movie.”
Yeah, yeah, we’ll get to the actual film in a moment. What the Dickens is an “R-rated clown”? “We had quite a variety of opening acts on the last roadshow,” says Bousman, 36, whose new film is a sequel to 2012’s similarly-roadshowed The Devil’s Carnival. “We had a couple of clowns that did very risqué things. They look like children’s clowns but they would make, like, X-rated balloon animals. All tongue-in-cheek—no one actually got pornographic — but they would do things that, let’s just say, would not be appropriate for a kid’s birthday.”
Bousman made his name directing the first three sequels of the torture traps-filled Saw franchise, a trio of films which cumulatively grossed close to half a billion dollars around the world. The young director used his newfound Hollywood muscle to secure finance for 2008’s Repo! The Genetic Opera, a macabre, future-set musical about body organ-repossession whose cast included Anthony Stewart Head, Paul Sorvino, Broadway veteran Sarah Brightman, and Paris Hilton. The film was a box office failure but acquired a cult following, in large part because of Bousman’s decision to tour the Repo! around the country. For the first Devil’s Carnival, another film which melded tunes with horror trappings, Bousman expanded the concept into a full-scale bells-and-whistles-and-R-rated-clowns roadshow.
“The Devil’s Carnival is a weird, crazy, out-of the-box, rock’n’roll musical, that came about after myself and some friends and artists became desensitized with the Hollywood machine,” says Bousman. “It was becoming harder and harder for an independent filmmaker to find any sort of meaningful distribution unless you had a huge star or it was released by a huge studio. We all got together and we said, ‘What can we do? How can we combat this and make our own mark in the distribution system?’ That said, we still wanted to make sure the film stands alone so, when it did end up on iTunes and Netflix, it was still a viewable experience.”
What exactly is Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival about? “Our story is about Lucifer, played by Terrance Zdunich, who is also the film’s songwriter and composer [with] Saar Hendelman,” says Bousman. “Lucifer, basically, is sick and tired of having to guard Hell. He’s tired of the role that he’s been assigned and says to God, ‘F-you, I’m done with this.’ He decides that instead of sitting down there in Hell and doling out punishment, he’s going to start sending people back to Paul Sorvino, who plays God.”
In addition to Sorvino and Zdunich, the movie also features a couple of Bousman’s personal musical heroes: Rocky Horror Picture Show star Barry Bostwick and Ted Neeley, who played the lead role in the 1973 big screen adaptation of Jesus Christ Superstar. “I’m the biggest Jesus Christ Superstar fanatic,” says Bousman. “I’m a freak. I’ve seen the movie a thousand times. I’ve spent tons of money on memorabilia. If you go back to my first interviews doing Saw II, people always said to me, ‘What was the movie that made you want to be a director?’ And in those interviews, you’ll see me say, Jesus Chrsit Superstar. And now I’m getting to work with the likes of Ted Neeley, and Adam Pascal of Rent, and Barry Bostwick of Rocky Horror, and David Hasselhoff.”
That’s right: Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival stars Jesus, Brad Majors, and the Hoff.
“One of the [reasons] why these movies work is because they’ve got — and pardon my French — the ‘What the F–k?’ factor,” says Bousman. “You look at the cast and you’re like, ‘Are you kidding me? Paris Hilton and Sarah Brightman? What the f–k?’ So, I wanted somebody that had a cultish personality, and had his own legion of fans, and David Hasselhoff immediately came to mind. The guy is a singer, he’s been on Broadway, and he doesn’t take himself seriously. I’ll give you a little anecdote that I hope he doesn’t get mad at me telling. He shows up on-set the first day and he’s wearing a David Hasselhoff mask. So, he has a mask of himself on, and he takes the mask and he goes, ‘Ha! Ha! Ha! The Hoff has arrived.’ I was like, This guy is my hero. And he nailed the scene. He’s hilarious in the movie and he’s got a great voice. That said, he probably today still has no idea who I am.”
Then again, Bousman himself sometimes has litte idea how a night at the Devil’s Carnival is going to turn out. “We did the Canadian premiere of [the first Devil’s Carnival film] at the Fantasia Festival in Montreal,” he says. “We find this great opening act and, at the last second, the act cancels. It’s about two hours before the premiere and this girl calls us and she says, ‘I have this great act where I dance with a boa constrictor and audiences love it.’ And we say, ‘Okay, that sounds awesome.’ So we hired her [but] we didn’t get to meet her until she went on. So she goes out and, literally, the music that she has is, like, Hungarian chanting. She cuts herself with a knife onstage and begins to bleed, pretty profusely, and dances [topless] onstage with the snake. Everyone in the audience’s jaw dropped, our jaw dropped, the festival programmer’s jaw drops. We had no idea what to do. That’s the great thing [about] the Devil’s Carnival. Every night, you have no f–king clue what’s going to happen.”
The Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival roadshow premieres at the Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles, CA., on Aug. 11. A full list of dates can be found at the film’s official website. You can see a trailer for the movie below.