It’s that time of the year again. The month of October is upon us. So to celebrate, we at Full Circle Cinema put together another curated, month-long series with Screen Screams. This year, we will be checking our clocks as we wait in anticipation for the forbidden delight we call “the midnight movie”. And with midnight movies comes a variety of projects that are perhaps too niche for the masses. Today, we douse a musical in buckets of blood to cut our way into Repo! The Genetic Opera.
Loosely defined, a midnight movie is a low-budget genre film with an out-there sensibility. Oftentimes conflated with a “B-movie”, that term doesn’t really fit here. Midnight movies are like locks. Operating on their own level of weirdness, they’re waiting for just the right viewer to unlock their idiosyncratic pleasures. Is this my long-winded way of saying Repo! The Genetic Opera is one of my favorite movies of all time? You betcha.
Repo! The Genetic Opera exudes an energy that I can’t resist. The long-gestating passion project of writers Terrence Zdunich and Darren Smith, brought to life by director Darren Lynn “I Made Some of the Best Saw Movies” Bousman, its universe is as intoxicating as it is fully realized. The year is 2056. Organ failure is at an all-time high. GeneCo, led by patriarch Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino), has come upon with an elegant solution in synthetic organs loaned out to the populace on payment plans. However, if you miss a payment, the Repo Man comes and cuts out the organ.
The world of Repo! The Genetic Opera is an expansive one, even on its lower budget. In fact, that lower budget allows them to get more creative. Locations are sparse, though incredibly memorable. Who can forget the gothic visage of the home where protagonist Shiloh (Alexa Vega) stays trapped in her room due to her rare blood condition? Or the disgustingly flashy accommodations that Rotti, his two sons Pavi (Ogre) and Luigi (Bill Moseley), and daughter Amber Sweet (Paris Hilton) give to themselves? Can’t forget about the classic foggy graveyard that is the playground to the elusive Graverobber (Terrence Zdunich).
Any gaps are filled by tasteful comic-book style animated interludes. Frankly, you could throw these characters into an empty warehouse with just their costumes. And there’d still be plenty to discern of Repo!‘s rich imagination. Such is the mastery of the downright iconic work Alex Kavanagh has put together. The narcissistic Pavi’s white mask pasted on top of his face and the cyber-punk Bogeyman look that the Repoman wears are awe-inspiring. It’s Hot Topic coming to life, and that’s absolutely a compliment.
Stated earlier in this piece, our protagonist is 15-year-old Shiloh. Although her illness keeps her inside, that doesn’t keep her from breaking out from under the thumb of her domineering father (Anthony Head). Once she’s out of his clutches and out into the world where GeneCo is God, she’s drawn into a maelstrom of alliances, rivalries, and secrets that feels akin to a soap opera. Or, more accurately, a real opera. That’s right, baby, Repo! The Genetic Opera is a musical first and foremost!
There’s little to no proper dialogue in the film, so the music and lyrics by Smith & Zdunich do the heavy lifting. That isn’t a problem, as these are some of the most rocking tunes ever put to film. Repo! The Genetic Opera boasts a bevy of certified bangers. Vega’s wailing of “Tell me why, why are my genetics such a bitch?!” awakens the inner teenage angst in the most hardened viewer during her solo “Infected”. One of my personal favorites is “Legal Assassin” where Shiloh’s father anguishes over his sordid past, culminating in his reveal as the Repo Man. By the time “At the Opera Tonight!” brings us into the third act, susceptible audiences will be flying by the seat of their pants.
Being a Darren Lynn Bousman joint, there’s a fair amount of gore in this film. Yet, it feels somewhat like an afterthought. That’s not exactly a bad thing; the skin of a horror film is another proxy for Bousman to sneak in his grand opera. This is similar to what he did with his Saw films helping to further the soap opera narrative slowly encroaching it. To some, this may be a roadblock to the most bloodthirsty of viewers simply wanting people to be killed in cool ways. However, Repo! The Genetic Opera has its sights on another audience, one that it truly deserves to receive.
As a cult film, Repo! The Genetic Opera once seemed to poise to take on the kind of cultural presence of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Roadshows, shadow casts, you name it… and then the fervor calmed down. Which is a damn shame. To me, Repo! The Genetic Opera is a comfort film, one that I watch to soak in a fictional place unlike any other. I’ve made friendships over the film, bonding over the weirdness that fascinated us and the tunes, costumes, characters, and individual moments therein. Therefore, to me, Repo! The Genetic Opera has earned its place as the only worthy successor to Rocky Horror. – James Preston Poole
Repo! The Genetic Opera is now available on digital HD and home video.