Repo! The Genetic Opera [Guilty Pleasure Film]
As a lover of Horror movies and a Musical fan it’s a joy to find a film that combines the two. There’s something about the collision of these two worlds that is incredibly enticing. I grew up watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and inappropriately singing the songs at way too young an age, and since then have been seeking out other genre melding movies with catchy songs and gory undertones. From Tim Burton’s Claymation and live action Musicals to more recent fare like Christmas Horror Musical Anna & The Apocalypse there’s more out there offering sing-a-long Horror than you may imagine. It may seem like these genres shouldn’t overlap, yet when they do it always creates a hit for me, even if the critics disagree.
One such film, a personal guilty pleasure favourite of mine, definitely fits this description, with critics panning it on release while fans turned it into a cult classic. Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, the man behind three of the Saw sequels, Repo! The Genetic Opera is a Gothic Horror Musical set in a dystopian future where organ failure is so prolific that corrupt conglomerate GeneCo exploits it and provides organ transplants with an easy payment installment plan to cover the costs. The only catch, if you miss a payment you can expect a visit from the Repo Man, who will take back what GeneCo gave, even if it’s still beating.
GeneCo is run by ruthless businessman Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino) and when he discovers he is terminally ill he must decide which of his deplorable children to leave the company to. Should he entrust his sadistic son Luigi (Bill Moseley), his fame hungry daughter Amber (Paris Hilton) or his face stealing son Pavi (Nivek Ogre)? Knowing that they are all terrible choices he decides instead to leave everything to the daughter of his ex-fiancé whose father he forced into the position of head Repo Man. Shilo (Alexa Vega) believes she has a rare blood disease and is confined to her room for her own safety and dreams of escape. Through song we explore their past and the deception and feuding between these two families.
“It’s a visually enticing Musical that delves into a future of perfection chasing and bloody disembowelment.”
Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich, who wrote and composed the film, collaborated on an idea about a Graverobber who owes a debt to a Repo Man and created Necromerchant’s Debt, a ten minute rock opera that soon transformed into the stage play and then this gore splattered film. It’s the fans that willed this one into existence and still back its corner now.
Repo! The Genetic Opera nails its Sci-Fi Gothic aesthetic with a mixture of Victorian buildings and flashing neon billboards. From the comic paneled opening to the theatrical sets it’s a visually enticing Musical that delves into a future of perfection chasing and bloody disembowelment. Special shout out to frequent Boseman collaborators costume designer Alex Kavanagh, production designer David Hackl, art director Anthony A. Ianni and set decorator Liesl Deslauriers for breathing life into this Gothic, Biopunk nightmare world that is ghastly and beautiful in equal measures.
Repo! The Genetic Opera manages to meld the worlds of Horror and Musical perfectly. The songs are catchy and span from operatic numbers to Riot Grrrl rock. My personal favourites include ‘21st Century Cure’ and ‘Zydrate Anatomy’. Each Musical interlude has its own personality and expands on the mythos of this post-apocalyptic future world. The Horror and Torture Porn influences are clear throughout. From Nathan puppeting a corpse to the sadistic stabbing of the Genterns all the way to dramatic self eye removal, it makes sure you squirm while you sing. It doesn’t hold back on the splatter and crescendos every swish of the scalpel with geysers of blood to bathe the twisted needs of any Horror fan.
The actors are completely committed to the insane premise of this film and knock out their performances with some incredible vocals and pitch-perfect enthusiasm. Alexa Vega is perfect as Shilo, bringing innocence, teen angst and vulnerability to her character as she develops and grows. Previous Sunnydale Watcher Anthony Stewart Head shows off his voice as Nathan, a father, widow and head Repo Man who can pull out a spine whilst belting out rock notes like a professional.
Then there’s the Largo siblings which includes Horror icon Bill Moseley stealing the show with his rage fueled intensity and performance artist Nivek Ogre as the ‘panty stealing’, face wearing Casanova of the family. Paris Hilton adds to her Horror repertoire and is brilliantly cast as spoilt heiress Amber Sweet whose addiction to plastic surgery leads to her downfall.
Opera star Sarah Brightman lends credibility to the proceedings with her beautiful haunting voice and enviable Gothic style. Taking on a third role in the film’s creation, writer and composer Terrnance Zdunich stars as the GraveRobber, our corpse-like narrator and peddler of black market Zydrate. It’s a stacked cast that oozes with energy and talent, there’s even a cameo from rock legend Joan Jett, what more could a rock opera need?
So sod the critics, and ignore the Razzie awards, this film is an enjoyable mash up of Rock and Opera, gore and the Gothic, and scalpels and sing-a-longs. I feel no guilt rewatching this stylised medley of Horror and Musical and nothing will stop me from belting out the soundtrack whenever I feel the need. Throw on your new faces, grab that vial of Zydrate and join me in a show stopping rendition of ‘Night Surgeon’. You know you want to!