Icons of Fright Talks ALLELUIA!: THE DEVIL’S CARNIVAL With Director Darren Lynn Bousman!

alleluiaDarren Lynn Bousman certainly knows how to make a wide variety of films. Having directed three SAW films (II, III and IV), the alleluia2Jersey Devil shocker THE BARRENS and the brutal loose remake of MOTHER’S DAY, the prolific director has done a lot for the genre…and we haven’t even gotten to his musicals yet. Teaming up with actor/songwriter Terrance Zdunich, Bousman helmed the fan-favorite REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA, a film that has already achieved a large cult following in the seven years since it was made. REPO! was just the beginning for the Bousman/Zdunich duo, with 2012 seeing the debut of a new musical, THE DEVIL’S CARNIVAL, a circus extravaganza filled to the brim with many genre and musical names in one tale of a few people dealing with the sins they committed in life. Like REPO!, THE DEVIL’S CARNIVAL instantly attained a large fan base, and Bousman became just as synonymous with horror-based musicals and he was with the traps of the SAW series. Now 2015,  Bousman and Zdunich are back with ALLELUIA!: THE DEVIL’S CARNIVAL, a sequel that not only sees the return of some of the first film’s cast, but a who’s who of faces, including everyone from Sons of Anarchy‘s Dayton Callie to rapper Tech N9ne, all telling a story about the feud between heaven and hell.

We had a chat with Bousman about the film, which is gearing up to do a tour, all across the U.S., akin to how films and carnivals used to travel back in the day. Read on!

I know that with the first DEVIL’S CARNIVAL, as well as with REPO and now ALLELUIA!, Terrance handles the writing of the music, but I’m curious about you. Do you have a background as far as musical theater at all or was it something you just kind of fell into?

Yeah, I do. When I went to Kansas University, which is where I went to college, theater was my major when I started off. I was also brought up in theater. I went to a theater-based high school. My parents also got me involved in theater when I was a kid. So, I started doing theater really, really young and theater was something I was always drawn to. When I was in high school, my freshman year, I was involved Jesus Christ Superstar and things like that which kind of introduced me to musical theater and I really fell in love with it. I think that partially my obsession with Jesus Christ Superstar comes from being cast in that play and kind of becoming immersed in the music. Yeah, theater is definitely kind of my background.

What was the genesis of this whole partnership with Terrance to make these entertaining musicals?

You know it’s crazy how it came up, the first short film I ever directed was a musical. I was actually writing a musical about hell. It was about a guy who died and had to go spend three days in heaven, three days in purgatory and three days in hell. I wanted there to be three completely different distinctive styles of music. I was going around trying to find someone to help me make this big. At that time I found a producer and he had asked what my passion was and I said I wanted to make a musical. He goes “You know what’s crazy is that I got these other guys who are making a musical and you should meet up with them!” He gave me a sampler of their music, this was maybe a 5 song sampler of the stage play Repo! The Genetic Opera. I heard it and I just fucking loved it man. I met with Terrance and Darren Smith and I couldn’t stop talking about the music and so we all kind of hit it off. It started in a coffee house in North Hollywood where I was like you gotta let me direct your musical. So, I started off as a stage director, directing a stage show of Repo! on Hollywood Boulevard back in the beginning of 2000. That’s how Terrance and I first met.

Your approach to both of THE DEVIL’S CARNIVAL films and REPO! is really quite unique. It’s not like any other approach that’s being done today, you know with the kind of road show and touring and such. That really sets it apart. Was that your idea? I’m curious what inspired you guys to do that. 

I think the idea just came out of necessity. It came out of a need to want to succeed. When it happened with Repo! it was kind of the first amalgamation of it. It was because we worked in the theater. We spent years of our lives getting this movie made. We were really proud of it. Terrance and I both looked at this movie like “This is something I’m proud of and I want the world to see.” Lionsgate only put it in two theaters. So we said “We have two options here; we can accept the fate handed to us or we can do something to change it.” I think part of being an artist and part of being a filmmaker is to change with the industry and do what it takes to get your product seen. I didn’t spend years of my life to make a film that only my parents and friends would see. I wanted the world to see it. So we took the movie and we started driving it around. We started four-walling theaters. Anyone in the world that we can get to watch it, lets show it to them. That’s what happened.

We realized kind of immediately that not only did it work but the movie excelled in this format. Fans showed up dressed as characters and sang with the screen. It immediately kind of changed and right then, everything clicked in that this is the future of filmmaking. It’s making your movies an event. It’s not just making them and screening, you come out and watch it. You make it an event. You have to make it something where the audience is forced to be active, they have to participate in some respects. I think that’s where everything really changed for Terrance and I as filmmakers and artists. What if we started making movies where this was the norm? You had to show up, you had to dress and you had to sing and you had to be present in the moment. Everything kind of changed from that point on.

You know a lot of people consider REPO! and THE DEVIL’S CARNIVAL both kind of modern day ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOWs. Did you ever expect there to be such a large fan base and following for them?

I think we’re always surprised every time someone comes to see the movie. We are huge, huge fans of ROCKY HORROR. I think because of that, it’s always been in our brain and heart that is the type of movie we kind of excel at making. The idea that we actually succeeded in that is a different story. For me it was something we had to do, we had to make this movie. We had to think outside the box to get it distributed to get it seen. I wish more filmmakers did that because then people would begin to realize, you don’t have to be regulated to a straight to video fate. Just because you’ve been sent straight to video doesn’t mean you can’t change your fate, if you are a little bit creative you can do something else.

Another thing that’s really always catches me off guard in a good way is a lot your casting choices. I would never expect to see Tech N9ne in a musical. What kind of inspires you to reach out to those people?

Two things: I think we are extremely lucky in the way we get to cast whoever we want. There is no one dictating to us who to put in a movie. The first thing is what separates us from other films is, we have the final casting say. There is not a studio saying cast this person, there is not a producer saying put this person in it. It’s literally who we as artists, like and respect. So we make a list of artists and say “Who do we wanna work with?” So, Tech N9ne is a perfect example. I’m from Kansas City, Tech’s from Kansas City. I’ve followed his career for the last 8 or 9 years and I’m a huge Tech N9ne fan. I said I want Tech N9ne. Luckily our producer Shawn E. who has been involved with us since Repo!, also worked with Tech N9ne. So, it was a no brainer at that point for us, for him to make an introduction like he did. Someone, like Dayton Callie, I’m a huge, huge Deadwood fan. Deadwood is probably one of my favorite TV shows ever. So, I look at someone like that and I say I wanna work with Dayton Callie. We seriously just pick up a phone and we call, and I say “Dayton, you don’t know me but I’ve got this rock musical and I want you to come sing in it”. It’s that easy. Ninety-percent of the time, not all the time but Ninety-percent of the time, the people are down. They say “Fuck it, let’s do it”. I think in a movie like this you don’t get asked, it’s different than a regular film, in a movie like this there is something, no one comes after Dayton Callie and says “Come be in a rock opera”. I think that when you do something like this, it’s easier to get the actors attached to it just because of that pure what the fuck factor. I always say, I credit the big stuff of what we’ve done with the, what the fuck factor. It’s the type of movie when you see who’s in it, you just kind of scratch your head and say, ‘what the fuck’. I love that about it.

For people who have seen the first DEVIL’S CARNIVAL, what can they expect with this one?

It’s completely different. You have to come in kind of convincing yourself, you know with every movie we try to grow as artists and filmmakers and I think Terrence saw our position. So, we wanted to try to come back and do it again but not repeat ourselves and not do something that was identical. So with this, we came out and said “Let’s keep what fans loved about the first one, but let’s try to bring them something new and unique”. That’s kind of what we set out to do. There’s a lot of similarities you’re going to hear a lot of total things are similar but the music style is completely different. This is much more akin to that big band Hollywood gold ranch era. The first one was kind of dirty and grimy kind of carnie music. This one takes place in Heaven as opposed to hell, so we wanted to give Heaven kind of like a big band feel.


For a full list of ALLELUIA! THE DEVIL’S CARNIVAL‘s travelling show dates, visit http://www.thedevilscarnival.com.

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