Violent, rotten deaths are well-trodden terrain for Darren Bousman, the filmmaker perhaps best known for directing Saw II, III and IV. But there are other situations more profoundly stomach-churning for him than, say, the infamous head trap scene that opened Saw II, like when he first learned that his last two films were going to be released straight-to-video. "As an artist that's a horrible thing. You spend years and years of your life on something, and one day you get a phone call saying 'We're not going to release your movie,'" he says.
Years later, he may have found a way around the stifling Hollywood bureaucracy. His newest project, a musical-slash-rock show called The Devil's Carnival, screening tonight at the Laemmle's Monica 4-plex in Santa Monica, offers strong proof that the constraints of the conventional distribution model need not have a vice grip on the creativity and success of filmmakers. More on that in a second.
The easiest way to describe The Devil's Carnival would be Glee-meets-Rocky Horror Picture Show-meets-Tales From the Crypt. And if that's still too confusing to swallow, Bousman says, even better. "It's a mish-mash of insanity. Part musical, part horror film, part undefinable...a carnival in every sense of the word," he says.
Created with writer, actor and long-time collaborator Terrence Zdunich, The Devil's Carnival is a horror-fantasy musical film set in Hell, where characters are forced to contend with issues of morality through three different Aesop's Fables. Questions surrounding gullibility, greed and grief are framed through, respectively the tales of "The Dog and The Shadow," "The Scorpion and The Frog" and "Grief and His Due." Oh, and thanks to a simple inversion, God is evil and Lucifer (played by Zdunich) is good.
Rather than releasing the film through a distributor, Bousman and Zdunich decided to go the punk rock DIY route and self-release by packing up the gang in a tour bus and doing one-night only screening events in theaters across the country. In the spring, The Devil's Carnival went on a 40-city tour, and at every stop fans and first-timers showed up dressed up as different characters, turning a regular screening into a bonafide carnivalesque event. Most nights were sold out.
The Devil's Carnival's 26-city encore run, which kicked off at Comic-Con last month, is coming to a close this weekend, with its penultimate show taking place in Santa Monica.
Up next: their previous project, Repo! The Genetic Opera