Repo! The Genetic Opera

You cannot intentionally create a cult, outside of religion. The Rocky Horror Picture Show was a low-budget flick that flopped when it first came out in 1975, but now it’s the longest-running film of all time. To watch it now is to be charmed by the great songs, the B-movie pastiches, the utterly perfect cast, the bizarrely detailed production design, just the complete bisexual lo-fi fucknuttery of the entire thing. Trying to reproduce its success (or worse yet, remake it) isn’t going to work .

Now, if you take Rocky Horror, add Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera and a few My Chemical Romance videos… you’d end up with something like 2008’s Repo! The Genetic Opera, but probably much better.

I wanted to like this film. It’s resurfaced recently because the new big-budget sci-fi thriller Repo Men seems to rip off rather a lot of it… all the bits in fact, that it didn’t rip off from 1984’s Repo Man, another genuine Rocky-like cult film. Repo! was first devised ten years ago as a modest ten-minute rock opera and has grown since then. Unfortunately a number of elements have conspired to make it about as entertaining as being sat on heavily by the drummer from Paramore.

Sarah Brightman and Paris Hilton are great. Brightman classes it up, and Hilton is marvellously trashy. So far, so good. But, it’s a musical, and there’s a problem with having 64 songs in a 97-minute film. Not all of them can be zingers, especially with with lyrics like this:

I want a hit of Z
And were not talking for free
A game of give and take
Baby I’ll give ’til I break
But I ain’t nobody’s fool
This bitch knows the rules
I’ll let you fuck my soul
For a hit of that glow
So come on, climb on, man up!

I’m sure the stage production was lots of fun, but something seems to have happened to the songs in their translation to film. Any variation in each number is ironed out with a bombastic and dated nu-metal goth arrangement*. And then there’s the look of the thing. Directed by one of the Saw guys, every frame of Repo! has been tweaked to buggery to bleach skin tones and deepen blacks. Combine this with a complicated plot, too many flashbacks framed with cartoon panels, Grand Guignol splatterings, Buffy’s Anthony Stewart Head singing in a American accent, and the show’s creator Terrance Zdunich popping up as a creepy narrator, and you end up with a big hard-candy ball of WTF?

* Possibly the soundtrack might be fun to listen to on its own, like the original cast recording of Evita, released in 1976, two years before the first stage version, and still the definitive recording.

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