Spoiler warning. I will try to be as oblique as I can when describing the movie, but some of the more interesting talking points could spoil it for you if you haven't seen it yet.
Reviewing the second installment of a three-part work can be tricky. No matter how good the expository introduction might be, there is almost always the nagging feeling that key elements are missing or rather missed due to lack of information. This never gets better when the movie bumps to a stop and I'm dying to know what happens next. Okay, I'll admit that bated breath one moment followed by a gasp as the credits start to roll in the next is a sign of good storytelling.
So let me get this out of the way: It is going to be a long two to three year wait to find out what happens to Va-Va-Voomish June (Emilie Autumn) and her recently fallen boyfriend, The Agent (Adam Pascal), who was once one of God's favorite people.
In the world of "The Devil's Carnival", it's tough being a denizen of Hell, but even more hellish is the life (Afterlife? Half-life?) of someone God actually likes. God is interpreted as Paul Sorvino looking and acting like a mix of L. Ron Hubbard and a television evangelist and heaven is a cinematic neverwhere situated between Terry Gilliam's "Brazil" and the fluid remains of Busby Berkeley's hippocampus. In spite of any attempts at being all chrome and white and light, it's a dark, dark place.
At the heart of this ingenious creation is the simple act of storytelling, a gift of Satan (Terrance Zdunich) to those who don't meet the standards of a capricious God. According to online sources, the first movie retold three fables from Aesop: "The Dog and Her Reflection", "The Scorpion and the Frog", and "Grief and His Due" . In the second movie, the focus is on Heaven. There is a single story, a mashup of Pandora, Eve, and Lilith as June, one of the many young female aspirants to greater divine status, can't seem to stop asking all the wrong questions. She kicks off the traces that so narrowly define Heaven's allowable limits of knowledge. She's carnal, she desires information, and most of all, she wants to make up her own mind. Is it a surprise she ends up in the devil's camp?
Unlike Bousman and Zdunich's earlier operatic work, "Repo: The Genetic Opera", The Devil's Carnival movies are traditionally structured musicals. The songs are as good, no, better than most of the music coming out of New York's corporate theater scene right now. (Click on the link for Zen Dixie Radio on the menu bar to hear the soundtracks for Parts One and Two.) The score is a thing of beauty. As much as I loved the actors' performances, it was sometimes hard to avoid being taken out of the moment by the background music. It's gorgeous.
The acting is spot-on. The cheerful malevolence of the Heavenly host is chilling. David Hasselhoff is so camp he almost reads like a walking, talking Chick tract, The Ladies of Virtue are seriously scary in their plastic perfection and sweet Jesus, Ted Neeley is creepy. On the other side, mobilizing for war, Hell is populated by a principled Satan and perdited souls who seem to be thinking a lot harder about what's going on than their counterparts upstairs.
In one of the key scenes, Satan decides he's had enough of being defined by heavenly standards and exhorts everyone around him to shed the last remaining artifact of their agreement to a system not of their making that excludes them. The scene is both cathartic and the true emotional climax of "Alleluia". Superficially it might scan as a Miltonian abandonment of hope. In truth, it is a reclamation of the strength and beauty and human imperfection. If you're paying attention, you'll get it. This will be your goosebumps moment.
I initially agreed to cover this because I'm a fan of "Repo". It looked like a night of campy, gothy fun watching people who are reportedly extraordinarily good to their fans get and give love. It was all of that. What I didn't expect was to be so affected by what I saw on the screen. Beneath the glitter and grit are serious questions about the nature of how we delineate the sacred and the profane. So please do see this. If you can't make the tour -which is a lot of fun- find a copy. This cinematic middle child has a distinctive style that doesn't take too long to learn to parse and the rewards for the viewer go well beyond the superficial shivers of your typical late night creature feature.
My grade for Alleluia! The Devil's Carnival : A