Darren Bousman looked out over the nearly empty Egyptian Theatre Aug. 9.
"There's a part of me that wants to cry right now," the director said, scanning the approximately 70-80 people scattered around the historic theater's ground floor.
Bousman and other event organizers had a notion that they wouldn't have a packed house for the advance screening of their new work, The Devil's Carnival: Episode One, and roped off the upper sections of the theater.
Enthusiastic attendees familiar with Bousman and writer Terrance Zdunich's work arrived in costumes with an overtly sexual, dark-circus feel, and mingled with plainclothes attendees uninitiated with works such as 2008's Repo! The Genetic Opera. The division was apparent, although a majority of the attendees belonged to a subculture that could quote Repo! lines, sing the songs, and contributed to the viewer video that preceded the Devil's Carnival screening, which featured knit dolls, dark costumes and plenty of sultry poses, all set to the song "Trust Me" from the new film.
A behind-the-scenes look at the making of Repo! had attendees singing along, and showed a brunette Paris Hilton prepping for her role in the film.
The evening's hostess—clad in a bustier, shorts and shrunken top hat—attempted to amp up the crowd with nightclub promo tactics, calling audience members "bitches" and peppering in plenty of profanity while telling them their screams weren't loud enough.
The hostess then announced that the traveling show uses local sideshow performers at its events, and introduced The Magic Man, who was swallowed up in the giant balloons he blew up. An audience member divulged her "darkest secret" onstage (which later earned her the moniker of "cock tease" from the hostess), and a brief costume contest ensued, which had more in common with a wet T-shirt contest.
"Chicks with awesome tits can come up without a costume," the hostess yelled.
Female participants had no problem showing off their favorite assets. A dark voice echoed throughout the theater, and a clock onscreen displayed a countdown to the film's start time.
The film was an interesting romp through a carnival in hell. Zdunich reads Aesop's Fables as Lucifer, and a slew of condemned souls enact the stories. Derrick Hinman's set of creepy striped tents and funhouse wares was beautiful, and Dawn Ritz's costumes were innovative and certainly noteworthy.
The film isn't one that's going to gain mass appeal, but it does its job satisfying a certain subset's desires. The cast and crew are to be applauded for producing a product as finished as The Devil's Carnival in a week's time and with a budget of $100,000. (By contrast, Repo! had a $1 million budget and took 40 days to complete.)
But more interesting than the approximately hourlong film was the conversation that ensued during the question-and-answer session with Bousman and Zdunich. After noting the emptiness of the theater, Bousman said he was still happy because the films have come so far. He said that his last three films had gone straight to DVD, and called it "a knife in the gut; a kick in the balls."
But the Saw II and III director wasn't exactly whining. He explored the conundrum of art for art's sake vs. art with exposure, and talked about creating and approaching artists to get involved in his films "from a passion standpoint."
"One of the biggest things against us is we're not mainstream," Bousman said.
Bousman noted that the films don't have any billboard advertisements, and let loose a phrase not uncommon among hippies and angry teens: "Fuck the system. Fuck the man," before asking if anyone had heard of Kickstarter, saying that the traveling show works as its Kickstarter campaign.
He also previewed Episode Two, already in pre-production, saying that it deals with heaven and angels, and will be more "risque, sexual and violent" than Episode One.
"We're going to offend a lot of people in this one," Bousman said.
Bousman then encouraged attendees to "go on Facebook and Twitter and bash the fuck out of"—or express their happiness with—his film in hopes of creating a buzz.