Repo! The Genetic Opera was released in 2008 and is based on the stage musical from 2002 of the same name. Created by Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich, it was inspired by an idea Smith got from seeing a friend of his go through bankruptcy proceedings. This was further expanded on and then blended with a dose of horror and science fiction to go along with a heavy rock opera sound.
The film adaptation hoped to mirror the success of The Rocky Horror Show‘s move from stage to screen in the mid-70’s. In aid of this, Darren Lynn Bousman, well known for his contributions to the Saw horror series, was brought on to direct the project and fulfil Smith/Zdunich’s vision.
The film’s plot and setting is vaguely similar to that of Blade Runner, only here the assassins, or more accurately Repo Men, hunt down clients of GeneCo, a company that provides organ transplants on a payment plan. GeneCo is very successful thanks to the organ failure epidemic ravishing the planet and when their clients don’t pay up, the organs are retrieved. The plot also deals with addictions to both drugs and cosmetic surgery, which all ties into the film’s main theme, which is the issue of paying off debts that everyone in normal society has to deal with.
Repo! cast accomplished musical performers in many of the lead roles, such as the stage veteran and star Sarah Brightman (The Phantom of the Opera), screen legend Paul Sorvino (Goodfellas), and the talented Anthony Stewart Head (Buffy the Vampire Slayer). They were joined by Alexa Vega (Spy Kids) in the lead role, who also happens to have some singing experience on her resume. Finally, known socialite Paris Hilton (1 Night in Paris) has a fairly substantial supporting role.
Repo! opens with comic book style intros and back stories for the important characters, beginning with Zdunich himself as GraveRobber, a character who steals Zydrate from corpses. He sells this drug to help pay for his organs. What follows is your typical musical format with plenty of singing numbers, including one called “Zydrate Anatomy” that explains the addiction of going under the knife in a bid for beauty and vanity, performed by Hilton’s character Amber Sweet. Sort of off-topic, but Hilton was asked in an interview whilst promoting the film if she would ever dream of having plastic surgery, to which Hilton replied “No” ( . . . ).
While the set designs for Repo! were brilliant, some of the acting certainly wasn’t the best, particularly from a few supporting cast members. As for the gore elements, they’re very bloody and born of the director’s vision to use aspects found in exploitation films where victims are mutilated to death.
Sadly, the film’s merits were a mixed bag among most critics and general audiences, leading to a low rating on many aggregate sites such as Rotten Tomatoes, where is currently has a score of 35%. Though deemed a critical failure, it has earned itself a cult following, scoring a 72% audience rating on RT and a 6.7/10 on IMDb. However, it also won a Razzie Award thanks to Hilton’s supporting actress gig.
Repo! has since faired well through online streaming and via Blu-ray/DVD (which includes a neat sing-along feature) sales, while also garnering attention though late night screenings at horror film festivals. The film is also shown through official “Shadow Cast” performances where the movie is screened while simultaneously being recreated by live performers, sometimes including original cast members. These events usually include a Q&A session with the film’s creators as well.
While the film has cultivated a dedicated following, many of whom cosplay as characters from the film at conventions and screening events, Repo! still has a long way to go before it’s considered in the same length as The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Finally, here’s the trailer to give you a taste of what to expect.