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Q&A: Darren Lynn Bousman and Terrance Zdunich Go Through Heaven and Hell on “ALLELUIA! THE DEVIL’S CARNIVAL”

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Currently roadshowing its way across the country, ALLELUIA! THE DEVIL’S CARNIVAL is Darren Lynn Bousman and Terrance Zdunich’s bigger, more extravagant sequel to their 2012 horror/musical. FANGORIA sat down with the duo for an in-depth discussion of the ambitious project.

Expanding their vision beyond the 55-minute original to feature length for ALLELUIA!, director Bousman and scripter Zdunich (who also wrote the music and lyrics with Saar Hendelman) continue the conflict between heaven and hell, headed respectively by God (Paul Sorvino) and Lucifer (Zdunich). This time, more of the story takes place behind the pearly gates, with a greater, glossier scope and a cast of genre, theater and musical notables, also including Adam Pascal, Marc Senter, Emilie Autumn, Nivek Ogre, Dayton Callie, Briana Evigan, Kristina Klebe, Bill Moseley, Brea Grant, Barry Bostwick and David Hasselhoff. As they did with REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA and the first DEVIL’S CARNIVAL, Bousman and Zdunich are touring across the country with ALLELUIA!, with live performances and Q&As as part of the show; go here for our report on the New York stop and hit up the official website for info on upcoming dates.

FANGORIA: ALLELUIA! is a much bigger movie than the first DEVIL’S CARNIVAL. Was it more difficult to get the financing and the production up and running on this one?

DARREN LYNN BOUSMAN: Yes and no. We found an independent company called Cleopatra Music & Films; in fact, their motto is “Independent as F**k.” That’s literally what it says when you go to their website. We were lucky to have them, but it took years after the first film to land the resources to make the second. It was a struggle to make something so outside the box. After part one came out, in fact, Terrance and I spent a long time trying to set it up as a TV show. We probably took a year meeting with different people about that, and it didn’t work out; I ended up taking another movie and Terrance kept working on the music. Eventually, we found Cleopatra, which was a perfect fit.

FANG: ALLELUIA! is less of an outright horror film than its predecessor; can you talk about that different approach?

TERRANCE ZDUNICH: Well, it depends on what you think of as horror. If anything, I think the first one’s actually safer. Even though, yes, it is darker because it takes place in hell, the messages are a little more traditional, whereas this one is kind of blasphemous. So I think it’s edgier.

In a way, Darren and I have been wrong most of the time about what our films really are. We set out to make what we like, and with REPO!, we said a million times that we thought we were making sort of a mainstream movie; that’s how obtuse we were. With ALLELUIA!, we’ve grown, we wanted to try different things—different types of music and styles of storytelling—and I believe the horror comes more from the subversive nature of the material.

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BOUSMAN: In some respects, this film actually does have a more blasphemous message than the original. And that is that God is the evil one: He is the one putting his thumb down and enslaving people; He’s a dictator. Hell is the place that’s offering you redemption. But there’s more glitz and glamour to ALLELUIA!, which is part of the point. In heaven, you can wear an expensive suit, and you can have sparkles and big band music, but no one’s happy there. It’s a horrible place where you’re oppressed, and if you don’t smile the right way, you’re scarred, like Kristina Klebe’s character, and forced to wear a smile. It’s like a cardboard cutout; if you look at it from the front, it’s a beautiful palace, but if you look at it from the side, it’s flimsy and it can fall over in a second.

FANG: You mentioned during the Q&A that you shot ALLELUIA! in 13 or 14 days; how did you pull off such an elaborate film in such a short amount of time?

BOUSMAN: It was f**kin’ hard [laughs], I’ll tell you that much. It was a struggle, and it was about compromise, as all art is. I think good art is being able to make something in spite of the compromises. When Terrance gave me the script the first time, it was huge, it was grandiose, and we were able to make a fraction of what was on the page. And the fact that we were still able to have a movie in spite of all the shit we were thrown up against… When Terrance and I sat down with the producers, we said, “We’re not going to be able to make this for a day less than 25 days, and a dollar less than $5 million.” And then it was like, “OK, $4 million,” then, “OK, $3 million,” “OK, $2 million,” “Fine, we’ll make it for $5!” [Laughs]

But, at the very end, we were like, OK, we have what we have and we have to make the best movie we can. You know what it was? Trusting ourselves as artists—trusting that we’d lock it and know what was right instead of second-guessing, because where people screw up on movies is in second-guessing themselves, and they shoot alternatives and options. We didn’t do that; we had no way to shoot alternatives and options.

FANG: You also mentioned that you shot many scenes in one take. What were the particular challenges of shooting musical numbers that way?

ZDUNICH: When you’re doing a musical, one of the hard parts is that the performances are recorded way before you start filming, so you have to lock into that. And lip-synching to your own performance is harder than it looks. If it doesn’t match up, it’s unusable, and it pulls you out of the scene. And then there was the fact that many of the characters, including yours truly, were heavily made up, and that added to the day as well. The opening scene on the train, “Shovel and Bone,” was my first day in makeup as Lucifer, and everything was going wrong. The whole day was falling behind, the makeup wasn’t working, the claws were flying off, the chin piece was falling off, and to do it in one or two takes was a challenge. But I don’t want to sound like I’m whining; ultimately, the set was a lot of fun.

FANG: Well, nothing about the movie seems compromised; there’s no point where it looks like anything’s missing.

ALLELUIADEVILSCREATORS2BOUSMAN: I think one reason we continue to succeed is that there’s a definitive vision behind what we do. That may sound arrogant, but there is. Terrance and I both come from a place of knowing what we want. People might not agree with it, people might not like it; in fact, people might hate it. And there were people in the audience tonight who hated it. We heard them!

ZDUNICH: [Laughs] You could see them! They were walking out!

BOUSMAN: The thing is, so many people fail by trying to appease everyone. They try to hit the middle, they try to hit the mainstream. F**k the mainstream! We’re making this for a very specific audience, and hopefully, other people will embrace it and say, “This is awesome!” But if you don’t get it, don’t watch the movie; go see something else. We make it for the people we know like these types of films, and there’s a real freedom in that. We know we can be as crazy and out-of-the-box as we want to be, and people will show up and wait for two hours to get in. They’ll see what we do, and dress up and come back the next time we do it.

FANG: On that point, as creators of the sequel, you were in the unique position of having seen the original with so many audiences, and how they reacted to it. Was that an advantage when it came to writing and developing the follow-up?

ZDUNICH: Yes and no. There’s always a danger of just getting comfortable and giving people what they want. After the first one, we could have very easily said, “People liked this format,” which was set in hell, we did three Aesop’s fables, it’s bookended by Lucifer reading and that’s it. And that could have worked again, but we were both very committed to the idea that if we were gonna keep doing this, and face the hardships that come with making it, we might as well keep trying different things. ALLELUIA! has a totally different aesthetic in some ways. And while that might turn off a portion of the fan base, who’ll say, “I wanted it this way,” it works for people who are truly interested in seeing what we do next. That’s what I’m most proud of.

BOUSMAN: One of my favorite sequels ever is THE DEVIL’S REJECTS, because basically, Rob Zombie said, “F**k everything I did [in HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES], I’m going to take these characters in a totally different direction.” And we kind of did the same thing with ALLELUIA! There’s nothing cool about repeating ourselves. If you know what we’re doing, we’re not cool any more, we’re predictable. And who wants to be predictable? I’ll tell you, part three will be nothing like part two. We might not even put one single song in the next one, just to f**k with people!

ZDUNICH: [Laughs] Or we’ll just do a 30-minute song!

BOUSMAN: It’ll be like “In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida” from Iron Butterfly, just one song that never ends!

FANG: How far are you actually along in developing a third DEVIL’S CARNIVAL?

BOUSMAN: We’ve talked about it, but here’s the reality: The fans don’t realize how much control they have over this. It really comes down to whether they want to see it. How they’ll decide if there’s a third one is by coming to our roadshows. If they show up and fill our seats every single night, there will be another movie. If the theaters are half-full, we won’t make it. So they’re literally voting with their dollars; that’s how simple it is. We don’t have a studio to say, “You guys have a third one greenlighted.” The fans have made us what we are, and they hold our fate in their hands. And that’s a liberating experience, because it’s like having a child. You raise your child, but there’s only so much you can do; at a certain point, you have to send it out into the world and hope people embrace it. We’ve made a movie, we’ve pushed it out into the world and now our job is to sit back and see how people like it. Our hope is that DEVIL’S CARNIVAL will continue, but it’s out of our hands now.

I also hope that what we’re doing is somewhat inspiring to other filmmakers. I’ve seen my last four features go straight to video, back to back to back. It sucks, it’s a painful experience, and that doesn’t have to happen. You don’t have to sit back and watch years of your work be relegated to a DVD shelf or VOD; you can do what we’re doing. Where Terrance and I connected was that we felt we could have been lazy, sat back and said, “Fine, REPO! is going to DVD,” but if we’d done that, it would not be where it is now. We decided we were going to four-wall a bunch of theaters—call them up and say, “Hey, put our movie in, we’ll pay you for it.” And we figure that if we do that enough times, and give people an opportunity to see our stuff, we’ll build a fan base who will support what we’ve done and tell other people about it.

What’s cool about it for me is, if we fail, it’s because of us. I can’t blame anyone. I can blame MOTHER’S DAY on people; I can point the finger on that movie all day long, but I can’t point the finger at anyone on ALLELUIA! because the people sitting at this table basically hold our own fate in our hands. And that’s bad-ass, because I can’t blame anyone but myself. If this fails, it’s my fault. If it succeeds, it’s because of a team effort.

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About the author
Michael Gingold

Michael Gingold has been a member of the FANGORIA team for the past three decades. After starting as a writer for the magazine in 1988, he came aboard as associate editor in 1990 and two years later moved up to managing editor. He now serves as editor-in-chief of the magazine while continuing to contribute numerous articles and reviews, as well as a contributing editor/writer for this website.

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