Part of the joy of being a fan is finding odd and obscure gems that you end up falling in love with. For every Batman, there is a Darkman. For every Star Wars, there is The Black Hole. Here at Fandom, we like to go hunting for some offbeat and off-the-wall films and television shows that might just become your own secret treasures. Strap yourself in and expect the unexpected, because this week’s Weird Watch is Repo! The Genetic Opera! (Last time: Oz – A Rock ‘n’ Roll Road Movie)
Repo! The Genetic Opera is a musical about a man who retrieves organs from people who have missed their payments on said organs. Repo! is set in a dystopian near-future where surgery is the height of fashion and illness requiring transplants are rampant. Anthony Stewart Head (Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) stars as Nathan, a repo man trapped in a contract with painkiller magnate Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino). In order to protect his sick daughter, Nathan kills strangers and takes their organs back.
Another movie about repo men coming after organs, Repo Men, came out two years later. That one, starring Jude Law, doesn’t have rock songs about rebellion, comic-book transitions, or Paris Hilton in lingerie. The two should not be confused.
Repo! The Genetic Opera is absolutely bizarre. The plot is convoluted and twisting and melodramatic. The acting is uneven, the singing even more so. It’s a trashy, violent, strange little film that flopped at the box office but developed a cult following. Fans of the film became so dedicated that they started doing midnight showings, complete with shadow-casts in the tradition of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
The movie is based on a stage play by Terrance Zdunich (who stars as the drug-dealing Graverobber) and Darren Smith. Directed by Saw franchise veteran Darren Lynn Bousman, Repo! is low-budget but clearly made with a lot of love. The world of Repo! is full of interesting details. The characters are all larger-than-life. The music is definitely rooted in rock ‘n’ roll and opera, featuring a cameo by Joan Jett and singing by soprano Sarah Brightman.
Repo! revels in its own campy weirdness, and that’s what makes it work. Important plot details are conveyed through quick comic-book style montages. These highly-stylized bits of exposition explain the film’s larger plot: Nathan stole Rotti’s girl years ago, and after she got pregnant and then very ill, Nathan was forced to let her die in order to save their baby. Rotti blames Nathan for her death and paints it as a murder, blackmailing Nathan into working as a repo man. If Nathan behaves, Rotti won’t tell Nathan’s daughter Shiloh the “awful truth”. Meanwhile, Rotti tries to figure out who to leave his company to, as he’s dying of an incurable disease and his three children aren’t suitable heirs.
The Largo kids are portrayed by Bill Moseley (The Devil’s Rejects), musician Ogre from Skinny Puppy, and Paris Hilton. Moseley’s Luigi is a rage-filled psycho who stabs a man to death for giving him bad coffee. Ogre’s Pavi wears women’s faces over his own. Hilton’s Amber Sweet is addicted to the painkiller Zydrate and gets plastic surgery so often no one can recognize her. They’re cartoon characters, and the actors playing them do it with joy. There’s definitely a Rocky Horror vibe. The enthusiasm is kind of contagious, however, and it makes the musical moments so much more fun. Repo! is so bad, it’s charming.
Part of the film’s cult success lies in the number of characters and the mythology behind them. Despite being a B-movie with song lyrics like “he’ll do your a** like dishes”, there’s a lot of subtext and background story to each character. Fans can really sink their teeth into the surprisingly developed world and story, and repeat viewings offer more tasty tidbits. Repo! was originally intended to be the second film in a trilogy, so there’s loads of extra info about the characters online. Unfortunately, after the film’s dismal box office performance, the prequel and sequel aren’t likely to come out anytime soon.
For shadow-casters, who put on the costumes of the characters and lip-sync the performances in front of the film during showings, Repo! is a treasure. It’s delightful being able to overact, to run around on a stage or in front of a movie screen dressed like your favorite character. Hell, I did it for several shows, making costumes from scratch and scouring the internet for info on making them more screen-accurate. The creators understand the devotion of their fans, too, and have put on several “tours” of Repo!, meeting with shadow-casters and fans. The Atlanta shadowcast even took Zdunich and Smith out for Greek food and bowling.
There aren’t a lot of fandoms where the fans get to interact with the creators directly, so Repo! is pretty special. Even if the movie looks like Hot Topic threw up all over the place, it’s clearly been made with love. This is a movie celebrating weirdos and freaks made by a bunch of weirdos and freaks. It’s hard not to at least appreciate the amount of effort that went into the tiny details of Repo!. So next time you’re in the mood for something violent and silly with lots of singing, check out Repo! The Genetic Opera.