Repo: The Genetic Opera

I have to admit to a certain fondness for musicals. Fred Astaire was an idol of my childhood, as was Gene Kelly. Especially when he danced with Jerry Mouse (of Tom and Jerry). Though as much as I like a good musical, which is essentially a play/movie with more than a few dance numbers thrown in, I can't bring myself to dig operas. With every line of dialog done through song, my patience wears thin long before the story comes to a close. As such (and much to the dismay of my Grandmother), I always steered clear.

But hey, I like a good disembowelment as much as the next guy! Which brings me to Repo! The Genetic Opera, and the source of our discussion today.

Weaving a tale of betrayal, murder, corruption, insanity, and implied incest, this film is wholesome family fun, pure and simple. Taking place in a very dystopian 2056, it's been 26 years since an epidemic of organ failures crippled our society. Paul Sorvino stars as Rottissimo "Rotti" Largo, the billionaire industrialist who eventually saved the world by manufacturing and providing organ transplants for any and all who could afford them, eventually creating predatory financing plans to bring them to the poor.

Talk about your sub-prime loans.

Anthony Stewart Head is Nathan Wallace, who was Largo's chief rival for the affections of Marni (Sarah Power ) 17 years prior to the story's beginning. When Marni left Largo and married Nathan, and eventually became pregnant, the distraught industrialist poisons her. Nathan, at a loss as to why his wife is dying, carves out his daugher Shiloh (Alexa Vega) and raises her in a tower, a prisoner to his own grief.

Meanwhile, having been convinced by Largo that he was responsible for his wife's death, Nathan becomes the lead Repo Man, an assassin who's job it is reclaim organ's who's owners defaulted on payments. This burden, combined with his own guilt over Marni, causes his personalities to fracture. One is the caring/obsessed father that is Nathan, the other is "the Monster"-the personality that takes over when it's time for daddy to go to work. Whew! This is not a story afraid of melodrama.

I haven't even gotten to Rotti's children, who serve as the primary comic relief. When a Serial Murderer (Bill Moseley), Serial Rapist (Nivek Ogre), and a drug-addicted spoiled Daddy's Girl addicted to plastic surgery (Paris Hilton) are your comic relief...Well, let's just say you're in some dark territory. Even so, the plot has a breezy pace, punched up by a couple of really great musical numbers that mix traditional rock power ballads with a bit of Marylin Manson-style Industrial. Tony Head in particular, who last flexed his pipes on screen in a few episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, belts out his songs with a gusto while he hunches over, knawing on the scenery like a dog with a bone. In most rock operas, you're lucky if you like 3 or 4 songs. There are 16 here that have found permanent residence on my iPod.

A campy, blood-soaked joy of a picture, it's highly recommended for any viewing, Cavalcade or otherwise. Pair with Cannibal: The Musical, or Forbidden Zone for an event featuring fucked-up musicals. Or compare it to Repo Men, which has a LOT of similar elements, but slightly less gore.

Stuff, The

Remember The Blob ?  How it would seep through any crack or crevice and envelope its victims, dissolving them into a mess of goo that would add to its ever-growing mass?  Remember how difficult it was to defeat?  Can you imagine how much more difficult it would be if it tasted delicious?

These are the questions writer/director Larry Cohen asks in The Stuff.  As with Q: the Winged Serpent, Cohen knows the exact amount of ridiculous to put in any situation, such as in what is perhaps one of the greatest opening scenes in cinema history:  A random miner walks off-site to have a smoke when he notices a white goo oozing out from mother Earth herself.  Our intrepid nitwit reaches down and touches it with his bare hand.  Brings it close to his nose and gives it a sniff.  AND THEN HE EATS IT!  It bubbled out of the ground and it was all he could do to stop from diving mouth-first on the ecological eruption.

His fellow miners join him,  asking the crucial question: “What the hell is it?”  Well, Miner No. 1 certainly doesn't have an answer.  What he does have, is a plan!  Thus the mass-marketing campaign of The Stuff™ begins.

As the tagline “Are you eating it or is it eating you?” suggests, the main theme here is consumerism.  Cohen demonstrates how easily it would be for a motivated corporation to get their product approved by the government, and then easier still to convince the American populace to buy it.  Granted, The Stuff™ Corporation has the edge in that their product forms a biological addiction within its customers that will eventually destroy their organs and leave them a hollow husk of a human being.  Fortunately there's nothing like that in the real world on the market today.

What?

After The Stuff™ has extracted all the nutrients and proteins from “The Stuffies’” ™ bodies, the white goo exits the nearest convenient orifice, and goes on an 80s-effects-fueled rampage.  The F/X run the gamut of miniatures, stop motion, reverse photography, upside down photography and puppetry.  Though, it should be pointed out that Garrett Morris is not a sophisticated Muppet but an actual person.

Morris plays “Chocolate Chip" Charlie, the founder of a rival dessert franchise who teams up with “Mo” Rutherford (Michael Moriarty), corporate espionage expert.  Never one to put less than 100% into a film, Moriarty is sporting a southern accent with a moderate degree of success and total silliness. More often than not, however, Mo has to rescue Jason (Scott Bloom), our "plucky" young hero who knew that The Stuff was evil long before everyone else.

I hate this child.  He just personifies annoyingness.  Normally, one has to suspend disbelief that a group of actors that don't resemble each other are blood relations. Here we're trying to figure out why the rest of the family can act and this kid can’t.  There’s a truly wonderful moment when the family who, up to this point, had merely been awful to him, overtly turn against him as The Stuff™ has taken over their brains.  When the father actually shouts “GET HIM!” ... I get goosebumps.

There are a slew of random cameos, the most notable being Paul Sorvino in one of his funniest performances as the great Colonel Malcolm Grommett Spears, a survivalist, retired, racist military commander that saves the day.

Overall, The Stuff is a great send-up of 80s consumerist culture in a similar vein, but with less effect, as George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead.  It lacks subtlety, but these are still important concerns:  why do we as a culture accept things so easily?  Why don’t we question those in power?  And where can I get more Stuff™?

Seriously, I’m jonesing pretty bad here.