While he wasn't involved in Chester Bennington's onscreen demise in Saw 3-D, Darren Lynn Bousman did direct films 2-4 in that series. After Saw he went on to direct 2008's Repo! The Genetic Opera, a horror-rock musical about organ repossession in a dystopian America. That movie features an improbable cast including everyone from celebutante Paris Hilton to Actual Singer Sarah Brightman and Joan Jett in a cameo role. Bousman is back with another horror-musical, The Devil's Carnival, which he describes as "the alien-Satan rock 'n' roll version of a bunch of high school kids singing (he's referring to Glee)". He's on a multi-city tour to screen the movie at events that feature sideshow and burlesque acts, appearances from cast members, a Q&A with the filmmakers and more. "It’s not like a movie you’ve seen in theaters before," Bousman says. "This is part freakshow, part movie." He talked to us about Saw, violence, musicals, Paris Hilton and more in anticipation of his screening tonight at the Healing Center's Cafe Istanbul. (The interview has been shortened and edited.)
What was the atmosphere like on the Saw sets? Because obviously those movies create a very intense environment.
Ironically enough, probably the more disturbing or — sorry I’m swearing — fucked up the movie is, usually the cooler the set is or more laid-back the set. Because you’re doing something that’s exciting to people. You’re ripping intestines out, or you’re decapitating people, or you’re stabbing people … That’s so ridiculous, it’s so over-the-top … that everyone is just laughing and having a good time because you’re basically playing. This sounds morbid, and it’s really absolutely not, but when you watch a movie like that ... you’ve got 40 people off-camera, including my mother, drinking lattes and laughing. So there’s not really that intensity that I think people would expect when you’re watching something like this. It’s quite possibly the opposite.
Have you always been a fan of horror or someone who’s unflinching about violence or interested in seeing it?
You know what’s funny is I’m a baby when it comes to real violence. I can’t handle it, I can’t watch it … the older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve become disturbed by violence, which is funny. I can’t handle the sight of blood. I can’t see any of that stuff … but here I am and I’ve made a career making these types of movies. I think there’s probably a perception of me that I’m this dark, gothic dude who wears black all the time and lives in a dungeon and watches torture films all day, when really I live in a bright, airy house with my little poodle dog and my cat and my wife and I watch musicals … it’s probably not what you would expect.
How do you feel about the “torture porn” label critics use for Saw and similar movies?
It’s a word they use because they either don’t watch the movies we do or don’t understand them. It’s a generic term — I don’t want to say lazy writing, because that’s not it … to me, I watch some of these romantic comedies, I watch some of these Katherine Heigl movies and whatever they are with my wife, who loves them, and to me it’s torture. I want to rip my eyes out, I want to scream, I want to ball up in a little corner and cry in the fetal position. But to her, she loves them, and they make sense for her. They strike a chord with her; for me I get utterly disgusted. I think each person has their own kind of thing.
Violence or torture has been around since the dawn of time. Go back to the earliest written word or cave drawings, there was violence … I think that today, now, violence hasn't changed — it's just more accessible because of the Internet. So these movies that have recently been labeled "torture porn" have been around since the beginning of movies ...
But you know, it's fun. It’s a fun way to be categorized. I have a subgenre I’m involved in with a ridiculous name — but whatever, it’s cool.
A lot of people comment on what the violence that’s portayed in Saw could mean. People say it could be a comment about war or Gauntanamo Bay or the US’s torture policies. Did you have any kind of political agenda? What does it mean to you to portray that kind of stuff?
No, but I know a lot of filmmakers do. I’ve read many interviews with Eli Roth (director of Hostel) and he’s very articulate in how he says what everything means. No, for me, it’s just as a fan of the macabre, a fan of the dark. I’ll tell you what it is: it’s a fan of riding roller coasters. It comes to a thing that, why make horror films and not romantic comedies? … I remember I when I was a kid going to the movie theaters, or better yet, going to an amusement park. I remember waiting in line for an hour and 20 minutes with my dad to ride a ride that would last a minute and a half. You stand there like a jackass waiting to get in the rollercoaster, and all of the sudden it drops out, and you feel something you don’t feel in every day life. You feel fear. Anxiety. Terror. Loss of control. And you walk away, you’re screaming, you’re laughing, you want to do it again. It’s that feeling of something you don’t feel in your every day life. ... It’s a new feeling, it’s foreign to us, and because it’s foreign to us it stays with us. You remember it longer. That’s me, I remember these things longer. It’s not something I forget. I can forget comedies and dramas and all these other films, but the last time I was truly scared or disgusted isn’t something I forget.
Do you have a favorite trap from the Saw movies you’ve directed?
Probably the box in Saw II that the girl put her arm in and cut her wrists. Yeah, probably that one, because it was so simplistic.
The movies were a huge box office success but not so much with critics. Do you read reviews or care about what they have to say?
Yeah, absolutely. I’m a masochist; I read everything. I read every single review, every single fan review. You’re putting your balls out there … the thing is this: in a normal day, there’s a job. If you fail at your job, the world doesn’t know about it. If you go out there and make widgets, and that’s what your job is, you can go your entire life and never know how that failure relates to anyone outside your circle. I think as a movie, though, it’s viewed by millions and millions and millions of people, and everyone’s a fucking critic now, and everyone has to have their opinion, and it’s hard not to read what they say. Now I know I shouldn’t, I know I should walk away and put the Internet down. Maybe when I grow up a little more I will, but for now I still read every review.
I don’t know if you’d agree with me but I think a lot of the critics, the mainstream film critics, don’t know how to evaluate horror movies.
No, relating this back to The Devil’s Carnival … I did Repo! which is a rock movie about organ reposition, and it was labeled “the worst movie ever made.” I think that people, first off, don’t know how to watch these types of movies, because if you can watch Repo! and think it was the worst movie ever made, you haven’t seen a lot of movies. From technical standpoint, from the camera work and music and any of the other stuff, it’s technically very well done. We have a great EP, the cast is amazing, the music is amazing. Now, it’s fair to say, as a critic, “I don’t like this movie,” it’s personally not my taste, but to walk in and make a blanket statement that it’s the “worst movie ever made,” you should have your critic card taken from you at that point. I’m not just talking about my movie, I’m talking about movies in general …
I’ll give you an example. I remember when Repo! came out, Peter Travers from Rolling Stone ... his only critique was about Paris Hilton. He said Paris Hilton was terrible, she shouldn’t be allowed to act, she’s terrible, terrible, terrible. Peter Travers didn’t talk about the movie, he didn’t talk about the music in the movie, he didn’t talk about the songs — and this is Rolling Stone, a musical magazine — he talked about a media person, because it’s cool to bash on Paris Hilton. That’s when I get upset. That’s when reviews make me mad. What about the movie? What about the songs? What about the amazing score that took place in that movie? But you have to take everything with a grain of salt.
Will each screening have the same kind of multimedia, interactive sort of thing, or will it also get a wide release?
No, we’re doing this ourselves on purpose. It’s basically being distributed by myself and one other person, and the reason why is what we’re doing is extremely out of the box. It doesn’t fit with any sort of formula or mold; it’s its own thing. And as that, I don’t want to try to fit it in a box. I want to do something completely independent, by myself, and be able to control every aspect of it. That said, I guarantee you, you’ll never see anything like this before … it is different and fun and abrasive and in your face. I guarantee you’ll leave with a smile on your face.
You did a similar tour for Repo!, correct?
Correct. Basically the same thing. We got in a van … here’s my thing: I would like to consider myself an artist, and I would like to consider myself doing things out of the box. As an artist, the worst thing you can do is, the absolute worst, worst thing, is you spend years and years creating a piece of art no one ever sees. The last couple of films have been buried by the studio. Some because they felt they were uncommercial, others because they thought they were bad. So I’d spend 10 years working on a project, and one guy in one studio can determine the fate of my projects and say “No! don’t think we’re going to put that out." What am I supposed to do at that point? Most times you sit back and you allow the film to go straight to video — not me, not doing that ever again. I’m going to fight for my art, and fighting for my art means getting in a van and going across the country … it’s this thing about taking our art and taking it across the country to our fans, and not allowing anyone to tell us your art is not commercial. It’s going back to the grassroots of actually connecting with your fans and not alienating them and saying “just give us your money” …. This is something the fans don’t forget, and something we don’t forget.
Much of the music in the film is rock, but are there influences from any more traditional types of musicals?
Yes and no. I’m not a big fan of when people break out in song and dance — I kind of laugh at it. This is much more dark … I would say Jesus Chris Superstar, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Tommy. I guess you could say RENT, a little bit, but a much darker version of that. What we are is Tales From the Crypt means the anti-Glee. … the alien-Satan rock 'n' roll version of a bunch of high school kids singing.
Do you like any horror films that have come out recently?
I really enjoyed Cabin in the Woods. That was fun. The movie I responded to recently that was not a horror film at all was We Need to Talk about Kevin … such a disturbing look at the birth of a serial killer and the birth of a masochist. Again, I wouldn’t call it a horror film but it was definitely horrific.
Will this be your first time in New Orleans?
Nope, we did the same thing with Repo! to a sold-out house. I’ve been here numerous times. It’s cool to be back. It’s a cool city and I love the fans there. They’re awesome and they’re supportive.
The Devil's Carnival screening event is tonight at Cafe Istanbul at at 9:30 p.m. Tickets start at $21.45 and go up to $42.85. Find more information here.