“Everybody! Everybody! Make your genetics your bitch!”
“But it's the pelvic thrust that really drives you insane!”Roaring onto a few limited cinemas in the Winter of 2008, Terrance Zdunich and Darren Smith’s goth rock opera Repo! The Genetic Opera left a surgical scar impact on the alternative movie crowd, small but precise and enduring. Telling the story of a future where artificial body parts meets high fashion as a desperate need for organ transplants leads a revolution in cosmetic surgery in all aspects of human anatomy. GeneCo, the corporation that originally engineered these reliable pseudo-organs, has become a tyrant company able to employ “Repo Men” to repossess the very organs they lent to their patients, when said transplantees fall behind on their payments. Through the course of the film, one particular Repo Man named Nathan Wallace (Anthony Stewart Head) becomes embroiled with his boss (GeneCo owner Rotti Largo, played by Paul Sorvino) who attempts to manipulate Nathan’s sickly daughter (Alexa Vega) as his final act of revenge against the emotionally wrecked Repo Man.
If this particular brand of insanity seems familiar, then you’ve probably seen the Rocky Horror Picture Show, another seminal rock opera flick from the 70s that shares the Genetic Opera’s love of bombastic musical cues and morbid imagery. Rocky Horror narrates the exploits of a new couple (Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon) that unknowingly fall into the clutches of the insanely fruity Dr. Frank-N-Furter, a performance made legendary by Tim Curry. The film’s memorable musical numbers, trashy plotline and altogether provocative fashion sense cemented its image into the imaginations of 70s moviegoers who happened to sneak into screenings of the flick behind their parents’ backs. Although Rocky Horror is still relegated to cult classic status and not mainstream success, years later it is still being referenced in everything from the Drew Carey Show to the Venture Bros. to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, having crossed boundaries and generations to bring together fans of outrageously raunchy cinema.
Then again, the Rocky Horror Picture Show is appearing its age. One clear sign of its cultural retirement is MTV Films claim to producing a remake back in early 2009, a decision that seems to have been put on ice but nevertheless indicative of the film’s departure from coveted trash gem to mass market product. Moreover, as classic as songs as the “Time Warp” and “Science Fiction/Double Feature” are, their goofiness lacks an edge needed for today’s passive-aggressive, post-MTV youth.
Which is where Repo! picks up the mantle and runs it out of town, as not only are the songs wonderfully twisted and unforgiving (“21st Century Cure” is a moody thrash ballad that explains how monumentally shitty the world is when you need new eyes and lungs to stay cool), but they’re also a smorgasbord of modern genres and styles. “Chase The Morning” features superstar singer/songwriter Sarah Brightman providing a spark of light to the Repo Man’s confined daughter with a haunting dance pop life lesson, while “Zydrate Anatomy” is a funk-industrial explanation of the world’s most popular and addictive painkiller, with guest vocals by Paris Hilton, who also lands a surprising role in the film.
In fact, her role ties into a subplot concerning who the heir is to the GeneCo fortune now that owner Rotti Largo is on his way to the grave. Hilton plays Amber Sweet, Rotti’s surgery-and-painkiller addicted daughter and a gross exaggeration of Paris’s own celebrity personality. She even receives a disastrous opening performance at the upcoming Genetic Opera show which acts as a massive product-placement/evangelist sermon for the artificial organ company.
This is another key to the movie’s succession of Rocky Horror, as the 1970 musical embodied a kind of youthful rebellion in audacity that simply doesn’t resonate with today’s cynical audiences. The transvestite Frank-N-Furter certainly shocked filmgoers in the day when sexuality was just blossoming out of a taboo subject, but not so much today when homosexuality and LGBT issues are common topics of serious discussion. Enter Repo!’s Pavi Largo, a narcissistic rapist and another heir to GeneCo who steals women’s faces and wears them like masks. Even if Pavi’s mere description seems just as bonkers as Furter’s, it’s essential to keep in mind the overarching themes of Repo! compared to Rocky Horror’s delinquent escapism. Over-industrialization, over-reliance on cosmetic surgery, fetishizing beauty and drug addiction are just some of the few issues that can be gleamed from the paltry information released in this article thus far about the film. The film does have its comedic grotesqueries, such as wacky cartoon sound effects accompanying disembowelments and decapitations, but being a goth rock opera it focuses more on the melodrama that appeals better to the current generation of self-important mopers and opinionists in the audience than the feel-gooders of the 1970s.