Every once in a while I completely miss the mark with a film, and I certainly did so with REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA when I first saw it, fucking fifteen years ago.

“Zydrate comes in a little glass vial.”

“A little glass vial?”

“A little glass vial.”

“And the little glass vial goes into the gun like a battery. /

And the Zydrate gun goes somewhere against your anatomy /

And when the gun goes off it sparks and you’re ready for surgery. Surgery.”

REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA (REPO! going forward) musically portrays a BLADE RUNNER inspired dystopian future where massive organ failures wipes out the bulk of the population. The company GeneCo, run by CEO Rotti Largo, facilitates organ replacement and refinement on a payment plan but, if you miss a payment, they’re legally able to repossess organs by any means necessary.

We’re then introduced to Shilo, an extraordinarily pale Alexa PenaVega, the daughter of Ritto’s ex-fiancée and who has rare blood disease. Shilo is overly sheltered by her father Nathan, sinisterly portrayed by Anthony Steward Head. Matters escalate as everyone — including Rotti’s three desperate children, which includes SKINNY PUPPY’s ogHr — work towards their own self-interests.

“Lungs and livers and bladders and hearts /

You’ll always save a bundle when you buy our genetic parts /

Spleens and intestines and spines and brains /

High are our prices but our quality’s the same”

As stated right in the title, this is an opera — a goth-as-fuck rock opera — and has all of the trappings of one: it’s wall-to-wall extremely infectious, emotional goth/industrial songs and Greek chorus and family melodrama.

“My brother and sister should fuck.”

I attended a screening of it at the Music Box as part of the REPO! Road Tour with a post-film Q&A that included director director Darren Lynn Bousman and it grated on me. I found the film sweaty, especially the gaussian blur which felt unnecessarily tacky, despite that it seems to be trying to recreate the look of nitrate film. I did appreciate the moxie of those behind the production, especially Bousman’s efforts which absolutely took advantage of his directorial access to SAW IV’s sets and resources in order to realize REPO!.

“I’m infected /

By your genetics /

And I don’t think that I can be fixed /

No, I don’t think that I can be fixed /

Oh, tell me why, oh /

Why are my genetics such a bitch.”

Upon a recent rewatch, I realized my initial opinion was gravely wrong. Since my first watch, I’ve become a fan of musicals so I was able to greatly appreciate the influence of Sondheim’s SWEENEY TODD, the patter inspired by THE MUSIC MAN’s Meredith Willson, the drama of Andrew Lloyd Webber, the driven emotion of Les Misérables, even the rich history of pirate songs, and a hilariously sick sense of humor. This time around, I saw how it lovingly leaned on the structure of opera and I was here for it.

“DECAF?! I will shoot you in the face!”

I still don’t love the gaussian filter that distracts from the extremely striking makeup and fetish costume design; the Repo Man outfit is especially well-executed. There is way too much exposition, often doled out by finely illustrated comic panels almost certainly included because of budgetary constraints. While I tried to be as concise as possible regarding the plot, this is an extremely dense and ambitious work with all sorts of intertwined conflicts and duplicity and back-story that can feel both overwhelming while also feeling unnecessary.

“How’d you do that?”

“Do what?”

“That eye thing.”

“These eyes can do more than see.”

“I know. I mean, I’ve seen you sing.”


“From my window. I can see the world from there /

Name the stars and constellations /

Count the cars and watch the seasons.”

With this rewatch, I simply allowed the film to wash over me and I loved it. There are so many great lines and songs in it and when the exposition lets up, it finds a fantastic flow that will leave you breathless.

“Your mother would be proud, rest her soul, would be so proud of you /

Though you cannot see her /

She is here with you /

We will always be there for you in your time of need /

Shilo, you mean the world to me.”

Paul Sorvino’s work here as Rotti Largo is remarkable. He takes it far more seriously than need be given his stature, all sinister and greed but occasionally sensitive, and his voice will blow you away.

“Maggots. Vermin. /

You want the world for nothing. /

Commence your groveling, your king is dying. /

Rotti, your king, is dying. /

Even Rotti Largo cannot prevent this passing. /

Who will inherit GeneCo? /

I’ll keep those vultures guessing. /

I’ll keep those vultures guessing.”

This is a quintessential passion project. It originated as a theater production shepherded into existence by Darren Smith, then a short film from Darren Lynn Bousman, then this astounding feature film. I’ve noted that often music-centric productions — such as the film adaptation of CATS — have a scrappy charm to them. That sort of pluck and charm is absolutely on display here, that exacting belief in the batshitcrazy creation you want to put in-front of people. I was not prepared for REPO! the first time I saw it, but give it a chance. I was deadly wrong about it the first time around and hopefully you’ll revel in its charms.

“Flesh is weak /

Blood is cheap.”


The excellent magazine and website RUE MORGUE has an interview with director Darren Lynn Bousman, looking back on REPO! fifteen years after its release. This interview was the impetus for my rewatch and, consequently, this recommendation!


I’m not sure how many folks remember William Castle nowadays, given that he did most of his most intriguing work in the 50s and early 60s but, if you are a horror fan, you are probably aware of him (and you’ve probably watched Joe Dante’s love letter to his sort of theatrical gimmicks via his brilliant film MATINEE).

That said, myself and a friend went to my favorite movie theater — Chicago’s Music Box Theatre — to see a 35mm print of Castle’s THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL that also promised to involve Castle-esque gimmicks, such as actors roaming through the audience and skeletons.

Reader: they did two screenings and the one I attended — at 9:30 on a Thursday night, nonetheless — was sold out.

I’ve seen THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL more than a few times. Vincent Price is exceptional in it, as always, and it’s chock full of schlock, including all of the standard ‘haunted house’ tropes, such as falling chandeliers, senseless locked doors, and plenty of fake-outs. (It definitely owes a debt to James Whale’s THE OLD HOUSE (1932), which Castle remade later in his career.) Is it a great film? No. Does it make much sense? No. Is it populated by B-grade actors not quite giving it their all? Yes.

Is it a memorable film? Fuck yeah. It has a fantastic set, serviceable lighting, and striking set-pieces.

I realize I’m extremely lucky to live in a city where my favorite film palace loves to show horror, and even luckier that they go to the trouble of recreating gimmicks. They even talked to Castle’s daughter to get points of reference and her blessing. These folks are doing the work.

While THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL is a blast under any circumstances, seeing it in a fully sold out thousand-plus seat theater with a group of very-game audience members who were all very well-mannered while still being appropriately rambunctious was one of the best post-pandemic screenings I’ve attended. It reminded me of the controlled chaos of The Vic’s Brew ’n View (R.I.P.) where everyone’s there to have a good time and respond to the screen appropriately, be it laughing, clapping, or blurting out something legitimately funny (instead of play-acting MST3k).

I know I often say this, but nothing can recreate the feeling of seeing a movie in a theater, and when you encounter these very sort of specific circumstances, it’s extremely special. The Music Box created an experience that those who were there will be dining out on for years, and they deserve every accolade. I only hope that you can find a similar theater that you can call a home-away-from-home.


(Fubo/peacock/Shudder/tubi/Vudu) GINGER SNAPS is an extremely Canadian production from John Fawcett (co-creator of ORPHAN BLACK) and Karen Walton. Fawcett had the concept and directed it, Walton scripted it, but ultimately it was a collaborative effort. It’s about two goth sisters living together in the basement of their idyllic, overly understanding Fitzgerald parents (Mimi Rodgers and John Bourgeois), struggling to make it through high school ridicule. The older sister is Ginger Fitzgerald (Katharine Isabelle, who has had one hell of a TV career, and she glows in AMERICAN MARY), an extremely confident, very protective-yet-belligerent redhead to her younger sister, Brigitte Fitzgerald (Emily Perkins) who is the quieter, less confrontational but more bookish, sibling.

I don’t know why I’m wasting words when the opening title sequence showcases their dynamics and interests perfectly. Even if the rest of the film was garbage, it’d be worth watching for this perfectly executed bit (which is also really NSFW). (Mike Shields’ amazing opening theme also does a lot of heavy lifting there! )

To summarize: dogs in the Fitzgerald’s suburban neighborhood are repeatedly found torn to shreds, but no one really pays much mind. The two Fitzgerald sisters head out to play a prank against a fellow classmate which goes horribly awry. Ginger has her first period at the same time, informs her sister, and is then is grabbed and scratched by something large and wolflike in a wildly Raimi-esque sequence. The two escape to a road, almost get run over, but youthful drug dealer Sam (Kris Lemche, who had a small role in David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ and does a fair amount of TV work now) accidentally runs over the beast with his ambulance.

Brigette drags Ginger home, tends to her wounds and, almost immediately, Ginger is a different person, a different species, growing hairier, more bloodthirsty from there, but handwaving it away as cramps until she’s full werewolf and embodying a vengeful Carrie.

Brigette tries to keep Ginger on the down-low, but … she’s uncontrollable. Matters escalate.

GINGER SNAPS wasn’t the first horror film I’d seen that was a woman transformation parable — that’d be Neil Jordan’s IN THE COMPANY OF WOLVES but it was almost certainly the first I was overtly aware of, and it was quite the revelation.

A lot has happened since then, so here are a few links:

Karen Walton reflects on GINGER SNAPS, 20 years later.

Apparently, it’s slated to be rebooted as a TV series soon, which I hope will be brilliant.


(AMC+/Shudder/tubi/VOD/Vudu) An intriguingly economical Canadian thriller from Zach Gayne. For once, I’m going to use the official description (with a few tweaks) because too many details might spoil some of the fun: “Middle-aged Linda (Precious Chong) befriends youthful Michelle (Alex Essoe), but one becomes obsessed with the other.”

The script was penned by Gayne, as well as the two leads (Chong and Essoe). It has a charismatic verve to it that I can’t help but appreciate, and while you may suss out the ending before the film expects you, it’s still a wild ride.


(Criterion/Kanopy/VOD/Vudu/YouTube)? Robert Downey, Sr. passed away this week at the age of 85. While his son is mostly known for more accessible fare, Downey Sr. was an anarchic indie filmmaker, and there’s no better example of his cinematic skills than PUTNEY SWOPE.

PUTNEY SWOPE is a nihilistic indictment of Madison Avenue, American capitalism and everything it’s created (including filmmaking and anti-American capitalist revolutionaries), while also being damn funny and inventively shot. The faux-commercials it features are perhaps only rivaled by ROBOCOP (1987) or the best of Adult Swim. For instance:

I need to note that this is an incredibly insensitive film in ways I haven’t quite managed to personally reconcile — after all, it’s a film written and directed by a middle-aged white man about a Black man breaking the system — but it is also endlessly fascinating.

GOTHIC (1986)

(Plex/tubi/VOD/Vudu) This is the predictable final entry in a three-part series of recommendations regarding films about Mary Shelley. It is, of course, Ken Russell’s GOTHIC (1985). Again, I’m no Mary Shelley scholar, and — given this final entry — it should be obvious that I have no interest in discussing the veracity of the portrayal of these real-life persons. (I simply don’t have the knowledge, but I don’t begrudge those that do.)

While GOTHIC is, on the surface, about the storytelling night between Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, and Mary Shelley’s stepsister Claire, it’s primarily concerned with Mary and her life and her way of coping with this foursome, which becomes heightened via what one surmises is a fever dream.

GOTHIC is essentially fan-fiction, occasionally slash-fiction and, surprisingly, posits Mary as, for all intents and purposes, the Final Girl, with Lord Byron being the executor of the madness they endure. (Or not; there are many ways you can read it, but that’s my interpretation.)

There’s a lot to unpack in this film, far more than I can do justice to in a simple post, so I’ll just note a few highlights and leave it at that:

  • As usual, Russell has a ton of visual anachronisms, one of the boldest being the hexagonal ceiling molding designs, which are then mirrored when Mary finds herself as a prisoner.
  • It portrays Mary as someone who doesn’t buy into Percy’s ‘free love’, and touches on her problematic pregnancies.
  • I just happened to be going about this three-part project as I was reading MEN, WOMEN, AND CHAIN SAWS, which spends a significant amount of time talking about horror films’ handling of eyes, then Percy seeing nipples as eyes, which MEN, WOMEN, AND CHAIN SAWS author Carol J. Clover touches on regarding the feminine masochism viewing perspective, and yeah, there’s not more perfect film for that than this.
  • I’ll also note: I first saw this film at what I think is absolutely the perfect time in one’s life, in my mid-teens, thanks to my friend Chris, although I do know I spent a lot of time staring at the LaserDisc cover well before actually watching the film. I hadn’t re-watched it until today. It is far crazier and hornier than I remember, and I can’t believe we got away with watching it while his parents were away.

My friend Mark pointed out two other Mary Shelley films, both released in the late 80s, which I have yet to watch — there are DVDs available of both, but they can’t be streamed — that I hope to catch, and perhaps you may be interested in them as well:


HAUNTED SUMMER (1988, which certainly backgrounds Mary, but is very much about her):

And, of course, here’s the trailer:


(kanopy/Plex/Pluto/tubi/Vudu/VOD) SOUND OF NOISE is a Swedish feature film that’s based on the short film MUSIC FOR ONE APARTMENT AND SIX DRUMMERS about a collective of musicians who break into an apartment and make music solely with whatever exists in the apartment. There’s a lot of clanging on ceramics and glasses, rhythms created via vacuum suction, books thrown to the floor and the like.

“How can that possibly be turned into a feature film?” you might ask. The answer is: in a very cartoonish way. The troupe is sheer anarchy as they break into hospitals and banks to realize their musical works, progressing to one ultimate performance, all while being pursued by a tone-deaf cop. It’s funny and infectious, and the musical pieces stand on their own. (Well, they do if you’re a fan of say, avant-garde, percussive works.)

While there is an attempt to give an emotional, romantic core to the film, it falls a bit flat, but it’s not entirely unwelcome. Really, the set-pieces are the allure here.

One of my favorite pieces is a skillfully edited highway driving scene — it features co-director/co-writer Ola Simonsson and is a bit more liberal with its use of sound sources — as it vaguely reminds me of the experimental electronic band SHINJUKU FILTH:

-Music for One Highway-:


(Also, check out the companion track, -The Sale- if you can.)




(fubo/Hulu/kanopy/Netflix/tubi/VOD/Vudu)? No, not John Carpenter’s adaptation of Stephen King’s CHRISTINE — a fine horror film, but you hardly need me to tell you that — this is a dramatized depiction of Christine Chubbuck, a local TV news reporter in the 70s who struggled with depression. The film details her personal and professional troubles as she tries to grow her career and realize the life she wants.

There are other facets of Christine’s story that you may or may not be familiar with. I’m not completely sure whether detailing them would improve a viewing, so I’m going to err on the side of caution and intentionally bite my tongue.

If this were a fictional film, I’d feel a lot better about it, and it wouldn’t have the ending it has. Every thing leading up to that is a smart, nuanced portrayal of a complicated woman, bolstered by Rebecca Hall’s amazing performance. It’s fantastically cast film — Michael C. Hall as Christine’s fellow news man, Tracy Letts as her boss, Maria Dizzia as her co-worker, J. Smith-Cameron (from the previously recommended RECTIFY) as her mother, and VEEP’s Timothy Simons as the weatherman — but this film wouldn’t work without Rebecca Hall’s nuanced handling of Christine. She’s a persona we rarely see on-screen: a smart-but-flailing woman, clearly awkward in general, but so goddamn determined to succeed, and to hide from and survive her mental issues.

Again, if it were fictional, it’d be a triumph. While it’s still a stunningly scripted movie, it just feels… dirty. But that’s a matter for tomorrow.

“Yes, but—”

M.F.A. (2017)

(Plex/Prime/Tubi/VOD/Vudu)? A revenge thriller from director Natalia Leite (BARE) and actress/writer Leah McKendrick that pairs well with PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN. It’s a stylish tale about assault and baring yourself in your work, unfurls at a fine clip, and is more complex than you might expect.


(hoopla/peacock/tubi/VOD/Vudu) I don’t know how many favors debut writer/director Christian Papierniak asked to nab this amazing cast, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s now indebted to 80% of LA. I’d watch any film that featured just -one- of the following performers:

Mackenzie Davis
Carrie Coon
Dolly Wells
LaKeith Stanfield
Kyle Kinane
Alia Shawkat
Rob Huebel
Annie Potts

Somehow he managed to wrangle all of ‘em for this chaotic ‘one fuckup’s last gasp at attaining an old flame’ film. I’ll grant that it’s overworked — did we really need inter-titles for every scene? — and if Mackenzie Davis wasn’t the lead the film probably wouldn’t work, but she is and ultimately it does. Also, Mackenzie and Carrie Coon ‘reunite’ and play a HEAVENS TO BETSY cover that features -many- layers and that scene alone is worth the price of admission. (I’ll save you the search.)

“I’m not going to wish you good luck.” “No, no one in their right mind would.”