Back in 2012, Darren Lynn Bousman and Terrance Zdunich introduced us to the sonically pleasing satanism that is The Devil’s Carnival – a fantastical underworld where damned souls sing away their sorrows. Three years later, the duo have finally returned to further their musical horror franchise by introducing Heaven into the mix, storming God’s gates in Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival.
The original film gives three sinners a shot at redemption, while this new traveling freakshow focuses on Lucifer’s growing disdain with the big man above. It’s about time someone exposed God for the blasphemous bastard he really is, and the Devil seems like the right man for the job – but it’s getting to the actual religious warfare that proves to be Bousman and Zdunich’s biggest challenge.
Picking up where The Devil’s Carnival left off, Lucifer (Zdunich) has grown tired of God’s (Paul Sorvino) almighty buffoonery. In an attempt to rustle the big man’s feathers, he begins sending wayward souls back up to Heaven. God doesn’t take kindly to the waves of rejects being sent back, and anger between the two leaders intensifies. With an imminent war between Heaven and Hell looming above, both generals begin to prepare their troops for a holy struggle between the fabled afterworlds – The Agent leading God’s charge (Adam Pascal), and The Ticket Keeper (Dayton Callie) organizing Lucifer’s carnies. But with time running out, both sides begin to worry that their soldiers may not be ready. Can the two factions reconcile their differences, or will this heavyweight throwdown redefine the afterlife?
The most unfortunate fact about Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival is that Bousman and Zdunich don’t answer the above question – they just tease us. Granted, there’s proper reasoning as to why this sequel runs about forty minutes longer than The Devil’s Carnival without feeling meatier, but there’s still a nagging slightness that can’t be shaken. Team Bousnich (Zdunman?) are aiming for an episodic Devil’s Carnival franchise, which relegates Alleluia! to being a middle-man movie whose only job is to tease a third film that holds all the answers (and action). Alleluia! is meant to get us excited for an impending war, and in doing so, offers little weight in its own establishing material besides a few catchy tunes and new characters that lack the exciting impact Bousnich achieved when introducing the carnival three years ago.
Creatively, Alleluia! is just as ripe as The Devil’s Carnival, bringing a little more vibrancy in the bright nature of Heaven. Vaudeville dancers and smokey jazz club scenes glisten under a fog of shimmering tinsel and craft store glitter, while Adam Pascal calls for two “alleluias and an amen” through a swanky, swinging tune. That’s not to discredit Hell, it’s just that Lucifer is less mysterious this time around. Heaven serves as the prominent location of Alleluia!, but Lucifer’s split-tongued sarcasm still provides a welcome chastising of God’s followers (“HA-HA-Alleluia!”). Alleluia! suggests that Heaven and Hell aren’t so different, and Lucifer’s divine hatred instigates the blasphemous fun you’d expect from Terrance Zdunich’s wittily suggestive intelligence.
In the spirit of becoming a bigger, badder, and more tonally complete sequel, new acts are brought in to liven up the darker tone of The Devil’s Carnival. David Hasselhoff plays a flamboyant stylist, Tech N9ne a rule-following librarian, and Jesus Christ Superstar himself, Ted Neeley, lends his voice as one of God’s many choir folk – but their presence isn’t fully felt.
While some of my favorite carnies didn’t return this time around (Ivan Moody in particular), the newer, bigger-named additions to Alleluia! hardly find a way to distinguish themselves from a constant flow of continual melodies. The Devil’s Carnival is built on very different, passionate, unique musical numbers that assert each talent as a showstopper, but Alleluia! finds few standouts besides Pascal’s club crooning and Tech N9ne’s rapid-fire discipline. The songs are crowd-pleasers, but manage to lose distinction between all the hustle and bustle of building anticipation that’s never rightfully capitalized on.
Alleluia! doesn’t quite commit any egregious cinematic sins, but I haven’t been blue balled this bad (by a movie) in quite some time. I absolutely love the old-timey carnival universe these biblical characters live in, and want nothing more than a full movie about Lucifer’s barbaric unholy war – just like Darren Lynn Bousman and Terrance Zdunich do. They painstakingly make these movies for a specific crowd, and bless them for remaining true to their passionate desires. We need more fearless leaders who are willing to sacrifice it all for a wicked idea, damning the man with each sold-out tour stop.
Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival is Bousnich’s way of servicing fans and garnering interest for further installments, and in that respect, it does the job – but it does so by sacrificing momentum. Momentum that carries us through Lucifer’s backtracking story, as the stall-tactic is drawn out into an entire feature film that doesn’t actually pit Heaven against Hell. Alleluia! simply teases an epic finale that could possibly lay ahead. A hellish, fiery tease that makes us want more, but also question why Alleluia! meanders long enough so it can’t fit the magnificent war into a sorely-missed third act.
I never thought I'd be blue-balled by talk of an unholy-singalong-war between Heaven and Hell, but then Alleluia! The Devil's Carnival came along.