'Repo!' Opera: A Genetically Enhanced Hit? Darren Lynn Bousman thinks his "genetic opera" has the potential to be the next Donnie Darko or Rocky Horror Picture Show. But can you engineer a cult classic? Or is it only fans who can decide what's worthy of devotion?

'Repo!' Opera: A Genetically Enhanced Hit?

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"The Rocky Horror Picture Show" is the ultimate cult movie. It bombed at the box office when it came out in 1975. But a fan base quickly developed around its campy music and its characters. In some places, even today, you can go and see "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" every weekend, if that's your kind of thing. Now, another movie is vying to become the next cult classic, as Beth Accomando of member station KPBS reports.

BETH ACCOMANDO: When Darren Lynn Bousman decided to make "Repo: The Genetic Opera," he sensed the cult potential in its distinctive retro future goth story.

Mr. DARREN LYNN BOUSMAN (Filmmaker): In the future, people can buy and sell organs on credit. And if you buy a heart, you can buy a heart. However, if you miss a payment and you're not able to afford that heart, it is complete responsibility of the provider to repossess that organ.

(Soundbite of movie "Repo: The Genetic Opera")

Unidentified Actor: Say that you once bought a heart or new corneas but somehow never managed to square away your debts. He won't bother to write or to phone you, he'll just rip the still beating heart from your chest.

ACCOMANDO: Bousman wanted to tap into an underserved audience just as "Rocky Horror Picture Show" had done three decades ago.

Mr. BOUSMAN: They are the, what I was when I was growing up in high school, the outcasts, the freaks, the alternative, the fringe. And that's a huge, huge, huge market.

ACCOMANDO: But engineering a cult hit is difficult to do. David Glanzer is marketing director for Comic-Con International, where many films have tried to assert their cultworthiness. But Glanzer says, if you look at "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," it initially failed at the box-office and then fans turned it into a cult phenomenon.

Mr. DAVID GLANZER (Marketing Director, Comic-Con International): It was so far out there that it was cool to be associated with that. Can you go in there with the intention of creating what's cool? That's a tough one.

ACCOMANDO: But it's a very different environment now than it was in 1975 when "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" came out. Now, the internet provides a powerful, but still unpredictable marketing tool for film makers. Bousman has embraced the internet because it costs him nothing but his time.

Mr. BOUSMAN: Every single night, myself and the creators are on the website in the chat rooms talking to the fans, planning little stunts, you know, figuring out what we can do as a grassroots effort to get the movie out there. And so I think the fans feel a part of something because think about it, you're talking to the director, the lead actor, and the composer of the movie on a nightly basis, on this website saying, OK everyone print out 10 fliers and go to 10 different locations and convert 10 strangers.

ACCOMANDO: Beyond building a fan base, Bousman says you need three things to make a cult film, beginning with a sense of camp.

Mr. BOUSMAN: And I think that, you know, that helps any cult film is that you have to be able to know it's OK to make fun of yourselves. And we make fun of ourselves in "Repo." And I think that, that number one. Number two is, I think, that we haven't commercialized the movie. I think that's the other thing for cult, you can't commercialize the movie. And number three, I mean I think the other thing is just the casting of the movie, the casting is just so weird and out there and again, non-commercial that I think that helps it.

ACCOMANDO: The diverse cast of "Repo" features Alexa Vega from "Spy Kids," Broadway star Sarah Brightman, award-winning actor Paul Sorvino, Anthony Stewart Head from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," and Paris Hilton. But what ultimately makes or breaks a cult film is fans, ravenous devoted fans.

Mr. BOUSMAN: If you go to see "Rocky Horror Picture Show" at midnight on Saturday night, you're not watching a movie, you're watching an event. And you show up there and people are dressed in outfits, and you have all this diverse group of people in a theater having fun, and there is a sense of community around the showing.

ACCOMANDO: Bousman hopes to be building that community as "Repo: The Genetic Opera" opens this weekend. For NPR News, this is Beth Accomando.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: A cartoon on the radio and 1970s progressive rockers still pushing the envelope after 30 years. Both stories coming up on All Things Considered.

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