All About Evil (2010)

Typically, movies made by drag queens require a little good will & benefit of the doubt from their audience. I’ve written positive reviews of dirt cheap drag productions like Vegas in Space & Hurricane Bianca in the past, but my forgiving love of drag as an artform likely made me a little lenient in discerning their merits, just like how my love of pro wrestling can lead to positive reviews of widely-hated films like Ready to Rumble. I’d like to distinguish All About Evil from that bias. Written & directed by infamous San Francisco drag queen Peaches Christ (under her boy name, Joshua Grannell), All About Evil is a genuinely well-made participation in B-movie schlock tradition. The film features performances from legitimate camp cinema players (and friends of Grannell’s, presumably): Natasha Lyonnne, Mink Stole, and Cassandra “Elvira” Peterson, an admirably unholy trinity. While Peaches Christ appears in the film in full drag (as herself!), the story isn’t especially concerned with the artform; it’s a natural part of the San Francisco setting, nothing more. The production values are about on par with most drag cinema indies (I’m thinking specifically of outsider art made by drag queens, not major productions like The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Dessert or To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar), but its ambition aims much higher than most camp comedies of its ilk. Most importantly, tough, All About Evil displays a deep, knowledgeable love for the horror cinema refuse it imitates & pays homage to. As the screen fills with references to Blood Feast, The Wasp Woman, The Bride of Frankenstein, The Brain that Wouldn’t Die, The Pit and the Pendulum, and so on, All About Evil’s midnight movie credentials are beyond legitimized and it transcends its drag cinema pedigree to become something else I’m strongly biased to enjoy: over-the-top horror schlock.

Although its title is a play on the name of a Bette Davis picture and there are plenty throwaway references to other cult horror works, All About Evil most resembles the Roger Corman classic Bucket of Blood in its basic plot. Natasha Lyonne (telegraphing her later re-emergence in weirdo horror cheapies like Antibirth & #horror) stars as a mentally unstable librarian who inherits a repertory movie theater form her deceased father. Her business struggles to stay afloat until security footage of her murdering her father’s shrill widow is projected on the screen for an unsuspecting midnight audience. The gore hounds in the crowd mistake the violent act as a fictional work of outsider art, commending her for creating a few found-footage subgenre they call “surveillance slaughter” and eagerly awaiting her next homemade short film. She continues to build her local legacy from there by committing more murders for the camera, often punishing her victims for faux pas like disparaging horror as an artform or using their cellphones in the theater. There might be vague correlations to be made between horror audiences’ insatiable bloodlust and the film’s movie theater goths mistaking murder for art, but the premise is mostly an excuse to have fun while celebrating horror as a communal joy. In true drag queen tradition, Lyonne’s short film slashers are given ridiculous pun titles like “Slasher in the Rye” & “Gore and Peace.” Popcorn machines & library books are fashioned into ridiculous murder props. The gore flows freely in practical effects indulgences instead of settling for the cheaper, lazier route of CG blood splatter. All About Evil is a genuine specimen of gleeful horror fandom. Like with the TV persona of bit part actor Elvira and the stage performances of Peaches Christ herself, it’s always wonderful when that quality can convincingly intersect with the world & art of drag. For an enthusiastic fan of both like myself, it’s all too easy to get swept up in the joy of that combo.

The one thing that tempers my appreciation of All About Evil is its choice of protagonist. Instead of detailing Lyonne’s mental unraveling from her own perspective, the film is told mostly from the POV of a teenage horror bro who arrives on the ground floor as one of her biggest fans. He makes sense as a choice for inserting an audience surrogate into the narrative, but like in Joe Dante’s embarrassing Burying the Ex misfire, can often unintentionally display some of the fandom’s worst macho tendencies. His relationship with a horror-hating Feminist Nag is particularly troubling, especially in an exchange where he mansplains to her that Lyonne’s deranged killer is “important” because there’s (supposedly) never been a great female horror director before. The statement is, at best, misinformed, devaluing the the cult classic films of women like Stephanie Rothman, Doris Wishman, Jackie Kong, Roberta Findlay, and Mary Lambert. It’s even more cringeworthy once you consider the fact that Cindy Sherman’s Carol Kane slasher Office Killer is by far a superior example of the exact mousy-homebody-turned-vengeful-killer aesthetic All About Evil aims towards; a woman has essentially made a better version of the movie that’s telling its audience no woman has ever made a truly great horror film before. It’s a frustrating claim to stomach. Office Killer also didn’t feel the need to tell its story through the eyes of a goth bro, keeping its perspective solidly anchored to Kane even as she descended into gory madness (which is partly why it’s a better film). I wouldn’t have been so taken aback by the character’s misguided horror bro mindset if it weren’t so clearly meant to be a mouthpiece for the audience. All About Evil is such a gleeful celebration of cult horror subculture (and women in general) otherwise that it was disappointing such a misguided choice made it to the screen in the process.

Being mildly offended is honestly just as natural to drag culture as bad puns & glitter, though, so I wasn’t too bothered with All About Evil’s slightly off-center feminist politics. It also helps that I saw the film in one of the best possible environments: with Peaches Christ present for a Q&A in the back room of a local bar. The screening was preceded by a few B-movie friendly drag performances (including a Female Trouble-themed act from fellow Krewe Divine member CeCe V Deminthe) and was supervised by local drag workshop instructor Vinsantos (a friend of Peaches Christ’s who also provided the film’s low-fi score). The entire evening was reminiscent of old school art cinema screenings, where weirdos would pile into unconventional spaces like bookstores & dive bars to struggle to hear avant-garde experiments over the roar of a nearby whirring projector. In this case the projector had an inaudible, digital-era hum, but the environment was still the same. The similarities between the drunken drag enthusiasts in that barroom and the gore-thirsty goths calling for the peril of Natasha Lyonne’s victims onscreen were apparent & plentiful. I’m much more suspicious of that environment’s effect on my enthusiasm for the film than I am with my general drag cinema leniency. Still, Peaches Christ delivered an impressive love letter to campy, gore-drenched schlock in All About Evil. The film was clearly a blast to make, but far from the lazy, self-indulgent hangout it easily could have been (and many microbudget horror comedies are). I’d without question recommend it to anyone with a voracious love of B-movie history, whether or not they’re familiar with Peaches Christ as a real-life persona or drag as an artform. That’s more than I can say for pictures like Vegas in Space, as much I as I love those for their own sake.

-Brandon Ledet

The Babysitter (2017)

McG might finally found a proper outlet for his directorial style’s music video kineticism: bubblegum pop horror. The director’s tacky, over-energized breakfast cereal commercial aesthetic tested audiences’ patience in his Charlie’s Angels adaptations. The unbearably dour Terminator: Salvation proved that tonally sober seriousness would never be his forte either. The straight-to-Netflix horror comedy The Babysitter might be proof, however, that there is a perfect place in this world for McG’s hyperactive tastelessness. His unmeasured, over-enthused music video tackiness is perhaps only suitable (or even tolerable) when delivering easy-to-digest, winking at the camera genre thrills at under 90min of violent, over-sexed pop media. I never would have supposed that horror comedy would be the sweet spot that forgave McG’s many, many sins against good taste, but The Babysitter proves just that.

A young, bullied nerd stays awake past his bedtime to spy on his older, cooler, hotter babysitter and discovers that she’s the ringleader of a Satanic blood cult. If this premise sounds like it should have been pitched 30 years ago, don’t worry; McG & writer Brian Duffield pretend as if they’re still operating in a socially & politically tacky 80s horror climate. The Babysitter relies heavily on the high school clique archetypes, lipstick lesbian make-outs, and (most despicably) racial caricature of ancient pop media as a launching point for its gore-soaked horror humor. The morality of this backwards mindset can be periodically icky, but the cartoon energy of the production design and the crazy-eyed performance from Samara Weaving as the titular hot girl villain (which is like a high school age version of Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn interpretation) make the occasional bad taste squirm worthwhile. The idea of prurient curiosity from a young nerd spying on their perfect, ideal babysitter in hopes for sexual discovery instead leading him to becoming a targeted witness of a Satanic blood ritual is a solid hook, one McG bizarrely reduces to a gory music video remix of Home Alone. The Babysitter somehow even presents subtle themes about the anxieties of oncoming puberty & sexual awakening in the midst of its gory sugar rush eccentricity, especially in how its older, hornier teenage Satanists look through the eyes of its petrified junior high nerd protagonist. Those themes just aren’t very deep or tastefully executed. That’s not the McG way.

If you can look past its stubbornly dated moral center and eye-bleeding Cat in the Hat production design, The Babysitter works fairly well as a trashy horror comedy for the Riverdale age (just with some Family Guy touches unfortunately peppered in for flavor). The way it turns the cheerleader uniforms, spin-the-bottle games, and babysitting gigs of horny teen archetypes into a screwball comedy of violent terrors is a great backdrop for the tacky live action cartoon energy of McG’s crude, auteurist tendencies. The film could’ve used more screentime exploring the sex & Satanic ritual aspects of its teen villain occultists, but there’s something endearingly perverse about the way McG devolves the premise into Home Alone 6(?!): Invasion of the Teenage Satanists instead. The bright colors, eccentric camera work, onscreen text, and lack of moral self-awareness are befitting of a children’s film from decades in the past, but also work surprisingly well in a trashy, direct-to-streaming horror comedy context. McG might have finally found his niche — his tacky, cavity-causing, shamefully amusing niche.

-Brandon Ledet