Synergetic Distribution // 2010 // 98 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // January 7th, 2011
Welcome to a horror movie in full-on drag!
One of the trickiest things to do in cinema is to make a midnight sensation on purpose. You imagine that movie host impresario Peaches Christ (also known as Joshua Grannell) knows a lot about late night movies, since the drag queen presides over the immensely popular Midnight Mass series in San Francisco. He's been proudly vamping over cult hits for over a decade and a half in the Castro, and he's got quite a large following thanks to his spectacular stage presence and quick wit. It doesn't hurt that he's not afraid to come out nearly naked from a paper mache volcano before screening Showgirls. If only this DVD came with a free lap dance along with the purchase of a jumbo popcorn, but that's another show entirely. This is the first film from Joshua/Peaches, and he/she takes it as a chance to send a loving valentine to filmmakers like John Waters, William Castle, Herschell Gordon Lewis, and Sam Raimi. All About Evil has a knowing love of cinema both good and bad, and is set a world that Peaches knows all too well -- San Francisco's underground cinema scene.
The plot focuses on mousey librarian Deborah Tennis (Natasha Lyonne, But I'm a Cheerleader) who's father runs a failing single screen revival house theater in the "City by the Bay." He passes away unexpectedly, and the evil stepmother decides she wants to sell the place since the real estate is worth far more than a dying business. Well Deborah goes nuts and kills her, but the act is caught on a security camera. The footage of the real life murder is accidentally aired before a screening of Blood Feast, and the audience loves it. So a sensation is born, and Deborah sets about to make sequels that save her theater. But the thing is, it's only a matter of time before someone realizes people are literally dying for her movies. That lucky lad happens to be a teenage horror fan (Thomas Dekker, A Nightmare on Elm Street ), and he's gonna expose Deborah's crimes on celluloid. That is if his mom (Cassandra Peterson of Elvira fame) lets him out of the house.
There are many influences that run through All About Evil, but the main thrust of it feels like a horror film John Waters would have come up with had he decided to tackle the genre. There is quite a bit of Cecil B. DeMented when you look at the guerilla film making that has Deborah Tennis chastising an indie film audience to do things like keep quiet and silence their cell phones. Like many Waters ventures it also has a filthy streak of meanness where even a sweet librarian like Mink Stole (Pink Flamingoes) gets a hideous death she hardly deserves. This sense of outrageous over the top pitch dark comedy will be what makes you either a fan or a foe of the film. The gore is extreme, but always with a wink and a nod accompanied by far too much blood. It has probably the single most inappropriate use of a guillotine captured on film, and plenty more where that came from up its sleeve. Much of the film is unexpected, and there's a nice sense of originality while still paying homage to the horror genre. There are so many fun moments where you recognize a nod to Hitchcock here or a quick wink to Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead there.
It's not perfect though. The biggest problem with All About Evil is it's a film striving to be camp, a bad movie made purposefully to capture the cult feel. The pacing sometimes seems to be off because the actors are trying to be horrendous on purpose, giving the whole thing a far too aware sense of B-movie schlock. The thing about a midnight movie is it usually is not cognizant of what it is until showing up in a late night screening. Camp is never meant to be intentional, it simply becomes campy when you look at something trying so hard. This makes the whole thing drag a bit (pun very much intended) and feel off in some sequences. The film reminds me of a drag queen in that it becomes a caricature of what it is trying to be. It's a little too much at times.
Another problem with the film is that it was meant to be shown live with a boisterous audience. The big event when the film was released was that Peaches Christ toured with an imaginative trunk show, and did a drag revue before the screening, often showcasing the film's stars. They called it the 4-D experience, and there was never a traditional release other than these midnight parties at art houses across the country. Watching it on DVD alone in your living room really goes against what the film was made for. All About Evil is a tough sell on DVD when you're all alone watching the flick without a group reaction to bounce off of. I think a viewing party is in order, but you'll need to find a whole gaggle of gay cult horror fans to get the most out of it.
Luckily, the DVD is smart enough to know that the viewer may be lacking necessary resources to find gay gore girls. The extras are what makes the film and elevates the experience to what it should be. The DVD producers included a documentary about the premiere of the film at the Castro theater which includes the pre-show antics happening live on a big night for the film. It gives viewers a chance to see what the huge tour was about, and includes luminaries like John Waters as well as Jawbreaker director Darren Stein. The Castro Theatre premiere was a huge party, and the 4-D experience for the film was half the genius of it. The cabaret show around the feature was amazing, and it makes you wonder what would have happened if they had decided to include musical numbers in the movie proper. Also included is a making of featurette which takes a look at the set and what it was like. The fun part is seeing Joshua in and out of drag directing he film (he's rather handsome out of the Peaches Christ getup). The fun part is it shows all the inspiration for the movie, and what Midnight Mass is all about. Joshua Grannell provides commentary over the feature, and he's thoughtful speaker who gives you an inside tour of where his head was at while making this frightful feature. Also included on the disc is "Grindhouse" which is the original short that inspired the film as well as "Children of the Popcorn" which gives you an inside look at the Peaches Christ publicity department and plan for world domination through snacks.
All About Evil is easily a first for cinema, a horror film headed up by a man who wears more make-up and hair than Elvira Mistress of the Dark. Who knew a drag queen would figure out a way to exploit a love of horror and John Waters films in such a big way? Who knew they did anything other than tributes to Liza Minelli and Whitney Houston? It's an over the top campy flick that has a nasty mean streak as wide as any cult classic it pays homage to. I don't think Celine Dion could handle it. The only thing holding it back is a too calculated sense of B-movie pacing and the lack of a live audience. If only Peaches Christ could find a way to come in to every viewer's home and offer a pre-show and party during the film. Surely Sony will launch a 4-D TV eventually, and the world will catch up to the midnight drag sensation. Until then, you'll simply have to pray that Peaches Christ shows up in your town.
Guilty of putting the horror genre in heels and hair.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Synergetic Distribution
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Unrated