By CASS CLARKE
In 2010, midnight movie maven Peaches Christ crafted one of the most beloved queer cult films of the past two decades, ALL ABOUT EVIL. Set in her stomping grounds of San Francisco, ALL ABOUT EVIL celebrates the hungry underground culture of independent cinema, camp, and exploitation films with gory glee. Written and directed by her alter ego, Joshua Grannell, the indie favorite follows a lonely librarian named Deborah Tennis, portrayed by a pitch-perfect Natasha Lyonne, who inherits her father’s failing theater. Desperate for the show to go on, Deborah resorts to some bloody means to save the movie house from ruin. Local teenage gorehound Steven Thompson (Thomas Dekker) has a hunch that Deborah’s films are a deadly hoax and investigates his theory while trying to skirt around his disapproving mother, portrayed by the one and only Cassandra Peterson.
What works best about Grannell’s film is how subtly self-aware it is. Audiences can sense that Deborah’s plight is an allegory for how difficult it is to keep independent cinema alive, but that messaging never takes away from the fun and quippy bloodbath. Fans of Peaches Christ’s legendary programming and drag career will find a lot to love in the unapologetically bold carnage. Despite ALL ABOUT EVIL’s killer cast and fantastic premise, the cult film has been impossible for cinephiles to find. Thankfully, Severin Films has just released a special edition Blu-ray of the film. ALL ABOUT EVIL is also available to stream on Shudder.
In celebration of ALL ABOUT EVIL’s Pride Month resurrection, Rue Morgue interviewed Grannell and star Thomas Dekker. The duo delved into their favorite memories of their time filming in San Fran’s historic Victoria Theatre and reflected on the fortuitous timing of the film’s rerelease. Fans that won’t be able to attend Peaches Christ’s West Coast tour presenting the film, “Peaches Christ 4-D Screenings,” can revel in Grannell and Dekker’s fondest memories of the historic production.
First of all, congrats on the distribution news! Do either of you remember your first thoughts when you heard the good news?
Joshua Grannell: I actually just walked up to Sam Zimmerman at Fantastic Fest in Austin, and was like, “Hi, I’m Joshua, but you may know me as Peaches Christ.” He said, “Yes, I do. I’m a huge fan of ALL ABOUT EVIL.” I said, “Good. That’s why I’m approaching you. Any chance we could get it on Shudder?” And he said, “I didn’t know it was available.” I said, “Well, I think it’s going to be available.”
So, I was just really relieved and excited when he said that he liked the movie. It was very easy. He was like, “Yeah, we want it.” That was actually a couple of years ago. It’s taken this long to get the ball rolling [because] part of that was me intentionally stalling. The movie is about movie theaters and loving cinemas and in-person screenings and I wanted this whole rebirth to include live events. So I intentionally stalled a little bit with Severin Films and Shudder. Luckily, they hung in there long enough that we’re able to do the live events, have it on Shudder, have the Blu-ray come out – the whole thing!
What about you, Thomas?
Thomas Dekker: Well, I personally really love Shudder. I really got into it in the last year and a half, so that part of it is great. But I’m just thrilled that it’s going to get this bit of resurgence and have new eyes on it. I also am just so happy that it’s organically had the exact kind of ride that a cult film traditionally receives. This is a cult film, which you can’t reverse engineer. It’s just happened through a myriad of steps that fit the movie so well to me. So to me, this is a perfect journey already.
Joshua, in prior interviews you mentioned how ALL ABOUT EVIL was inspired in part by the work of Doris Wishman. Looking back on it, and now that enough time has passed to have some hindsight, where do you think that influence most shines through in the film?
JG: Honestly, I think in many ways … It has everything to do with a woman stepping up and saying, “I can do this, too. Why should men be the only people that make money off brutalizing us?” The violence of the movie, her unapologetic blood thirst – when men do this sort of thing, we don’t question it. But when women do it, there’s just a lot of misogyny in the horror world. I think Doris Wishman is an actual exploitation filmmaker who was exploiting women and exploiting people the same way that men were. It was just shocking. I just admire her. I love that “fuck it, fuck you” attitude. I think Deborah in many ways is that spirit. I’m not saying women should do that. They should not turn on their own, but there is something fierce about it.
Yeah, like women can be ugly, too, and we shouldn’t be afraid to show that.
JG: Yes, exactly. I do mean that in the best possible way. I think Doris Wishman should be applauded.
ALL ABOUT EVIL came out of your short film “Grindhouse.” When you were taking Deborah to a longer format, what was something that you wanted to expand upon in regards to her character?
JG: In the short film, it’s a true proof of concept where you really only get the spirit of what she’s doing. It’s all told through this interview where I play the interviewer. I think what the feature was like, “Oh, well, who would the crew be? Why would Mr. Twigs be this way? What would a real Mr. Twigs look like?” For me, it was the fun of fleshing out the evil family but also realizing that I needed an actual protagonist. So enter Thomas Dekker playing Steven. You needed someone to go on this journey with because if all you have is the lunacy of the evil family, we know that doesn’t work. One hundred percent camp wildness all the time, if it’s not grounded somewhere, it doesn’t work. So poor Thomas had to play the boring normal character.
Thomas, as an actor who had already been in the industry for quite a while, I imagine it must have been cathartic to play a doe-eyed Steven who really loves the film world. Looking back at that time, did that role feel cathartic for you as an actor?
TD: It was the most cathartic experience of my young career period in general. But yes, I love the role of Steven. But it was more exciting to be a part of the movie in general for me. At that time, which is funny to say now, I hadn’t really done indies. It had all been television and mainstream shit, which obviously was great. But personally, my spirit lies with indie films, cult films, challenging films, and experimental films – all of that. So it was the opportunity to get to work for Joshua in the world of Peaches Christ, in San Francisco, in this community. We had a crew that actually wanted to make something as opposed to being there for a job, and that was what I was really hungry to be immersed in, and I got it and then some.
As one of the only actors who has starred alongside Cassandra Peterson in a slasher – And I hope that happens again. She’s in “The Munsters,” and I hope many more roles are to come – what was it like developing your dynamic with her on set? It’s a little tongue-in-cheek in the film because her character is anti-midnight movie culture when in real life Cassandra is an icon in that world.
TD: Well, I was starstruck, obviously, from the get-go. It’s Elvira. [laughs] But we really bonded on a very natural and very respectful level. She was playing something that wasn’t Elvira for the first time in a very long time. I think she felt a bit like she was in a new environment for herself as an actress. We were just there to support each other. I learned so much from watching her because the way she could roll with things. She comes from improv, which I don’t. So both of us were good for each other in that sense. I just adore her as a person. Anyone who’s met her knows that. How could you not adore her?
One of my favorite bits of trivia about the film is how it was supposed to be shot in the Bridge Theatre, but the location ended up getting changed to the gorgeous and gothic Victoria Theatre instead. What’s something about this location that you think, as a filmmaker Joshua, and as an actor Thomas, ultimately benefited it in a way that another theatre couldn’t have?
JG: I wrote the film while literally living in the Bridge Theatre. That’s where I was doing Midnight Mass, the stage show as Peaches. But I also was running the Bridge Theatre, and it was an old single-screen movie theater, and the writing was on the wall for a lot of the San Francisco theaters. ALL ABOUT EVIL, in many ways, is about my anxiety about losing neighborhood movie theaters. So the Bridge was honestly chosen because it’s just where I was and where I did everything. If someone said, you could choose the Victoria, or you could choose the Bridge for the movie, I would have chosen the Victoria because it’s really a better fit. But we just didn’t go that route until we had to. [laughs] It’s almost like the cinema gods, said, “Oh, no, no, no. This isn’t where this movie needs to take place. It needs to be over here.”
The Victoria is just scary looking. It’s big, it’s brick, and it’s cold. It’s magical. I’ll just say that the art department didn’t have to do a whole lot. It was pretty good to go whereas with the Bridge, they were gonna have to do a lot. In fact, they’d already started at the Bridge. But when we got kicked out, when we left the Bridge, the art department had already spent a week there prepping it, which is how close we got to not having a main location. I don’t know if Thomas – Oh, yeah, of course, you saw the Bridge because we did Midnight Mass there later. But like me, you can’t really imagine it at the Bridge, right?
TD: I came to Midnight Mass at the Bridge before ALL ABOUT EVIL, too.
JG: Ah, right!
TD: I knew the Bridge, and I had seen all your shorts that were at the Bridge, so I was just anticipating that. When we switched to the Victoria Theatre, I second everything that you just said. It’s this gothic space. For filming purposes, it was in the Mission [District]. It was really our base and our home for what felt like almost the entire shoot. It felt like everything we shot within a couple of days was at the theater, at least from my perspective, but it was great. That whole little square surrounding the Victoria, we would go there to kill time in between. I love that theater. I’m excited to go back.
Grannell: Yeah, next weekend!
I have to shout out about Aurora Bergere’s special effects makeup work in All About Evil. I must know, how difficult was it to set up that boob guillotine shot? Honestly, that shot is unbeatable.
TD: My favorite kill too.
JG: Yeah, that’s Thomas’ favorite kill.
Again, in the spirit of Doris Wishman, and in the spirit of Midnight Mass, I have always worked closely with women in positions of power. And so it was getting down to the wire, and I was going like, “Okay, the cinematography…” You have to think about these things, as far as equity goes, especially if you’re a person who’s been disenfranchised, especially in the horror genre. No one was rolling out the red carpet for Peaches Christ in the horror world for many, many years. It’s kind of like, “We like freaky stuff, but not that freaky!”
It was important to me that the special effects and gore actually be led by a woman. That really did, I think, make a difference in terms of the way it was executed – no pun intended. I think there was actually a realness to it. She did not push the envelope. She went very, very real. She built that whole thing and that whole prosthetic. Yeah, there’s a camp element because Natasha obviously is over the top. She’s losing her mind. She’s dressed in a French Revolution outfit, but then you mix it with a very realistic slice of violence. I can’t say enough great things about Aurora and I’ve loved watching her star rise and rise and rise. After ALL ABOUT EVIL, she’s just continued in the industry, and she’s just doing great.
TD: It’s a testament to Aurora’s makeup, your directing, and the film itself. It’s a comedy that I’m in, and still, all these years later, I can’t watch that lip – I don’t want to give it away as a spoiler – but I can’t watch it. I’m a tough bitch with horror and gore, and there’s something about it that still just is too much for me. Especially given our indie scale, Aurora really killed it.
JG: She was working with a very limited budget, as all of the departments were. I was over there going to the producers, “No, it can’t be fixed in post.” There were a few things that happened in post-production, obviously, there’s some CGI in the movie, but I really fought with Aurora to have almost practical everything.
When you’re in drag, you’re the makeup artist, the costume designer, the marketing. You gather all these skills that aren’t too different from making a film. As someone with a history in film programming and drag, what advice do you have for drag artists looking to move into filmmaking?
Grannell: That’s a good question. I would say that often people go, “Oh, my God, you do this, and you do this!” Whether it’s Terror Vault, which is my haunted attraction, ALL ABOUT EVIL, which is a film, or a Peaches Christ stage show, to me, it’s all coming from the same place. You’re right. Those skills, they apply across the board. I think with a lot of drag performers, especially now with the popularity of drag…
In the early days, when I started, many of us, myself and the other legends – as they like to call us old people – didn’t have the benefit of people creating shows for us. So we ended up having to produce our own content, make our own events, write our own scripts, and do our own marketing. So I would say to girls now, be careful. Don’t shy away from doing it yourself. Just because a bar or a nightclub or a producer will hire you, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should always go that route because the skills that you develop being your own producer, your own content maker, they’re going to carry you through anything.
ALL ABOUT EVIL from Severin Films is available to stream now exclusively on Shudder.
“The skills that you develop being your own producer, your own content maker, they’re going to carry you through anything.”