Are horror movies really the answer to Natasha Lyonne’s problems, or is she just projecting?
They say that it’s impossible to make a good camp film on purpose, but I suppose if anyone should be exempt from that rule it would be a director who willingly goes by the name of ‘Peaches Christ.’ Ms. Christ, aka Mr. Joshua Grannell, wrote and directed the upcoming horror comedy All About Evil, in theaters this July and currently playing at the Los Angeles Film Festival. It’s an over the top, outlandish and melodramatic tale of the proprietor of a failing independent movie house who achieves local celebrity by showing original short horror films written, directed by and starring herself, and playing the murder victims…? Actual murder victims. It’s been a full six years since we’ve had a new John Waters feature to enjoy, and as an apparently faithful Waters disciple, this cross-dressing director’s new feature is practically divine.
Natasha Lyonne exudes star quality as Deborah (pronounced “De-BOR-ah”) Tennis (pronounced “ten-NISE”), a wallflower with thoroughly dashed dreams of showbiz celebrity. She has a hilarious commitment to referring to the entertainment industry as “the business we call show.” After DeBORah’s father dies her mother, who plays half of her role unironically dressed as the Wicked Witch of the West, tries to force DeBORah to sell his beloved movie theater, resulting in a brutal matricide that accidentally gets caught on tape, and then just as accidentally gets shown to the theater’s small-but-dedicated audience. They love it, so DeBORah begins making more films starring annoying patrons of the theater as murder victims. There’s a missed opportunity here to kill the kind of annoying theatergoers we all know and hate for their transgressions (like talking during the movie, bringing a baby to the theater, etc.). That kind of bloodlust goes wanting, even though most of DeBORah’s films wind up as a message to the audience about turning off their cell phones.
And introducing Jade & Nikita Ramsey… as my new standard of beauty.
The plot, such as it is, follows DeBORah and her increasingly large crew as they find happiness and empowerment through the creative process. Her projectionist Mr. Twigs (Jack Donner) is an elderly Vincent Price-ish man who early on admits to having nothing else to live for besides the projection booth, but he becomes a de facto creepshow host and cameraman who discovers a surprising sexual revival through DeBORah’s films. The two of them also enlist a random sociopath (Brick’s Noah Segan), who starts the film beating helpless women on the street but becomes an outgoing and highly dedicated personal assistant, and steals practically every scene he’s in. Rounding out their cadre are two ridiculously hot goth twins played by Jade and Nikita Ramsey, who previously found acclaim playing Kumdumpsta #1 and #2 in Neveldine & Taylor’s Gamer. They don’t have much to say but do have a memorable final scene together that is both hilarious and oddly erotic. Together these misfits form a sort of Legion of Cinematic Doom that is almost impossibly lovable.
Perhaps a little less lovable is the high school subplot starring Thomas Dekker of “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” fame as a horror movie fanatic who loves DeBORah TenNIS’s films but gradually finds himself framed for all the mysterious disappearances surrounding the theater. The high school machinations, like getting a date with the most popular girl in school or the all-too-familiar class struggles between the rich kids and the arty types, never really work. Like the rest of the film, all the high school subplotting plays with an innocent, brightly lit and slightly over-the-top naivete, but lately all high school movies play in very much the same way. Instead of camping up the high school experience, the result is that much of the teen drama feels like an inferior episode of ‘Glee,’ or at least a superior version of High School Musical, in both cases sans the music. That said, we do like Thomas Dekker, and in particular we like his well-meaning mother, played by Cassandra “Elvira” Peterson. There’s an amusing aside in which she notices an erotic Elvira poster on her son’s wall, but so much attention is called to the in-joke that it ceases to be clever and becomes instead a bizarre meta-distraction.
Cassandra Peterson stars as a loving mother concerned about her son’s obsession with horror movies, providing her with the least campy role in an over-the-top midnight movie? Audiences just aren’t ready for that much irony. All About Evil is clearly ahead of its time.
Indeed, all the in-jokes in All About Evil fall flatter than the film’s original material. When DeBORah kills her mother she starts spouting movie dialogue from the likes of Psycho and it feels forced. When a headless corpse falls on a guy, lodging his head in the bloody stump and suffocating him to death, it’s a lot more entertaining. Mr. Grannell/Ms. Christ has crafted a loving and sincere ode to the midnight movie experience, but of course made a film specifically for that audience in the process. Hilarious and charming, though not conventionally “good” by any stretch of the imagination, All About Evil demands to be seen with a large audience of horror fiends, camp aficionados and other like-minded maniacs. If that’s you, then you’ll find that Evil… is what it’s all about.
All About Evil, written and directed by Joshua Grannell, starring Natasha Lyonne, Thomas Dekker, Cassandra Peterson, Jack Donner, Noah Segan, Jade & Nikita Ramsey and Peaches Christ, opens theatrically in select theaters July 10th 2010.