So how’s this for a bizarre coincidence? I had been perusing the films that Shudder had been adding all throughout the past couple of months that I hadn’t got around to watching yet, with a view to putting them on the docket for my August series of reviews, when I happened upon a 2010 film called All About Evil. I didn’t know much about it, but the short synopsis sounded really fun, and it had a coveted five-skull rating among Shudder subscribers who had watched it (which is fairly rare to see; horror fans on Shudder are very discerning), so I scheduled it for a viewing one Saturday afternoon.
On the very morning of the day I was planning to watch it, I happened to randomly be reading a newly-posted article about the 30th anniversary of one of my favorite movies from the 90s, the fantastic dark comedy Death Becomes Her, and its status as a touchstone of queer culture. A large chunk of this article was comprised of an interview with filmmaker and iconic San Francisco drag performer Peaches Christ, aka Joshua Grannell, who, it turns out, directed All About Evil. I’m not quite sure how I managed that kind of kismet, but there you go. The universe was clearly telling me to watch and review this movie, it seems, so who am I to refuse?
Apparently, All About Evil had a very limited release back in 2010, and then went into a bit of a limbo for more than a decade, becoming damnably difficult to get hold of. Thankfully, this travesty was recently rectified by Severin Films, who released a special-edition Blu-ray in 2022, and Shudder, who added it to their platform in June of the same year.
And good for them, because All About Evil is an absolute blast. It’s essentially a gory slasher comedy funneled through the sensibilities of John Waters (who is friends with Grannell and produced the film), and if that doesn’t make you want to see it, I don’t know what will. It’s got the same kind of homegrown, campy vibe as Waters’s Serial Mom, so if you were into that, you’ll probably love this.
Natasha Lyonne (who I recognized immediately from Slums of Beverly Hills and But I’m a Cheerleader; this movie predates her award-winning roles in Russian Doll and Orange is the New Black) stars as Deborah Tennis, an unstable young woman who will do anything to keep her father’s beloved San Francisco revival movie house, the Victoria Theatre, up and running.
At the beginning of the movie, there’s a prologue set in 1984, in which a young Deborah—dressed as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz—sings a little introductory song at a screening of the 1939 classic. Her father accompanies her on piano; he’s convinced that she’s going to be a big star one day, though her cruel mother Tammy—dressed as The Wicked Witch of the West—mocks the poor, awkward child at every turn. During the song, the kids and parents in the audience are snickering, and Deborah gets so nervous that she wets herself, then gets electrocuted when she touches the mic stand that’s damp with her pee. She survives, but she obviously isn’t going to be right after that.
The movie then jumps ahead to the present day, and Deborah—now sporting a Bride of Frankenstein streak of white in her hair—is working as a librarian while also trying to keep her father’s deteriorating movie theater open, showing screenings of old horror and exploitation flicks like Blood Feast and Blood Orgy Of The She-Devils to a handful of hardcore horror hounds. Daddy has died, and the imperious Tammy just wants to sell the old dump to developers so they can build a Bed Bath & Beyond, but Deborah only wants to keep the dream alive, even as Tammy condemns both her and her deceased father as losers.
One of the aforementioned horror hounds who never misses a Friday at the Victoria Theatre is Steven, a high school student who has a poster of Elvira, Mistress of the Dark above his bed, and whose mom is played by Elvira herself, Cassandra Peterson, in a surprisingly heartfelt role featuring none of the wacky puns and boobalicious shenanigans of her famous character. Steven, it should also be mentioned, develops something of a crush on Deborah as the movie goes on, which ends up causing some complications when he figures out what she gets up to.
One night, Tammy sashays into the theater and tries to force Deborah to sign the contract that will allow the theater to be sold. Deborah isn’t having it, and she ends up flipping her shit and brutally stabbing her horrible mother to death with a pen, right in the lobby of the Victoria while the patrons inside are waiting for the main feature to start.
Elderly projectionist Mr. Twigs, who has worked at the theater for decades, has stepped out on an errand, so a frantic Deborah rushes up to the projection booth to get Blood Feast started before the theatergoers start getting even more restless. Unfortunately, she accidentally screens the security camera footage of the murder she just perpetrated, and thinks she’s busted. But when Mr. Twigs returns and finds Tammy’s body, he decides to step up and help Deborah out, since he always thought Tammy was a complete twunt who totally had it coming. He goes to the front of the theater and tells the audience that they’ve just witnessed the first short horror film made by Deborah Tennis herself, and that from now on, there are going to be original horror shorts screening before every movie, made in-house by Deborah. He then cleans up the crime scene and stows Tammy’s corpse up in the crumbling attic of the old building to rot away quietly.
From then on, Deborah and her right-hand man Mr. Twigs start making short snuff films, bumping off annoying theater guests and others, and screening the films as fiction every Friday night to a steadily growing audience who begin to laud Deborah as the hottest new cult filmmaker in the Bay area. Deborah, who gets more and more unhinged as the movie goes on, begins to fancy herself some type of auteur, dressing like a forties silver screen diva and insisting her name be pronounced as Deb-OR-ah Ten-NEESE. Her films are all based around classic literature and have titles like The Maiming of the Shrew, A Tale of Two Severed Titties, The Scarlet Leper, and Gore and Peace (seriously, watch the entire end credits to see all the hilarious posters), and as her ambition expands, she also recruits a few psychos to serve as her film crew-slash-murder squad (including a scuzzy criminal played by Noah Segan of Starry Eyes, Tales of Halloween, Knives Out, and Scare Package; and a pair of homicidal twins just released from an asylum, played by Jade and Nikita Ramsey).
The movie also boasts a small role for John Waters regular Mink Stole as Deborah’s busybody coworker at the library and the “star” of one of the snuff films, and features an appearance by director Joshua Grannell, playing Peaches Christ as herself.
There’s also a bit of a subplot concerning Steven, whose love of the macabre makes him a prime suspect when people in town start disappearing. I particularly liked the satire here, as I vividly remember being called into the high school guidance counselor’s office more than once because one of my pearl-clutching teachers thought there was something wrong with me after she spotted me reading a Clive Barker novel before class. Ah, the 80s.
All About Evil is just buckets of fun, made with such obvious affection for trashy old horror flicks and filled to the bloody brim with winks and homages to same. It’s gleefully gory and gloriously over the top, with Natasha Lyonne chewing the scenery with demented relish. If you ever wanted to see what a mashup of John Waters and H.G. Lewis would look like, All About Evil is probably as close as you’re ever going to get, so I would heartily recommend it to any fans of horror comedy, campy horror, and trash cinema.
Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends.