TADFF 10: ALL ABOUT EVIL Review

While introducing a kids matinee performance of The Wizard of Oz (with Dad both the theatre-owner-producer and Mom the Wicked Witch of the West), young Deborah catches a bit of performance anxiety resulting in an embarassing wetness on her Dorothy costume and unfortunate electrocution via the pee-soaked microphone cord for all the families in the audience to witness.  Certainly the sort of thing that could scar one for life. The moment is simultaneously sad, funny, tragic and high-kitsch and so goes All About Evil, a decidedly local tribute to the Midnight Cinema of yesteryear in those (alarmingly rare these days) single screen repertory houses presented with the tongue-in-cheek verve of late-late-late-night camp.  A lot of these things display quite prominently in the film:  Cassandra Peterson shows up as both subdued actress and horror-icon (in perhaps the films best joke, the young lead has Elvira as a wall pin-up (the classic cleavage-laden pose) and Peterson plays a significant role as his concerned Mom.  Paging Dr. Freud!)  Classic drive-in horror graphic art figures prominently into the film, both diagetic and also the superb opening and closing titles.  The innocent/saucy tone of the whole affair feels very much like John Waters, and sure enough Water's regular Mink Stole shows up as a shhhhh'ed librarian, and the moment of her lips being sealed is about the closest thing I have seen in the past 10 years to Herschell Gordon Lewis.  So yea, the film wears its influences on its red-soaked sleeve.

The story picks up a couple decades later, where Deborah (American Pie's Natasha Lyonne) is running the struggling movie-house (San Francisco's historic Victoria Theatre to be precise) showing vintage cult curious to honor the spirit of her father who has passed on (probably from disappointment) while making ends meet with a job as a librarian.  Frumpy on both counts and clearly being held down by her (still wicked) mother who wants to sell the old cinema to developers but needs her daughters signature to proceed, things come to a head during a late night screening of Blood Feast.  The scuffle caught on the security cameras of the lobby results in not-so-Mommie Dearest being dispatched in bloody fashion and displayed to the patrons in front of the feature.  Of course the accidental voyeur-snuff short is a hit, and a newly empowered Deborah proudly sporting an Elsa Lanchester silver streak in her red tresses soon gathers a band of misfits including her aged (but vibrant) projectionist, a set of young twins who wandered away from the Overlook Hotel and got a goth-chic fashion makeover, and Noah Segan essaying another of his grown collection of greasy grotesques to shoot DIY bumpers to drive up business.  Pun-ish takes on literary classics (The Scarlet Leper, Gore and Peace, A Tale of Two Severed Titties), the short films channel Deborah's latent performance anxieties, sadomasochism and desire for fame (or a need to prove to daddy she is Orson Welles) by rounding up locals and off-ing them for the viewing pleasure of a growing number of fans and theatre patrons.  Only Steven, the high-school boy in the above meta-Freudian gag picks up the (not even subtle) change in Deborah and sets out to shop her reign of murderous high-camp. 

All About Evil takes a bit to re-acclimatize the viewer into its world.  It is rather jarring to see such old styles of broad acting (or acting broads, hello 1940s!) with crisp HD cinematography.  The film looks good, but static shots and overly barren set dressing (mainstays in no-budget affairs by the likes of Ed Wood) simply looks strange with modern cameras, the handsome costuming comes across more like stage-theatre than cinema, I do not know if I can explain it better than that, but the experience of All About Evil is most certainly strengthened when accompanied with director Joshua Grannell's alter Ego, Peaches Christ, and her troupe of Drag Queens.  Like the arch acting and dialogue, the combined stew is at times awkward yet at times also quite successful making All About Evil sort of a Gothic, snuff-film version, of Michel Gondry's Be Kind Rewind.   It is easy to be swept up by the earnest tributes and overall community spirit, but my only complaint is that the director could not resist incorporating his Drag Queen stage icon, Peaches Christ, into the proceedings instead of letting the film speak for itself.  Sure it captures a bit of the old crass-showmanship and business side of the films he/she is playing hommage to but it also feels awkward and stilted, particularly in the final theatre show-down.  Your mileage may vary, but this one is best seen at midnight with a crowd in the right mood, or better yet in the actual Victoria Cinema in mean old Frisco.

[Astute Twitch readers may note the appearance of our own Michael Guillen, ubiquitous on the San Franciscan film scene (who covered All About Evil, interviewing just about every single person involved in the film.  Seriously!  Check our extensive archives on the subject) as a background performer in the films climactic final-curtain screening.]
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