Tales from the Director's Chair: Joshua Grannell – Part 1

All About Evil Poster

If you live anywhere near San Francisco and you love films then odds are you’ve at least heard of Peaches Christ. Peaches has hosted the famous Midnight Mass midnight movie series at The Bridge Landmark for over a decade. Well, before Peaches became the cult icon that she is, she was Joshua Grannell, an aspiring filmmaker.

Well, now Grannell has realized that dream with his first feature film, All About Evil, which stars Thomas Dekker (Sarah Connor Chronicles), Natasha Lyonne (But I’m A Cheerleader), Mink Stole (Pink Flamingos) and Cassandra “Elvira” Peterson! It will be having its world premiere at the upcoming San Francisco International Film Festival before taking the film on tour around the country.

Evil follows Deborah (Lyonne), a mousy librarian who inherits her father’s beloved but failing movie theater. In order to save the theater she begins making a series of gory horror films, which brings here a legion of rabid fans. But what her fans don’t realize is that her films aren’t fiction!

Joshua took a moment out of his very busy schedule to sit down with me at a local coffee shop in Hayes Valley to talk about a number of topics ranging from his film, his inspirations, what it takes for a film to become a “cult film” and much more!

Joshua Grannell

Mike Noyes: In case there are some poor unfortunate, uninformed readers out there, could you please tell me a little about yourself and you’re alter ego, Peaches Christ?

Joshua Grannell: I grew up in Maryland, the weird kid who didn’t feel like he fit in anywhere and loved horror and monster movies and subscribed to Fangoria at a really young age, did haunted houses and was sort of the leader of the weirdo’s in a way. I knew I had to get out of Maryland because the only that was really interesting for me was discovering John [Waters] and Divine and Mink and what they were doing in Baltimore.

I went to film school at Penn State University, which was sort of strange because it was the most traditional, Greek, fraternity, sorority kinda school you could go to and I ended up benefiting from that because I… I stood out I guess is the way I should describe it. I made a movie called Jizz Mopper, my senior thesis film. The [actor playing the] drag queen character in the movie that ran this porn emporium just wasn’t working out and the administration wasn’t that supportive of a film called Jizz Mopper. Most of the students were white and male and straight and wanted to be Martin Scorsese. This is back when Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs were brand new so that’s what was popular. And my style of filmmaking, the movies I was most interested in were not supported. In order to save the movie, I uh, I makes it sound like someone held a gun to my head; I was forced into becoming Peaches [laughs]. But actually I think that that was always in the back of my head. I wrote the character and I would always imitate the character, then when things weren’t working out I became the character. Peaches was born in this film in Pennsylvania.

Drag at the time was taboo; you did not feel safe walking around. Even to do the movie; we had to think about things like the safety of when to be in drag and when not to be in drag. So I left Penn State in 1996.

MN: You were able to graduate with Jizz Mopper?

JG: Yes! It won the audience award at the big student film festival. It screened with a warning to the audience that went out over the loud speaker and I loved that. I felt bad for my parents, but I loved that there was a warning [chuckles] before our movie screened.

Because of the struggle with the kind of movie I was making I put together a grant with my friend Michael who is my drag sidekick Martiny. Michael and I met when we were 18, the first week of college and we joined forces. He was the leader of the queer student group and I was one of the leaders of the student film organization and we brought John Waters to Penn State. That was my way of presenting a filmmaker that I was super in awe of and a fan of, but selfishly it was my opportunity to get some one-on-one time with this guy that I so admired.

John talked about how fabulous San Francisco was. He talked about The Cockettes, [which] I’d never heard of, this troupe of drag queens who presented shows before midnight movies. And he talked about how Divine and Mink got involved with [them] and about how San Francisco was still one of these cities where that sort of Bohemian magic was alive and it didn’t matter if you were gay or straight. This was a place where you just came to be yourself or reinvent yourself. And I remember thinking at the time, “That sounds like a very nice city for me and it might be the prefect bridge between Los Angeles or New York.” But I also knew that the Kuchar Brothers were here and the city supported a really great history of underground filmmaking and it was not an industry town.

So I moved to San Francisco and began performing at this new nightclub called Trannyshack ,which has grown to become this legendary, international thing. At the time it was just a group of friends performing for friends and it was silly. We called it “Grunge Drag.” We were just going to thrift stores and dumpsters to find [costumes], we didn’t spend money on anything. You know, cardboard props. It was more about the cleverness, the art of what you could present. We weren’t trying to be Liza Minnelli, not that there’s anything wrong with that. I think it’s great. I would rent a chainsaw and take the chain of it and come running out in a leather face and rip the mask off and do a lip sync. It was different generation of drag.

At the time we didn’t know we were breaking ground in a new way or that it inspired knock off clubs across the country, it was totally just for fun. Then I thought, “Hey, I work for Landmark Theaters.” They owed a lot to midnight screenings. I went to them and I said. “Would you support me in hosting a midnight movie series with my drag alter-ego Peaches Christ?” You could tell there was palpable fear, but they supported it. To their credit, it’s amazing what they did. Then that and Trannyshack grew to become these institutions to the city and despite our cluelessness. It was years before I looked around and thought, “Oh my god! This is important. People are counting on this.” I remember there was a shift at one point when you just realize, “oh right, we just performed for thousands of people this summer. We did twelve shows and they all sold out.”

So that’s kind if my long versions of your answer and I tend to be really long winded so please edit! Edit! Edit! I’ll give you way more than you’ll need.

Note: I did edit, however, I did as little as needed.

MN: You’ve mentioned John Waters, but what other directors and films have inspired you?

JG: This is where I’m careful not to get pretentious, but you have to be honest, right? I really, really turned on to Alfred Hitchcock at a really young age. I loved his TV show. I loved Twilight Zone when I was a kid. I also would watch Elvira on TV and the terrible movies she would screen and really had a fondness for them. I think because they looked reachable as far as being do-it-yourself. We’d recreate things like that. The style, an Ed Wood movie, per say.

MN: I love Ed Wood.

JG: Oh, me too. Early Wes Craven was a huge influence: Nightmare On Elm Street, The Hills Have Eyes and even Last House On The Left. Last House, to me, has some John Waters in it. For me to even enjoy it, I have to look at it as camp to some degree.

God, who else? Herschel Gordon Lewis, [Pedro] Almodóvar, that was another one. Women On The Verge [Of A Nervous Breakdown]. All that stuff I was learning about in high school. I was in this conservative Catholic school and I loved knowing about stuff that nobody else knew about. Reading the magazines and going to the cool little mom and pop video stores where they didn’t even know what they had. They would have some movie and they wouldn’t really know what it was and you could rent it even though you should not have been allowed at a young age.

I could go on and on, cause there are so many different filmmakers. Tobe Hooper. Poltergeist was huge. Everyone talks about Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which has informed most of what I’ve done.

MN: That’s my favorite horror film of all time.

JG: It’s amazing!

MN: Hands down.

JG: For me it’s really hard. It comes down to Chainsaw and Nightmare On Elm Street. Nightmare was this fusion of fantasy and horror that to me was so effective. But Chainsaw, there’s just something about it.

MN: It’s so raw and unpleasant.

JG: Unpleasant and sort of funny. I love getting the DVDs because you really get to see the people who made the movie. The people who made Chainsaw talked about how that made the movie with a sense of humor, which is ironic because it does not feel that way. But watching it now I get it. And I actually really like Chainsaw Part 2.

MN: I haven’t seen any of the sequels yet.

JG: Ok, you need to see Part 2. Now you can’t at all compare it to Part 1. Part 2 is it’s own wild carnival, I mean Dennis Hopper… and Caroline Williams is the scream queen. On it’s own merits it’s an incredible movie.

All About Evil Still

MN: What was your initial inspiration for All About Evil? When did you think, “All right, it’s time to put Midnight Mass on hold and make a feature film.”

JG: It started when we started making these short films, these drag horror parodies. They were about Peaches and Martiny. They were very drag-centric appropriations of Nightmare On Elm Street and Halloween and Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? We did a trilogy of them that were just for an event. And there was a film programmer there who picked up the first one, which we shot for ten dollars. I’m not even lying. It was shot in two nights. I’ve never done post-production on it. It’s never had sound design. It’s missing everything and it ended up screening at all these film festivals, this crappy little video we made. But the point was, we told a story and made people laugh. The movie delivered. So even thought it was the most amateur thing you could ever imagine, because there was something compelling about it, it worked. And that was very encouraging as far as “Wow, we could do this again.” Really you don’t need the money these days. You can edit and shoot cheaply. If I write a story that people thing is funny or clever that’s all that matters.

So we did three of those. Then I thought, well I want to do one that’s not Peaches centered. A started to have a lot of self-doubt; maybe people really only like Peaches and maybe it’s not so much my abilities as a writer or a director. It might just be this character. That was this weird struggle I had at that time. I started to resent Peaches. It was real weird psychology. I’m thinking about turning that whole thing into a movie cause it’s weird being two people.

Note: You can now watch the aformentioned short films here at peacheschrist.com. Under “Channels” just click on “Tran-ilogy Of Terror.”

MN: You could write a movie where the main character kills off his drag queen persona and she comes back to haunt him.

JG: I’m looking into a Peaches screenplay that is about stolen identity, so some of that’s in there. Literally she’s stolen away from me. It’s weird, it’s very Vertigo and I’m toying with these ideas. But it stems from something very real that was going on.

But that lead me to make a short that was not Peaches centered and that was called Grindhouse and that was the kernel of the idea that became All About Evil. It was about a woman who was making short gore films in a movie theater in order to save the theater, but the public didn’t know she was actually murdering her actors. They’re really not snuff films because they’re not presented as real, no one knew what they were watching. I guess technically they were. That was how All About Evil got the ball rolling.

I also knew a Peaches feature would not be my first feature. It would also probably not be the one to get financing. But who knows, that was the logic that was in my head at the time. I also didn’t want to do that, I was struggling with that character. I was looking for an out in a way, which I’m not anymore. I got the out, now I really enjoy performing and I’m glad I didn’t kill off Peaches. Having Grindhouse and All About Evil to work on, it helped me enjoy the other stuff all over again.

Note: At this point a baby started crying so we moved outside onto the back patio where it was much quieter and nicer.

Don’t worry, there’s much more! This only part one of the interview. Tune in next week for part two and if you’re in the Bay Area do yourself a favor and try to get into the world premiere screening of All About Evil on May first, but hurry, I think it may be sold out!

And if you can’t wait until next week check out www.allaboutevilthemovie.com.

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