“A Godzilla Version Of Being A Woman”: All About Evil With Peaches Christ

Simon Jablonski talks to director, writer, actress and drag-queen Peaches Christ about horror, homage, Julia Roberts and Freddy Krueger

Renowned drag-queen, actress, musician and television presenter Peaches Christ brings her delightfully ostentatious and hugely entertaining Midnight Mass from San Francisco and drops it like a giant glitter bomb in the middle of the Abandon Normal Devices festival in Manchester. Performed with festive verve, the sentiment behind the show emulates a religious celebration to bad-taste, anarchic, ass-kicking and rude movies – that posses just a touch of camp. It’s very much the seedy side of interactive 4D cinema – and it’s also, without a doubt, the most fun. Crowd participation plays a large part of the shows, with audience members dressing up like horny zombies and being subjected to compulsory transsexual lap-dances. Its unnerving sense of uncertainty provides an atmosphere somewhere between a pantomime and a barroom brawl. Like any religious service, there is a certain amount of singing involved, though songs usually tout the virtues of gore and dressing glam.

At Abandon Normal Devices, Ms Christ was screening the UK premier of her new film All About Evil. The film is about a failing movie theatre whose popularity and fortunes are changed when the owner (Natasha Lyonne) starts screening her own snuff movies. It’s a quirky homage to the heroines and camp violence of John Waters-esque B-movies which is written and directed by her alter ego Joshua Grannell. So after the last knife had been plunged into the film’s final victim, The Quietus managed to grab Peaches and Joshua to pick at their encyclopaedic film knowledge and find out which celluloid sins spawned the live shows and inspired their film making.

What was the first film that really resonated with you?

Peaches Christ: I know that I was odd for as long as I can remember. I knew that I didn’t fit in. I always had friends, but I was always not just the queer kid – I was also the weird kid. And Psycho, for better or worse, was just so completely compelling and intriguing for me. It was one of the only horror films I was allowed to see. I rented it out from the library and watched it, and its shock value worked for me because I was a kid and had never seen anything like that. Not only the murder in the shower, but also the transvestism of the character Norman Bates and his relationship with his mum. For me that was just mind-blowing. And I took all of that in. I didn’t identify with Janet Leigh. I identified with Norman Bates.

What characters were you attracted to?

PC: Even to this day, I love a film about an underdog. I love revenge movies. I grew up in Maryland and I discovered John Waters was making movies down the road. When you are first introduced to Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble it’s a really transformative experience. And to be introduced to characters that are the most filthy outsider creeps of the world, who are celebrated in his universe, who are the heroes, who are the winners, who are the people you’re rooting for. Dawn Davenport is a thief and a shit-kicker, and she’s a man dressed in drag, and that’s part of the movie. No one needed to believe that Devine was a woman, and it didn’t matter because he was she was such a great actress, transcendent of gender, she was just a bad ass.

Too many filmmakers nowadays try to be shocking in the way that John was, and you can’t. He did it and no one should have a drag queen eating dog shit… ever. Don’t attempt it, don’t do it. He already did it and it’s perfect and it still works.

Are there any filmmakers working today who you consider both shocking and imaginative?

PC: Todd Solondz, I think, is a filmmaker who is making those kinds of movies that have a modern shock value to them. He won’t turn the camera away from something that’s uncomfortable – he’ll actually dwell on it and have you stew on it, to the point where you don’t feel like you can watch anymore.

Do any of Todd Solondz’ films really stand out?

PC: You watch a movie like Welcome To The Dollhouse and that character Dawn Wiener – the bad seed and a baddass – those are my sort of characters. I think what he did in that movie that was shocking is he recreated those horrible years in a way that no one else has. There’s something so specifically horrifying about the age 12, 13, 14 that movies don’t really dive into as far as the way kids really abuse each other, and how hard it is to become an adult at that time of your life. I love the scene where she’s going to get raped by the bully after school and she’s taking all this crap from people and her one friend, the only person that’s nice to her is this little gay boy who lives across the street, and she comes up to him and calls him a faggot, and kicks him out of her special people’s club. That’s the ugly side of adults, that’s kids learning to be hideous people.

Who were your drag heroines in film?

PC: For me, certainly Devine and also Mink Stole, who is actually a real woman. But these people dressing up in costume knowing Devine was actually a man was exciting, because it wasn’t acceptable. It was punk rock. I actually don’t like family friendly drag, I don’t really embrace the idea that "lets make a movie that everyone can love." I prefer a drag queen to walk into a room and everyone to be a little on edge and uneasy. You don’t know if Peaches is going to walk in with a chain saw. Nothing against the drag queens who like being family friendly and want to put on a more G-Rated act – that’s fabulous. It’s just not what excited me about drag. Or even the queer community, I like the queer movies where they push buttons and being gay was a little bit threatening. That’s what I’m attracted to.

Do Joshua and Peaches have different taste in films?

PC: Yes, I’ve never really thought about it before, but Joshua will pretty much go and see anything. I love Pixar films, but Peaches would never admit to liking Pixar films. Although, she would admit to liking the new Toy Story 3. It’s literarily toys in Auschwitz. The nursery is horrifying, there’s a dictator who’s a teddy bear. It’s unbelievable how dark it is – kids were screaming in horror in the cinema. That’s a movie both Peaches and Joshua could like. If Peaches can find the exploitation and horror and transgressive pulp quality, then it will go on her list.

Which films would Peaches consider sexy?

PC: Peaches’ idea of sexy is ludicrous and extreme. Showgirls is such a great example of that kind of sexuality that Peaches would embrace, that’s almost violent. It’s beyond strange, it’s other-worldly. This is one of the interesting things that came up in the bar last night. Where we went there were actual tranny-chasers – men looking to hook up with men dressed as women, and then Peaches walked in and you could feel the shift both from the trannies and from the men. They were like, "What the fuck is that?" Because it’s like a Godzilla version of being a woman. I’ve never experienced anything real sexually as Peaches, ever. It’s all fantasy.

Do you have any guilty film pleasures?

PC: I went with Ming Stole in Baltimore to see Eat Pray Love. I mean this is a John Waters superstar, legendary cult film icon and then Peaches Christ going to see really what looks to be an horrendous movie. And I think part of the tittliation for both of us was the shame around enjoying a Julia Roberts vehicle, especially that one; the most obnoxious film.

Did you enjoy it?

PC: No, but I did enjoy not enjoying it. And we went to lunch and just ripped it apart, but not in that holier than though way. Eat Pray Love was fun to not like. A lot of the films I’m homaging in All About Evil would perhaps be called bad by normal standards – the Herschell Gordon Lewis films and Doris Wishman films. Those were really a lot of the films I was watching when I was writing All About Evil, and I genuinely love those films. I’m fascinated by them.

As well as homaging those films, how much were you looking to create something original?

PC: Well, that’s the ultimate balance. And I think for me, I had to come up with my own gimmick and my own twist and my own narrative that was mine. I took inspiration from my life. I was working in movie theatres for 15 years. So the theatre I was doing Midnight Mass at as Peaches, I was actually running as Joshua, and I ran that theatre for 13 years. The anxiety about losing the movie theatre was real and, I thought, original. I didn’t want to do a John Waters movie. I love his movies but why do it? It’s funny when I read reviews because they really want to say "If John Waters had sex with Herschell Gordon Lewis, they’d give birth to, blah blah." Do you know what I mean? It just can’t be it’s own thing.

What was the first slasher film to grab your attention?

PC: A Nightmare On Elm Street, hands down. No question about it. Seeing the first one, I remember I had to turn away. Like when she falls asleep in the bathtub and that shot between her legs when the claw comes out of the water… I just couldn’t believe it. Even seeing it now, it’s one of the most inspired, horrific images in celluloid ever. I think why Freddy Krueger was so fascinating for me was that it wasn’t just violence, there was a reason: he was seeking revenge. On the fantasy level, Wes Craven had such an imagination.

I love Friday the 13th, I love those movies, but there’s something pretty standard and robotic about them and there’s only so much that Jason can do. But with Freddie the possibilities were almost endless – they could do almost anything. When he talked he was sassy and he loved it. He was revelling in what he was doing.

Are there any recent films that capture this mixture of camp and horror?

PC: Well, I say this: I did not expect to like Orphan and I was blown away by that. I thought they did a really effective job of creating suspenseful, scary moments and building to a really horrific climax with a twist ending that was so campy and over-the-top. And it kind of knew that it was. I loved it.

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