Natasha Lyonne (“Slums of Beverly Hills”, “Freeway 2”) stars as Deborah Tennis, the recent inheritor of the Victoria Theatre in San Francisco, a run-down Vaudeville-cum-art-house her father kept alive with decades of grindhouse cinema fare. Now, Deb loved her father and he loved her right back. Despite all awkward evidence to the contrary, he was convinced that she had “star quality.” Her stepmother (introduced to the viewer in a literal Wicked Witch of the West get-up—with a pre-teen Deborah as an ersatz Dorothy) believed otherwise. After the old man rung down the curtain for the final time, witchy Tammy demands that Deborah sign the movie house over to her so that it can be sold to land developers. That’s when mousy, twitchy Deb finally snaps, murdering her stepmother out in the lobby. In a post-carnage daze, the blood-covered woman accidentally projects the security footage for the audience. After a moment of stunned silence, the audience cheers this new avant-guard short film and demands more.
Fortunately for Deb, she has a conspirator in the house’s original usher, Mr. Twigs (the sepulchral Jack Donner), who has quite the cinematic eye. Soon, they’ve recruited a pair of creepy institutionalized twins and a vicious street thug (Noah Segan, resembling the illegitimate son of “Pink Flamingos”’s David Lochary) who assist the newly-dubbed auteur “De-Bor-rah Ten-ees” in filming the doing-away of anyone who annoys her. This includes the gossipy librarian Evelyn (Mink Stole, carrying the Waters association further), noisy cel phone users, rude popular chicks, and just about anyone else lacking in manners. These murders are turned into wonderful little pre-show tags with titles like “The Maiming of the Shrew” and “The Diary of Anne Frankenstein.”
Unfortunately for De-bor-rah, her biggest fan Steven (Thomas Dekker, TV’s own John Conner from the “Terminator” TV series) becomes increasingly suspicious of these new little movies—particularly because he recognizes the victims as people he hasn’t seen in a while. Making things difficult for Steven, however, are his concerned mother (a delightful Cassandra Peterson) and a school full of adults who think he’s about to go all Columbine on his English class. Hard to get people to believe that your “older woman” crush is killing people when they think you’re the one with the screw loose. All of this spirals towards the simultaneous screening and filming of Debor-rah’s masterpiece, “Gore and Peace”. By this time, the entire town has embraced her celebrity and they’re all willing to drink the Kool-Aid… one last time!
Clever and well-made, Grannell’s script and direction keeps “All About Evil” skipping briskly along. There are no slow spots to speak of and even better no “low budget” performances. If it weren’t for the occasionally cramped mise-en-scene, you’d never know this wasn’t a slick Hollywood comedy. Eye-rolling, classic-diva-channeling Lyonne and wonderfully desiccated Donner have the best roles and are given the most scenery to chew, providing the film its breathless “what will they do next?” pace, while Petersen and Dekker keep the movie grounded in reality.
What Grannell has added with his “All About Evil 4-D Tour-de-Fierce” is showmanship—something grossly missing from the theater-going experience since the ‘70s. Roadshowing the movie in theaters across the country, Grannell dons his “Peaches Christ” persona—a Divine-slash-Elvira showgirl that is all attitude, high hair and heels—and puts on an audience-pleasing pre-show. Usher and usherette characters greet ticket holders at the door and present them with Dixie cups emblazoned with the “P-C” logo. A city-specific emcee introduces Peaches (at the New York show, the ever-fabulous and amazingly talented filmmaker/personality Alan Rowe Kelly (“I’ll Bury You Tomorrow”) served as the Master of Ceremonies) and her cabaret of monsterized mash-up dancers—including a were-woman, “Troll Girl” and a ‘50s alien. Before the movie even rolls, the audience is treated to a drag review cabaret. In San Francisco, Peterson and Stole joined in the pre-show festivities and in NY, Lyonne herself was on hand, introduced by her special video montage. The capper is a song-and-dance performed by Trixxie Carr—as “De-bor-rah Ten-nees”—called “Star Quality” leading to a near suicide-pact with the crowd. Its ‘70s glam meets “Percepto” and “Feel-o-Rama” shot the theater through with energy and made the movie feel that much more special. It was inspired and, of course, a midnight-movie fan’s dream.
Without the floorshow, “All About Evil” is a solid and entertaining horror comedy. Its in-jokes are seasoning for the hard-core horror buff, never distracting from the central story—even a less-than-subtle exchange between Peterson and an Elvira poster serves as more of a wink and less of a self-referential pat-on-the-back. It may seem odd to say, considering how drag is known for its extravagance, but Grannell’s directorial success relies on its restraint rather than its excess. Gore is provided, the movie admirably avoids scatological or shock humor that has pervaded independent entertainment—and even mainstream gross-out movies like the “Scary Movie” franchise. Blood is the only fluid spilled in “All About Evil” and that’s actually refreshing. Except for some profanity, this movie could easily be something you’d stumble upon while late-night channel surfing. As if—the most shocking of all ideas—the cast and crew had set out to make a good movie first and foremost, rather than a mishegoss of fanboy moments. That, in itself, is more than enough to recommend it.