The murderous twins in All About EvilIn the ’80s there was a brand of low budget horror that appealed to a particular taste and often garnered a dedicated following. These films occupied midnight screenings across North America with regular attendees and lines that could round corners. The acting was somewhat over the top; the music was defined and corny; and the characters were usually peculiar – think John Waters, but more blood. Canadian premiere All About Evil is one of these films, coming in under the ‘cult’ section of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival.

Deborah Tennis (Natasha Lyonne) always wanted to be a star, but she instead became a mousy librarian who inherits her father’s beloved but failing rep cinema, The Victoria in San Francisco. When her evil stepmother tries to force Deborah to sell the movie house, a struggle ensues and ends in a brutal murder. The killing is captured by the lobby’s security camera and accidentally projected on the big screen, but the small, loyal crowd thinks the footage is an admirable short film that quickly becomes a hit. Eager to embrace her shot at fame and save the family business, Deborah and her crude crew of nefarious misfits promote her inner serial killer with a series of grisly shorts. Unfortunately, the clueless audiences fail to realize they are also supplying the victims for her not-so-fictional masterpieces.

Our city’s rep house, the Bloor Cinema, could not be a more fitting venue to present this bloody, charming picture and remind viewers of the forgotten aspects of the movie going experience. Though Deborah may have had a few screws loose, her (tiny) heart started in the right place. Her father adored the theatre for the atmosphere it provided and its ability to awe audiences; Deborah violently resisted her stepmother to preserve this experience as well as her father’s memory. Unfortunately, her motives become somewhat more self-serving as the tale continues.

The cast is a major selling point for the film. In addition to Lyonne, it includes Noah Segan, Thomas Dekker and cult movie icons Mink Stole and Cassandra Peterson a.k.a. “Elvira: Mistress of the Dark.” It’s amazing to hear how writer/director Joshua Grannell assembled this incredible cast simply through personal connections, though it did take some persuading to convince Peterson to be in the movie out of drag. Nonetheless, the cast puts forward a performance that is just over the top enough without becoming garish.

The shorts, or murder movies, are almost the essence of the film. Deborah writes these bizarre snuff films, ending each with a theatre-specific message, such as turn off your cell phone (or risk being maimed). The filming process is haphazard at best, but the final product passes as gory art amongst her critics and fans. Moreover, they’re simply entertaining.

Grannell is better known as his drag alter ego Peaches Christ and host of his own midnight screening series in San Francisco. He worried his involvement with the genre would be too much pressure, but his love for this type of movie shines through every aspect of the film, from costume to style to story and dialogue. Even the credit sequences at the beginning and end are decorated with B-movie style posters, some of which are also featured in the film to advertise Deborah’s shorts (and are available for sale in Peaches Christ’s online store).  Finding inspiration in independent, camp filmmaker Doris Wishman, John Waters and The Shining, Grannell creates a heartfelt, comedic homage to indie horror. He also hinted this could be the first instalment of a “wicked women trilogy.”

Peaches Christ is currently accompanying All About Evil on a road show through the U.S. and Grannell thinks Bloor Cinema would be a perfect addition to the tour schedule. So if you missed it the first time around, it may not be too late; and even if you saw it, I think it would be well worth a second watch with Peaches in attendance.

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