After being lost in the wilderness for more than a decade, a schlocky horror picture show gets a long-overdue revival, thanks to Severin Films’ reanimation of the kitsch gorefest that is All About Evil.
Librarian Deborah Tennis (Natasha Lyonne) inherits her late father’s old-timey independent movie theatre, vowing that she will make a success of it. However, a sudden twist of fate which threatens to wreck her big plans ends up with a grisly murder which gets caught on CCTV, and gives Deborah the idea of making her own short slasher movies to show at the cinema. Audiences grow, along with her cult status, but will she literally make a killing at the box office?
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All About Evil – the title a play on the 1950 movie All About Eve – was the brainchild of Joshua Grennell, better known to fans as drag artist and impresario Peaches Christ, who has overseen a series of popular midnight movie screenings in San Francisco. These cult gatherings were the inspiration for All About Evil, due to the subject matter, and Grennell wrote and produced the feature film, which made its debut back in 2010, before vanishing into relative obscurity.
The feature is in the very best tradition of exploitation horror flicks and splatter movies, being filled chock to the brim with blood, guts, and some truly deranged spectacles of the most stomach-churning kind. It also taps into the supposed genre of ‘snuff films’, which purportedly show recordings of actual deaths. All About Evil feels very much like a heady blend of Peter Jackson’s early, gore-soaked pieces, and John Waters’ more outré and avant-garde works.
The flavour of Waters’ output is captured here by Grennell making a guest appearance in the guise of Peaches Christ, bringing to mind the use of Divine as a regular player in so many of Waters’ releases. Another one of his stalwarts – Mink Stole – is also a player here, and is reunited with her compatriot from the woefully overlooked cult hit But I’m A Cheerleader, Natasha Lyonne, who was most recently seen in the offbeat Netflix series Russian Doll.
Lyonne always brings added value to whatever project she is involved with, and she definitely gives good game here. Few other actresses would be able to convey the transformation from a mousy, bookish and meek librarian to the flamboyant and unhinged queen of horror movies, who gets increasingly loopy as the feature goes on. Lyonne absolutely nails it here, and gives us the veritable definition of an archetypal swivel-eyed total loon, going gloriously OTT, and carrying so much of All About Evil with captivating ease.
The cast here is particularly impressive, from Jack Donner as the sinister projectionist – and all-too willing accomplice – Mr. Twigs, to Thomas Dekker as our hero of the piece, young horror buff Steven. One thing that does work very well is the upending of expectations by having Steven’s mother played by Cassandra Peterson, who is more famously known as the legendary cult horror icon Elvira. Here, Peterson is just your average American mom, and plays the role with a deliciously straight bat (no pun intended).
This is certainly not a subtle motion picture by any means, and the guignol is definitely on the grand side here, with a whole lot of blood and bodily parts on display throughout. While coming over as somewhat of a throwback, this is by no means a bad thing, as All About Evil does evoke so much of the ‘video nasty’ era. As well as being a homage to a bygone era of horror, it also acts as something of a love letter to the independent cinemas who soldier gamely on in the face of opposition from the big chains, reminding us of what just a valuable niche they serve.
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Realism is not something that you can expect here, and the campy and overblown action gets increasingly wild, with a certain amount of willing suspension of disbelief needed in order to get your head around just how ludicrous things get by the climax. Some of Deborah’s cohorts are also larger than life, but this is not meant to be cinema vérité, so anyone who is hoping for something more gritty and grounded from their horror will be sorely disappointed here, as All About Evil is a brash, silly and laugh-out-loud-funny endeavour.
If nothing else, All About Evil is a spectacle, something you are best to just sit back and experience, rather than trying to think too hard about the sheer ridiculousness of it all. It is a little bit too knowing and self-aware at times, but it knows the audience it is playing to, and delivers in spades. Maybe even non-horror fans will get a kick out of this film, as you would be hard pressed to come away from this bloodsoaked enterprise without a big, daft grin (and maybe also the odd grimace).
All About Evil is out now on Shudder, and on Blu-ray from Severin Films, in North America.