A psychotic killer stalks Providence in Death Drop Gorgeous, a locally made horror comedy premiering this weekend via Wicked Queer, Boston’s suddenly online LGBTQ+ film festival. Five years in the making, the film is about glum Dwayne (Wayne Gonsalves), who returns to a bartending job at a tanking nightclub called the Outhouse. There he gets wrapped up in bitter club drama between the queens, led by the decaying Gloria Hole (Payton St. James) and her saucy rival, upstart Janet Fitness. (Janet is played by a Boston performer who also happens to be named Janet Fitness.) Meanwhile, bodies pile up in the Outhouse dumpster as a serial killer lures unsuspecting victims through a M4M hookup app called Poundr.
The film was shot around Providence and co-directed by Michael J Ahern, Christopher Dalpe, and Brandon Perras-Sanchez,* all three of whom also act in the film. Most of the film’s music was created by Providence artists, and, Ms. Fitness aside, all the queens are also local. Shot in and around downtown, the movie features a number of jokes for locals, including one queen named Rosebud Cianci and an unlucky student from Beige University.
Queer horror is a niche within a niche, though occasionally films like Yann Gonzales’s Knife+Heart will cross over for (somewhat) more general audiences who aren’t afraid to see dildo-wielding French serial killers or, worse, men in bed together. Recent documentary Scream, Queen! connects the dots between gory slasher movies and queer sexuality, specifically with regard to the very, very gay Nightmare on Elm Street 2.
Though the film is five years in the making, shoots were economical. Gonsalves would jump into crew roles when he wasn’t on camera, while the queens were in charge of their own hair and makeup. This afforded them a chance to inject a little of their own personality into each character, something the directors encouraged by giving them creative leeway and allowing them to sometimes ad lib lines.
Gloria Hole hearkens back to the local drag scene of fifteen or twenty years ago, when a few queens ruled the clubs and RuPaul’s Drag Race had yet to unleash its explosion of younger performers. The less made up characters are no less campy.
Perras-Sanchez based dopey club owner Tony Two Fingers on one of his own bosses, for instance. Like most of the cast, he had never really acted before, though St. James has done stage work locally both in and out of drag. You may have seen her a few years ago as the mother in 2nd Story Theatre’s Die, Mommie, Die!.
Logistics for online film festivals vary. For Wicked Queer, a ticket gets you a chance to see the film for 24 hours beginning at 9:30pm on Saturday. Other festival highlights to look out for include Ask Any Buddy, Evan Schlock’s circular XXX meditation on vintage pornography and public sex, and the flashback screening of Funeral Parade of Roses, Toshio Matsumoto’s 1969 retelling of the Oedipus saga in swinging gay Tokyo.
“The pandemic upended our intentions of whatever a festival run would look like,” says Ahern. In addition to lost buzz, the lack of in-person festivals means filmmakers have that opportunity to meet one another and discuss upcoming projects. Now in its 36th year, Wicked Queer is one of the country’s oldest LGBTQ+ film festivals, and it’s the first of eight virtual stops scheduled for Death Drop Gorgeous. They’re hoping for a local premiere one day, when such things would make sense again.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, a death drop** is a drag move where the performer will fling themselves backwards and land with one knee out and the other bent under them.
*A feature film with a single story and three directors is pretty rare. After days of dwelling on this, the only other one I could think of was Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
**It comes from something in vogue called the dip.