Janet Fitness. Gloria Hole. Audrey Heartburn. Rosebud Cianci. Perhaps you don’t recognize these names yet, but in time you will. Drag culture is packed with over-the-top performances that are just as recognizable in punny names than the appearance of the person on stage. What do you get when you combine this kind of show with the macabre grotesquerie of a slasher film? Death Drop Gorgeous.
Back in 2015, a few friends started slowly mapping out a movie together. This eventually snowballed into a feature script, which they began kickstarting and shooting on weekends for over two years. The result is now here, bringing punk rock energy, low-budget giallo elegance, and devilish humor wrapped up in a package of cinematic excellence.
Death Drop Gorgeous follows Dwayne (Wayne Gonsalves), a bartender at a gay club, on his daily exploits, which soon become entangled with a series of killings happening around Providence, Rhode Island. He and his roommate Brian (Christopher Dalpe) deal with their frustrating love lives, and those storylines begin to overlap with the club’s owner, Tony Two Fingers (Brandon Perras-Sanchez), and the long list of drag queens who compete for greatness, in particular the washed up Gloria Hole (Payton St. James). Once dead bodies start turning up, detectives O’Hara (Michael J Ahern) and Barry (Sean Murphy) show up on the scene to fill out the dynamic cast. The picture is brimming with great low-budget horror effects sequences including a gloryhole meat grinder, high heels to the eyes, and gross disembowelments.
Diabolique: How does Providence factor into the film? Do you just happen to be from there, or does it play a character of sorts in the movie?
Death Drop Gorgeous: Providence factors into our film more in the production and development aspect rather than the actual story. There are definitely depictions of the current state of queer nightlife and vignettes of the music scene that’ll be recognizable to locals. We also wanted to capture downcity, and how during the day, it’s almost like a strange wild west ghost town, but at night, it comes alive vibrantly. Many of the characters in the film are also caricatures of real Providence folks we’ve encountered in our lives. The film exists because of our community; without partnerships, supporters, and allies we wouldn’t have completed the project. So, it is a bit of a love letter to the city, even if it’s not its own character in the film.
Diabolique: Queer film fests and horror film fests are two distinct communities that have a small overlapping audience. A colleague of mine once told me of how a well known queer film fest rejected her slasher film because it’s violence portrayed the LGBTQ community in a negative light. Have you had experiences like this so far? Have you found the queer community to be supportive or dismissive of horror?
DDG: Well, we have been accepted into both a film festival called “Wicked Queer” and a film festival called “Sick and Wrong” so we feel right at home lately! Queer people who value horror are definitely a small subset, but there is so much intersection between those two worlds. There has been more media and art lately that delves into this overlap between, shows like Dragula to documentaries like Scream, Queen! We’ve actually been featured on a couple horror podcasts hosted by queer individuals, so we seem to have found our niche.
Diabolique: A low budget production like this often hinges on good editing, which you did a great job with in so many sequences. Did you storyboard everything out meticulously, or did you just have fortuitous luck in post-production?
DDG: Brandon (Perras-Sanchez, one of the directors) storyboarded the scenes out in pre-production, and then we had a lot of eyes look at the film in post-production. Tyler Jensen and Roman Chimienti, who made the above-mentioned documentary Scream, Queen!, helped us with a huge portion of editing which assisted with pacing issues we had earlier on. Philip Gelatt and Victoria Dalpe also have mentored us through this process, giving us notes on early cuts of the film. We actually rearranged so many sequences; the final cut of the film looks quite different than its screenplay.
Diabolique: Some of your influences are easily apparent like John Waters and Dario Argento. Who are some influences on Death Drop Gorgeous that might be more obscure?
DDG: The film Tangerine was a huge motivator for us; it’s low budget yet poignant storytelling definitely inspired our drive. Abel Ferrara who did Driller Killer also had an influence over us. Alice Sweet Alice, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, and even Sunset Boulevard all inspired, in part, the creation of our little monster, in addition to our very clear influences like Waters and Argento.
Diabolique: Were most of the parts written for people you had in mind? I noticed that all three directors play parts. Also, “Dwayne” the lead is hauntingly like Wayne Gonsalves, who plays him. And were the drag queen parts written for the performers, or cast later on?
DDG: Most of the parts were not written for people specifically. Dwayne’s character was written with Wayne in mind but Mike (Ahern, one of the co-writers) didn’t know Wayne personally and wrote most of the scenes before having met him. As for the directors, we figured we would probably round out the cast as needed for convenience, but initially had no set plan on which character. It wasn’t until we did some table reads amongst us that we figured it out. And while Janet Fitness is a real drag queen, she’s not nearly as villainous as her character in real life. We weren’t even sure if she could play that antagonist until our casting call.
Gloria Hole is based on a real drag queen from Providence and while we toyed with the idea of just playing herself, she ended up moving several states away, so her best friend Payton St. James filled the role and delivered a nuanced and sympathetic performance that I think will resonate more than just our script’s words.
Diabolique: In reply to a question about stunts in a recent live stream, Chris Dalpe replied “The most important stunt was convincing everyone we were filmmakers.” Now that you have a cohesive feature under your belts, are you excited to continue making more films?
DDG: We are so eager to create our next project! Making our film was such a learning process, so we are excited to show how much we’ve grown as storytellers and filmmakers. Three of the creators of DDG actually live with one another, so we have been outlining our next screenplay during quarantine. It’ll be much different than Death Drop Gorgeous, but in a strange way, will still feel like a companion piece.
Death Drop Gorgeous will premiere virtually at Wicked Queer, The 36th Annual Boston LGBTQ+ Film Festival on July 25th. https://www.wickedqueer.org/festival