By Michael Varrati
A predator in Prada, her eyes sweep the runway with a cold gaze. In the world of high fashion, Anna Wintour’s opinion is everything, and as the editor of Vogue, she evokes…
I’ve just been informed by another of Peaches’ undead minions that, despite the grand flourishes of Anna Wintour’s Midnight Mass-esque persona, hers is not the vogue we’re here to talk about today. Instead, I’m here to take you to the floor and highlight the world of voguing, a dance movement that came from the gay Harlem ballroom scene and emerged into a cultural phenomenon.
To be fair, I knew all along this piece wasn’t about Ms. Wintour, but I couldn’t resist. After all, despite their worlds of difference, the Queen of Fashion and the Queens of the Ball have one huge thing in common: They both understand that presentation is everything.
As Peaches prepares to unleash Paris is Burning this weekend at the Castro Theater (with legendary guest star Latrice Royale), my dear ghoulfriend and I thought it wise to revisit the cultural impact of voguing on gay culture and beyond. Now, to truly explore the significance of this movement would require far more time than our little space here allows, so we decided to focus on one aspect that Peaches and I are always ready to celebrate: Film.
By Michael Varrati
If you’ve ever been thrilled by the ruby red splatter of blood or gasped in glee at images of sinewy guts, then there’s a strong chance you owe a debt of honor to Herschell Gordon Lewis.
A towering figure in the pantheon of fright, Lewis has been hailed by many as “The Godfather of Gore,” and it’s a title he’s earned every right to hold. Though blood and violence onscreen existed long before the audacious auteur hit the scene, it was with a veritable sense of sleaze that Herschell Gordon Lewis literally upped the ante of the horror genre to the visceral level it exists at today.
Declared by John Waters to be one of “the greatest filmmakers of all time,” Herschell Gordon Lewis began his legacy in fright films for the rather simple reason of needing to make a quick buck. In the late 50s, Lewis was working as a humanities teacher and ad man in Chicago, directing commercials in his spare time to supplement his income. After buying out the advertising studio he produced commercials for, Lewis turned his attention to larger projects: Film.
By Michael Varrati
In the midst of a discussion about the pitfalls of filmmaking, I suggest to iconic director Jeff Burr that he should teach a master class on the subject. Burr laughs me off with a word of polite thanks before moving onward, but I remain serious in my assertion.
Known by many genre fans for his contributions to existent franchises and off-beat indie fare, Burr has made an impact on the horror community over the last three decades by pushing ever forward with his craft. Although likely most identified as the man who gave the Sawyer family life anew in Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3, Burr’s wide body of work encompasses a plethora of thrills and chills that have helped give him the insight to inspire and advise a new generation of filmmakers.
In fact, it is Burr’s place as an inspiration to those that have grown up with his films that led to our little fireside chat today. Recently contacted by Henrique Couto, an Ohio-based independent filmmaker, Burr was surprised to discover that one of his lesser known films, Eddie Presley, had served as an inspiration to Couto on his own forthcoming feature, Depression: The Movie. Now, thanks to the cinematic kinship of the two films, Eddie Presley and Depression are set to play a once in a lifetime double bill at the Hollywood Theater in Pittsburgh, PA…and Burr couldn’t be more tickled about the idea.
From the very beginning of my association with Peaches, one thing we’ve always come together on is our need to celebrate our heroes.
However, this commonality isn’t shared solely by the boss lady and myself, but rather is a thread that runs through the veins of each member of the Midnight Mass family. We all have this compulsive yearning to worship at the altar of those who shaped us into the children of the popcorn we are today. You can see this love and passion in every single one of Peaches’ stage shows, and hopefully it’s also reflected in my columns here on the site. As dyed-in-the-wool monster kids, we consider it our duty to carry the banner ever forward into the night, shouting of love and schlock to all who will listen.
Because of this continued commitment to spreading the word, we always like to recognize a kindred spirit when one crosses our path. In recent years, one such individual has proven to be a cut above many of his peers, celebrating his idols with a level of style and class that few can match.
The man in question is documentary filmmaker Jeffrey Schwarz, and for his continued effort to make sure future generations know the names of his idols, we wanted to take a moment to make sure you knew him. Read More…
By Michael Varrati
In writing about the Cockettes, it has become something of a clichéd trope to quote John Waters. Having famously once described the iconic gender-bending performance troupe as a bunch of “hippie acid freak drag queens,” the Pope of Trash seemingly had applied a nice summary to something that had been previously hard to define.
However, as with most succinct overviews, Waters’ comment merely scratches the surface of a larger history. From their very inception, The Cockettes were poised at the precipice of a social and sexual revolution.
Founded in the late 1960s, the group grew to prominence in San Francisco (and later worldwide) for their avant-garde, open approach to art and sexuality. As their popularity grew, so too did their ranks. Waters alumni Divine and Mink Stole famously joined The Cockettes for performances, as did disco icon Sylvester. The group was seen and praised by peers as diverse as Andy Warhol and John Lennon, and through their inspired style, changed the face of performance art and drag forever.
In 2002, filmmakers David Weissman and Bill Weber encapsulated much of The Cockettes’ history in their documentary of the same name. Through candid interviews and archival footage, the film pulled back the layers of an era of social/sexual reform, and perfectly placed The Cockettes in the center of it all. Read More…
By Michael Varrati
If you’re an ardent fan of horror cinema, there’s absolutely no question that you’ve run across the work of Robert Kurtzman.
A veritable legend of the genre with an exhaustive list of credits, Kurtzman is a definitive horror icon that has truly done it all.
Moving to Los Angeles in the mid-80s, the Ohio native slowly gained a reputation for remarkable work in make-up effects, putting a personal touch on many low-budget horror masterpieces. Then, in 1988, he joined together with effects impresarios Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger to form KNB EFX Group, a company that would emerge over the next decade as the most significant effects house in Hollywood.
Working on hundreds of titles (some of the Elm Street and Evil Dead films amongst them), Kurtzman and his crew at KNB reshaped the face of horror cinema, putting a bloody stamp on the films that defined a generation.
However, Kurtzman proved to be more than just a skilled make-up artist.
By Michael Varrati
In the world of horror, Stephen King is a man who requires no introduction.
Since the publication of his first novel in 1974, King’s work has gone on to shape the very zeitgeist of the genre. Endlessly celebrated and imitated, Stephen King is to horror what Bob Dylan is to rock. The man almost singlehandedly ushered us into the modern-era of fright, and is unequivocally one of the very best of us.
I’m an unabashed fan of King’s, and have never really been able to understand those who don’t care for his oeuvre. I’ve always chalked up any distaste for the author to pretentious snobbery or a rally against his popularity. However, love him or hate him, there’s no denying that he’s left an impact on pop culture.
Having written over sixty novels, many of which have been adapted for screen, King’s presence in horror is hardly waning four decades later. Echoes of Carrie and The Shining permeate modern fright films, and many of King’s adaptations have become milestone movies of their own. It almost goes without saying that Stephen King is as much at home at the theater as he is at the library. Read More…
The New Old Real Fake Ones
The Conspiracy and Spectacle of The Cabin in the Woods
by Conner Habib
If you don’t believe in a world ruled by secret, unseen forces that control how we think, feel, and treat others, there’s a quick remedy to your delusion: Tear a twenty dollar bill into tiny, useless pieces. Better yet, do it in front of a friend. One or both of you will gasp, feel sick, feel remorse. All over a little piece of paper.
Of course, it’s not the paper itself, but the meaning in the paper (and “in” isn’t the proper word here, since meaning isn’t ever “in” anything, it’s not spatial) that is sacred to us.
If you prefer to spend your money instead of tearing it up, you could learn a bit about these forces by buying a ticket for Drew Goddard’s and Joss Whedon’s Lovecraftian film of horror, spectacle, and conspiracy, The Cabin in the Woods.
In one of its strangest and most potent moments, Marty (Fran Kranz), the nerdy Shaggy-like stoner character points out, when we’re in the sway of these secret forces, which is always, “We are not who we are.”
By Michael Varrati
In gazing upon the kindly visage of Paul Bartel, the first images to arise are certainly not those of “suburban cannibal” or “high-octane racer.”
Prior to his untimely death in 2000, the seemingly reserved Bartel had made a career out of portraying the lovable curmudgeon, winning hearts in movies such as Rock ’n’ Roll High School and Tim Burton’s original Frankenweenie. For a whole generation who was used to seeing him as the befuddled teacher or loveable uncle, it seemed unfathomable that something far more subversive lurked beneath the surface of Paul Bartel. Yet, for those in the know, Bartel has always been more than just a mere character actor. True cult aficionados are aware that Paul Bartel can be cited as the man responsible for some of midnight cinema’s finest moments.
Openly gay in an era where it was considered taboo, Bartel found being upfront about his sexuality afforded him a lot more opportunities in the independent film world than mainstream Hollywood. An outlaw from the beginning, Bartel almost instantly fell in with the “King of the B-Movies,” Roger Corman. In 1972, Corman and his brother passed along a horror script to Bartel, a tale of skid-row lodgers and living dolls called Private Parts. Bartel gave the film his own macabre touch, morphing the horror piece into an outrageous black comedy. With Private Parts, the actor-turned-director was able to establish a presence in the world of cinema, creating an original, outlandish voice that shined from the very beginning. Read More…
By Michael Varrati
One thing Peaches Christ and I have always had in common is our desire to celebrate our artistic influences loudly. The very essence of Peaches’ Midnight Mass is the appreciation and worship of the movies that inspired and motivated her to become the icon of fright she is today. Similarly, a lot of my articles here on the site, including the popular Cult Filmmakers You Should Know series, are all carefully planned to pay tribute to the avant-garde and daring artists that I love.
While film is definitely a huge motivator for the two of us, Peaches and I are also rather multi-faceted in our appreciation of the arts. Recently, Ms. Christ and I got together to discuss praising different aspects of the performance community, and we kept returning to the idea of legendary drag performers. As Phillip Ford mentioned in my Vegas in Space piece, there was an era when drag was certainly not the celebrated part of the LGBT community it is today. For a whole generation, the mere idea of gender-bending was considered to be an outlaw act. Certainly, a far cry from the RuPaul’s Drag Race-era we exist in now. But, because of a plethora of drag pioneers like Divine, Charles Busch, and more, the concept of this fringe performance art began to creep its way into the theatre and movies, creating a veritable cult of its own.
So, in the spirit of the Cult Filmmakers series, Peaches and I would like to open to you the Drag Dossier. Through this series, both myself and special guest writers will reveal to you the stories of some of the most famous, avant-garde, and unique performers in drag culture. Hold tight, my dear children of the popcorn, because it’s going to be a glamorous ride!
For our first installment, I am beyond thrilled to highlight one of the very best of the community: