Michael J. Ahern, Christopher Dalpe and Brandon Perras-Sanchez bring us the gay slasher film that we didn’t know we needed in Death Drop Gorgeous.
Death Drop Gorgeous centers on a dejected bartender and an aging drag queen fight to survive the eccentric and hostile nightlife of a corrupt city, as a masked maniac slaughters young gay men and drains them of blood.
An ode to the wicked work of John Waters, festival fave Death Drop Gorgeous – Seattle Queer, Chicago Horror, Wicked Queer, VideoScream and over 20 more festivals worldwide – features a superlative cast headed by Wayne Gonsalves, Payton St. James, Brandon Perras-Sanchez, and Christopher Dalpe.
Check out my interview with Michael, Chris and Brandon.
How did this collaboration come to be with the three of you?
Chris: I can jump in with that, I think, as far as our solid, good friendship, we’ve had that for a while. Brandon and I had down sat one day and were like, ‘we want to see a gay slasher that revolves around the terrifying world of dating apps,’ and we were brainstorming a bunch of fun kills and what that would look like. About a year later, Brandon introduced me to Mike Ahern who was very interested. So at that point, the three of us kind of joined forces, ordered a bunch of drinks and then this whole adventure began.
How did you two meet, you in Brandon?
Brandon: So I moved to Providence back in 2003. I met Chris’s older sister and I’ve known her for a really long time. I got to know him through her.
So, a gay slasher, was that was always the idea?
Brandon: Yeah, like a slasher, super camp, like it’s a throwback kind of thing, I guess.
Chris: Yeah, I would say from the get go, it was this idea of making a movie that we A.) wanted to see and B.) would revolve around characters that we could relate with. And then the big one is that we wanted good, old school practical effects level horror death scenes. Again, we were making a movie we wanted to see so it involved all of those.
What films did you use as inspiration?
Brandon: The 80’s slasher format was just super fun. All the practical effects are kind of sleazy and the acting is kind of silly. We wanted to have a band montage there too, so we had a band scene in there. I love movies like Doom Asylum that have little scenes with the bands playing. I thought that’s always funny. A lot of those 80s slashers did that. There’s the John Waters craziness, too.
Chris: I’m also going to throw this in, Whatever happened to Baby Jane. It was like a huge inspiration for Gloria Hole in general. It is definitely a horror film… but we’re kind of major dorks as well, we infused the screenplay with a bunch of different homages to different horror films. There’s a scene where Dwayne is shoving bingo cards into the mouth of a certain drag queen, and that is stripped completely from Misery, like when he finally gets her knocked down and is shoving the script in her mouth. Maybe that wasn’t the inspiration for making it but as it is a drag movie, so we do a lot of homages.
Mike: Yeah, it’s funny what people recognize and don’t recognize. One of the victims ends up wrapped in plastic on a lake and that’s obviously a Twin Peaks reference to Laura Palmer so there’s a lot of differences, like Chris just said, a lot of fun homages and little winks to things that we love.
What was your favorite one that you got to include?
Brandon: I know my favorite one that we didn’t get to include. So, the scene when Tony gets Pup’s head, we wanted to do that scene in Fear, where he puts the dog’s head to the doggie door. We unfortunately couldn’t find a house with a dog door, so we couldn’t do that scene.
Chris: Now that you brought up the head through the doggie door, you’re right, that was going to be my favorite homage that we ever did because it was so sinister and so tacky and so perfect. And it’s also so niche, who’s referenced Fear in the past 15 years?
Mike: I think I already said mine. I remember, at the time, I was watching ‘Twin Peaks,’ and I think having him wrapped in plastic- and so we did a mock trailer for our first fundraiser and that’s when I was watching (‘Twin Peaks’) and I think we all like convened and decided to do that. I think that’s my favorite, even though our movie is not very Lynchin at all. I still like the image of a character’s face and the lake and the water sort of coming up behind him.
There’s quite a bit of overlap between the cast and the crew, can you explain that?
Brandon: Yeah, so we were like a pretty tight schedule just because all of us had full time jobs. So, the only times we could film were mostly weekends or weeknights, so our crew is very small. It’s the three of us here; my boyfriend Ryan, who plays the Pup, and Roman, who did the audio recording and post editing, we are kind of a little crew of five. So Chris and Mike did most of the directing and I did most of the directing of photography. But on top of all that, we’re moving lights around and we’re putting makeup on people, we’re organizing getting food for the actors, transportation, it was a lot to do with such a small group of people. And we were lucky, a lot of our actors actually chipped in at times, too. The whole bingo hall scene, we kind of wrecked that place, but afterwards we had actors vacuuming and we had actors helping us move stuff back. It was a group effort from the whole cast and crew which is really nice.
Mike: Yeah, it was definitely a labor of love right from the get go. And not that many films are described this way, but it was definitely a sort of a grassroots effort to get this project complete, between like fundraising to the local events we threw to help and support those fundraisers. So everyone that’s involved is someone we either already knew from our community or were acquaintances with. So, hence the overlap. It was a pipe dream that we’ve managed to complete.
Chris: Just to echo off both of that, it’s just the nature of the beast, honestly, for what we were aiming to do. I think us all wearing different hats and swapping those hats constantly is the only way our movie could be made. That way, if one person’s acting, another person can be directing or if we need somebody to be handling props and special effects, we have other people kind of working with the camera man. So in a way, with our powers combined, we were able to do way more than one human being could ever do.
Brandon: It’s easier to organize too, it’s less people to rely on. So we found that keeping your group small, you’re guaranteed to have those people there.
Going into actually filming this, did you all know that you were going to be acting? Was that something you were prepared to do right off the bat?
Mike: Well, when we finally went to go film, we knew which characters we were playing. When we were writing, we didn’t have specific characters in mind. We talked about maybe who we could play and it was mostly out of, either we did a good job when we were doing table reads that we were like, ‘why don’t you just play so and so,’ or it was out of necessity mostly. Like with Chris, we weren’t sure who Chris was gonna play but when we were doing table reads, he did such a great job as Brian and we’re like, ‘no you should be playing Brian.’
Chris: -which always blew my mind because in my world, when we were writing Brian, he was like this tiny little blonde twink monster, like he was a monster, and then everyone’s like, ‘No, we love the art vibe for him’… I can do that but you’re basically just asking me to be my own personality and I will deliver. But again, I had a very specific vision when we were writing for Brian so to see my face up on screen delivering those lines instead is still hilarious to me.
Were these actual drag queens that you brought into the story or did you make them up, how did they come to be a part of your story?
Mike: All the queens in the film are real drag queens in real life or have done drag or used to do drag at least. All the names and characters we kind of created except Janet Fitness, which is a Matthew Pidge’s real drag name when he did drag. Gloria Hole, is based on a drag queen from Providence named Kitty Litter, who was like a fixture in this community who ended up moving. She’s not that or anything, we made her dead in the movie, but she’s alive. We based her off of Kitty Litter who is sort of this monster but also a great person for the community because she raised a lot of money for this organization called AIDS Care Ocean State, and she was sort of the staple in that nonprofit organization for many, many years. But other than Gloria Hole, all the other drag queens we made up the names and sort of the personalities for.
Chris: We could probably say the Tragedi is close to Complete Destruction’s personality and look in general. With the stuff stripped directly from real life, just going off of what Mike was saying, Drag Bingo is a real thing. Kitty Litter ran it like every third Thursday of the month for like 15 years. Drag bingo was raising money for AIDS Care Ocean State, and that’s actually how I met Kitty Litter, I was working for her and managing bingo. I think, sometimes I have to remind people like, no no no, that might seem totally out of this world and surreal, but that part’s true.
Did you reach out to her at all?
Chris: She still has not read the script.
Mike: We toyed with the idea of just having her play Gloria Hole but it just wasn’t gonna happen. So we got her best friend to play her instead.
Where did the title, Death Drop Gorgeous, come from?
Mike: It was Chris. We were struggling to come up with a title and then he kind of spat that out, and we all kind of instantly fell in love with it because most drag names, as you know, are like puns on other names of things. A drag title for a drag movie just seemed pretty perfect so it stuck.
Chris: We had some weird working titles. The original one was Tuck Everlasting. We figured we would have less copyright infringement issues with Death Drop Gorgeous than with Tuck Everlasting.
So, can any of you do a death drop?
Mike: I tried once, drunkenly, and hit my head, so that’s gonna be removed from my repertoire of dance moves.
Brandon: I tried it once and it was not pretty.
Chris: I can nail it on like grass. If I feel very confident that I’m just gonna fall onto something soft I can do it. I’m pretty sure the only one of us that can do it is Wayne, but she breaks her legs like every other year so I don’t think she should do it either. Now, I don’t think so. Can you do the death drop?
I’m too afraid to do it. I have tried, but I always put my arms down.
Mike: I’m less worried about my back and head and more worried about my knee going in some weird direction and then never return back to the way it was before. I don’t have that flexibility.
Chris did a death drop for me (I was honored) and in my opinion it looked pretty good!
Is there anything else you’d like to say about Death Drop Gorgeous?
Brandon: Just a bit of fun with it. I’ve read a lot of reviews and people are getting way too serious, which is fine, there’s like a lot of social commentary in there and there are serious issues we’re addressing, but at the same time, it’s a midnight movie, it’s a drive in movie. Watch it with your friends, have fun with it, it’s supposed to be fun.
Mike: Yeah, I think like what we said at the beginning of the interview is that we wanted to make a movie worth seen and a lot of people come at horror under this very critical scope of what the overall, I don’t know, metaphor is and really we just wanted to make like Brandon said, a midnight movie, like a video nasty. It’s supposed to be fun. The acting is supposed to be over the top, no one’s going for the Oscar. It’s just supposed to be fun, like hanging out with your friends, maybe having a few drinks, and laughing and screaming at the disgusting gore that we have. It’s not supposed to be like Hereditary.
Chris: When we were making this film, I always assumed we would be creating something that would be overtly niche, it might only be able to be appreciated in like a certain drag bar with like a door locked and everyone watching and enjoying it. But I kid you not, I just went up to Maine and my dad is like a white, French Canadian, 62 year old, salt of the earth machinist kind of functioning alcoholic with a heart of gold and I made him watch it with me. He was really interested and his official review was, ‘Watchable. I’m not traumatized, impressed by the quality knowing the budget, feels like the overall narrative is solid,’ and he totally guessed the killer but loved the allegories that we put in there. So if Wayne Dalpe of Maine enjoys this movie, I’m sure other audiences will as well.