Camp is notoriously tricky to pin down, and even tricker to execute. As Susan Sontag notes in her 1964 essay “Notes on ‘Camp’”, “[o]ne must distinguish between naïve and deliberate Camp. Pure camp is always naïve. Camp which knows itself to be Camp (“camping”) is usually less satisfying”. Sontag suggests that the best, most satisfying examples of camp are those that are trying to be serious. When something tries to be camp, it usually fails. Written and directed by Michael J. Ahern, Christopher Dalpe, and Brandon Perras-Sanchez, Death Drop Gorgeous unfortunately misses the mark when it comes to camp, falling into the age-old trap of trying too hard – but is still a gory good time.
After a break-up, Dwayne (Wayne Gonsalves) returns to Providence, Rhode Island and resumes his old job bartending at a local drag bar. However, a rivalry between two queens, up-and-coming young Janet Fitness (Matthew Pidge) and aging former star Glory Hole (Payton St. James), threatens to cause trouble. Meanwhile, a brutal serial killer is hunting young gay men and draining their blood.
Payton St. James is a star – pure and simple. Glory Hole is one of the most complex and fully realized characters we’ve had from a slasher in recent years. Both in and out of drag, St. James infuses Glory with self-awareness and humour as well as emotional depth, bringing freshness and humanity to the tired trope of the jaded, aging entertainer.
Death Drop Gorgeous is worth watching for St. James’ performance alone, but the visual effects also deserve a nod. Victoria Elizabeth Black, perhaps best known as a finalist on season two of the drag horror reality show The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula, brings enough blood to turn the stomach of even the most hardened fan of the genre. Genuinely stomach-churning, the violence is also funny, stylish, and cleverly executed (pun intended).
Ahern, Dalpe, and Perras-Sanchez have a great script on their hands. Full of jokes, barbed one-liners, and solid character development, this is also a story that isn’t afraid to tackle more serious issues like misogyny and racism within the gay community, and the blind-eye that police often turn to violence against LGBTQ people. However, the production value of Death Drop Gorgeous leaves a lot to be desired. A few rough edges are part of the charm of a movie like this, but there are points where obvious corner-cutting in terms of lighting and sound pulled me out of the experience and detracted from the witty, fast-paced dialogue. I also wasn’t sold on Gonsalves’ performance as Dwayne. While I’m sure he’s a talented actor, he fails to bring depth or nuance to this role and his permanent glib smile felt out of place during the more emotionally tense moments.
Even so, fans of horror and drag would be remiss to pass on this film. Death Drop Gorgeous is a fun ride, even if it isn’t a perfect one.
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