Offering cinematic odes to schlocky gore and bloody camp
Whether he's all dolled up as Peaches Christ or wearing his everyday attire, Joshua Grannell is a cinematic force to be reckoned with. He turned a love of cult film into a modest empire, with a memorable drag character, a popular midnight movie series, and All About Evil, his first full-length feature film.
But back in 1998 when Grannell was working for Landmark Theatres, Midnight Mass was a tough sell. "Midnight movies had really died in San Francisco," he recalls. "It was sort of a thing that was considered passé and relegated to the suburbs."
To Landmark's credit, Grannell did get the go-ahead to create Midnight Mass, which he hosted as his alter ego Peaches Christ. He screened camp classics like Showgirls (1995), Female Trouble (1974), and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970). The stage show was led by Peaches, who Grannell describes as "a character born out of the world of cult movies."
"I'm not just programming a movie," he explains. "I'm also creating an entire environment and a whole show to go along with it."
While Grannell still produces Midnight Mass sporadically, he no longer maintains it as a regular series. And who can blame him? He has plenty on his plate as a filmmaker, the role he's wanted to play since childhood.
"I went through a period where I started to freak out and think, oh my God, what have I done?" he admits. "I'm best known for being a clown named after Jesus. And I was proud of that ... but I really did start to think that no one was ever going to invest any money in me or my filmmaking."
But it was his Peaches Christ fame and the popularity of Midnight Mass that gave Grannell an audience who understood and appreciated his vision. He was able to use that when he wrote and directed All About Evil, in which he also cameos — as Peaches, natch.
The film is Grannell's ode to his idols, an homage to the schlocky gore of Herschell Gordon Lewis and the charming perversity of John Waters. It's also an impressive achievement, the work of a filmmaker who is accomplished in his own right.
But he hasn't let the success go to his head. As Peaches, Grannell remains a snarky fan, noting that part of her appeal is her unwavering silliness.
"Peaches is a bit of a goofball, and I certainly don't take Peaches too seriously," he notes. "The minute I do, go ahead and put a bullet in my head, because that would ruin everything."
To Grannell, the fannish aspect is essential to the Peaches Christ brand. In a way, it mirrors his own passion — he's just as excited to share the stage with his cult heroes as we are to see them.
"I've built a whole career centered around worshiping my idols," Grannell says. "I've gotten to meet them and I've gotten to work with them. But even though I would say that I consider John Waters to be a friend, I don't know that he's a friend to me without my obsession still being there and being a fan."
Grannell's humility isn't an affectation. Despite his considerable successes, he's still driven by simple goals.
"I make crowd-pleasers," he says. "I'm an entertainer. There's a sort of art to what we do, certainly, and an aesthetic, but first and foremost, I get off on making people laugh or puke or scream. That's always been the thing I'm most interested in."