For over a decade Joshua Grannell was the queen of San Francisco’s alternative movie scene with his alter ego Peaches Christ. As the host of Midnight Mass, Peaches mixed flamboyant theatrics with cult exploition cinema to sold out crowds and soon gained support from the likes of John Waters, Tura Satana and Elvira. Launched in 1998, within a few short years Midnight Mass had become one of the most celebrated annual gatherings in the city with its outrageous mixture of crossdressing, audience participation and low budget exploitation flicks.
While a film student at Pennsylvania’s Penn State University Grannell’s senior thesis film Jizzmopper: A Love Story gained considerable acclaim and from this experience Peaches Christ was born. Following his graduation he relocated to San Francisco where he found work at Landmark Cinemas and it would be through his passion for Rocky Horror Picture Show-style theatrics he was able to launch Midnight Mass, immediately making a cultural impact.
His commercial debut All About Evil has received positive reviews from critics, with Variety stating, ‘Over-the-top perfs and colorful low-budget production polish hit the right notes of knowing cheese.’ The picture co-stars Cassandra Peterson (Elvira: Mistress of the Dark), Thomas Dekker (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) and Natasha Lyonne (American Pie) and has been championed by numerous genre publications.
Joshua Grannell discusses both his career as Peaches Christ and All About Evil.
Do you recall a specific movie or filmmaker that caused you to fall in love with cinema and how important was film to you as you were growing up?
I remember seeing Disney films and The Wizard Of Oz as a really little kid and I loved the villains, witches, evil queens, and bad guys. They were always my favourite and I think I always loved movies. I cannot remember a time I didn’t like scary things, and it was around the time of Poltergeist coming out and first seeing Psycho that I first started saying I wanted to grow up to make movies. I was maybe eight or nine.
Peaches Christ was first ‘born’ during the making of your university film Jizzmopper: A Love Story when you were forced to replace one of your actors. Did you find that this character was one you easily embraced that first time?
I think that Peaches definitely allows me to express parts of myself that would otherwise be repressed, or at best a bit more dull. I think I took to playing the character pretty quickly, both because we had to shoot the film and also because I really enjoy performing. I had studied improv in high school so Peaches allowed me to exercise that stuff when the movie was finished and I continued performing onstage.
Many performers create a flamboyant alter ego as in real life they are relatively shy or withdrawn.
Definitely. I realise this more now having made All About Evil and getting to hear stories about the difference between having Peaches on-set versus Joshua.
You have developed the character of Peaches Christ so successfully that you both have separate IMDb pages.
I like to see Peaches Christ as a fully realised character, separate from my own identity. I love that IMDb has the two different pages.
Was Midnight Mass in any way inspired by the late night movie circuit of Times Square during the late 1970s and early ’80s, particularly the Deuce?
It was actually inspired by moving to San Francisco and hearing all these great stories about what The Cockettes had done here with midnight movies in North Beach at The Palace Theatre. Fantastic stuff! I also grew up in Maryland going to Rocky Horror and worshipping at the altar of John Waters. I think all of that inspired us to create Midnight Mass.
Do you consider yourself primarily a filmmaker or performer and how do you balance the two when you are working on your movies?
I think of myself as an entertainer and it all kinda melds together for me. Whether I’m performing as Peaches or writing and directing a movie as Joshua, I really do think that my job is to entertain my audience. I think story-telling is the key and understanding pacing, comedy, gags and narrative structure informs what I do both onstage and behind the camera. It’s all about entertaining people.
Were you tempted at all to make your first commercial feature film about Peaches Christ and did you ever give thought to making her the protagonist of All About Evil?
No, I really wasn’t. I know I wasn’t ready for that. I stand by that decision. Maybe sometime in the future there’ll be a Peaches driven feature.
Having worked with Cassandra Peterson on the movie, have you both discussed the possibility of making a movie where she plays Elvira: Mistress of the Dark and you play Peaches Christ?
We have definitely toyed around with the idea. While I’d do it in a heartbeat, I’m not sure if she’s serious or not. I’ll have to keep nagging her. That’s essentially how I got her to agree to do All About Evil. I nagged.
While John Waters has not only been a major influence on your work but also a collaborator what other filmmakers have had a profound effect on the development of both your character and your work?
Doris Wishman was a huge personal inspiration for All About Evil, and William Castle, Brian De Palma, Herschell Gordon Lewis, Russ Meyer, Wes Craven, Alfred Hitchcock, David Lynch, Ed Wood, the Kuchar Brothers, Todd Solondz, Pedro Almodovar and the list could go on and on and on. I’m a movie fan and my work is often about my love of movies.
How did your short Grindhouse develop into All About Evil and how similar are they in both story and tone?
I think that after I had that kernel of an idea succeed in the no-budget short film Grindhouse, I just knew I wanted to flesh it out and develop it further. And I also knew that I wanted my first feature to not be a Peaches Christ vehicle. I think the tone of Grindhouse is sillier than All About Evil but essentially it’s similar and more about black comedy than anything else.
Do you often write characters with specific actors in mind and was this the case at all with All About Evil?
Sometimes I do, especially when creating material for the drag queens. I usually know who’s going to do what. With All About Evil, I didn’t think about any specific actress while I was writing. I just kinda wrote the characters freely and thought about who could play the parts once I was finished a handful of drafts.
Were you a fan of splatter movies growing up and did these inspire you in any way as you were shooting the film?
Oh my god YES. The splatter movies I grew up loving were my religion from ’80s slasher stuff to H.G. Lewis and early Peter Jackson and Sam Raimi. I loved it all. When writing All About Evil, I had a blast coming up with my own little splatter gags. A bunch of stuff was cut for financial reasons, so I’ve got some stuff already to go for the next one.
What projects do you have lined up for the future and how do you plan to follow All About Evil?
I have a second feature film I’m developing that’s similar in tone to All About Evil and may even be part of an Evil trilogy. We’ve also formed Peaches Christ Productions in San Francisco and have begun production on a bunch of smaller projects and films. We will continue to create content and do touring stage-shows.