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Scream Queen

In Culture, Theatre
THE CRAFT: For Carla Rossi, identifying the overlap between horror narratives and queer identity is scarily easy. (photo credit: Carla Bryan Clavel)

THE CRAFT: For Carla Rossi, identifying the overlap between horror narratives and queer identity is scarily easy. (photo credit: Carla Bryan Clavel)

“What is it about queer people and horror?” Anthony Hudson asks over the phone from Portland, OR, answering his intriguing question a few moments later. “What I’ve learned is the whole genre is queer. The term subgenre is a misnomer.”

As evidence, Hudson traces a lineage from the Gothic movement to early film directors such as F.W. Murnau and James Whale, on through to the Child’s Play series of movies originated by Don Mancini, who, like fellow genre stalwarts Clive Barker (Hellraiser) and Kevin Williamson (Scream), identifies as gay.

Billed as “Portland’s premier drag clown,” Carla Rossi is to some degree a vessel for Hudson to spread the queer horror gospel. Carla is a kook, a bit daffy, but she also provides a way for Hudson, a Grand Ronde tribal member, to target white privilege through a heavy application of whiteface and a light sense of humor. In a short film that parodies the arty 2015 indie horror hit It Follows, Carla and camera race through a full circle of fear, before falling victim to a monstrous, perma-smiley Rachel Dolezal babbling inanities about Black Studies and Iggy Azalea.

This week at Stanford, Carla stars in the two-spirit one-trickster show “Carla Rossi Does Drag,” and one night earlier, presents “Queer Horror: Gravest Hits,” a collection of short films culled from four years of “Queer Horror” programs at Portland’s historic Hollywood Theater (“The colon matters,” Hudson stresses, on the show’s name). As titles such as Pizza Sluts, Don’t Wake the Baby and Fingerin’ Around might hint, the selection favors laughter over serious shocks. Barbie dolls and Indigo Girls figure in the revelry. One more serious short prefigures the recent Candyman remake in its use of shadow puppetry.

In Portland, the now-beloved Queer Horror series gives Hudson the opportunity to not only spotlight “homemade, DIY and totally hilarious” shorts, but also to celebrate notorious feature films. Obvious choices include Sleepaway Camp and Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s

Revenge—where the high school hero has something called “Probe” in his bedroom closet, and a leather-loving gym teacher is tied to a pair of shower heads and flayed by flying white towels. In addition, Hudson the programmer and Carla the performer showcase more personal

favorites such as Bound and Death Becomes Her.

“High school theater transformed my life,” Hudson declares during a discussion of drag, drama, and singing, before adding a tongue-in-cheek observation: “That’s about the most authentically queer statement you can make.”

Without a doubt, Carla follows in the high-heeled footsteps of the Bay Area’s Peaches Christ. Still, the upbeat Hudson, who has a flair for offhand quips, sources the character’s emergence in part to a friendship with RuPaul’s Drag Race winner Jinkx Monsoon, adding, “I’m inspired by Coco Peru, Varla Jean Merman, Vaginal Davis, and Dina Martina.” 

Hudson is as quick-witted as Carla is goofy, and that dynamic has given Carla entrée into tonier spaces, such as art museums in Portland and Seattle. Earlier this year, Hudson taught a class on the evolution of the Alien series’ Ellen Ripley for the Seattle International Film Festival.

Such presentations delve into one of Hudson’s chief comic tools: PowerPoint. 

“I grew up watching Indian child welfare presentations by my father,” he says, sourcing his interest back to its roots, before describing the way he uses it today: “Inept PowerPoint presentations—like [the one by] Debbie in Addams Family Values—crack me up. I’ll free-associate my way through one. The audience learns something, but through camp and human sacrifice.”

Just as strains of queerness run through horror film history, they also loom large in the realm of horror movie hosts. For proof, look no further than the recent coming-out of Cassandra Peterson, aka Elvira. Hudson himself recently looked to the famous “Mistress of the Dark” in a pre-show performance that included a pair of dueling Elviras and one Vampira. The on-stage antics reached a climax with a burlesque “tassle-off” in which Carla’s cleavage consisted of a pair of large googly eyes.

All the better to see things queerly with, my dear.

QUEER HORROR: GRAVEST HITS
Fri, 9pm, $25
Bing Studio, Palo Alto 

CARLA ROSSI DOES DRAG
Sat, 8pm, $35
Bing Studio, Palo Alto

 

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