Drag has always been a subversive and primarily underground art form, that has a long history with heavy metal and rock n’ roll. Yet, these days it’s more surprising when a popstar’s new video doesn’t have a drag queen in it than when it does. Drag’s current mainstream popularity is due predominately to cult reality TV competition RuPaul’s Drag Race. Yet, there is always an alternative backlash to anything that becomes mainstream. The Boulet Brothers‘ Dragula – which celebrates the three virtues of glam, filth and horror, in search of the “next drag supermonster”, and on which, rather than lip-syncing, contestants are buried alive and have needles shoved through their skin – represents that alternative (at least as far as reality TV completions go). There’s also never been a more metal-friendly time to jump on board than with its recent “Mosters of Rock” episode.
For all its enhance production values and strong cast, season three of Dragula has been off to a bit of a slow start. It kicked off with a supervillain challenge (which is something Drag Race has done at least twice at this point) and vampire follow-up, which, save for a few standouts, have been pretty underwhelming – especially when compared to season two’s phenomenal Hellraiser-themed premier. The season seems to have hit its stride, however, with its third episode, “Monsters of Rock”, which sees a re-tread of last season’s “Shock Rock and Metal” challenge, which requires the competitors to create a look “inspired by the metal gods of the past” as well as deliver a “face melting and fearsome rock show” as part of two competing bands.
It takes a bit to get going. The opening skit – which this season appears to be part of an overarching narrative – is pretty flat, and it doesn’t seem to have a punchline other than a seemingly innocuous dinner party being part of some satanic ritual. Again, it suffers in comparison to season two, whose “Shock Rock” episode was preceded by a glorious, so-bad-its-good skit that saw the Boulet’s trading terrible hard rock puns such fulfilling the others’ request to “pour some sugar on me” (And then they murder a hot pizza delivery guy. It really is great stuff.) Even so, it’s noticeable that the generic metal soundtrack has improved at least – graduating from awkward nu-metal grooves to some fairly-credible melodic death metal riffs – and the episode is jam-packed otherwise.
There’s a lot of drama this episode. Most of it is centred around Dollya Black—drag daughter of season two finalist Victoria Elizabeth Black and drag granddaughter of fellow season three contestant Maddelynn Hatter. First, she’s called out by “post-binary drag socialist” (and personal favourite) Hollow Eve—whose had their ups and downs so far in the competition, but has certainly delivered on their promise of being “fucking intense”—before having an uncomfortable confrontation with Maddelynn that seems to hinge on some unresolved real-world issues. Oh, and we find out Hollow Eve keeps their used tampons in the fridge because they “don’t play pretend on filth”. There’s plenty for the “messy bitch who loves drama” to sink their teeth into, but (at least until now) Dragula has always been far more about what happens on stage than off it.
Rather than walk the runway, like on other reality TV drag competitions, Dragula showcases its look through a “floor show”, which inter-cuts shots of all the contestants performing together. It’s proved an effective format in the past. However, this season it’s been a bit hard to get a good look at each competitor’s look, due to compressed shots and frantic cutting. Although the issues aren’t quite ironed out, this episode’s floor show (which I am, sadly, not able to embed here) is a bit easier to keep track of. The clear stand-out is Landon Cider—the show’s first drag king contestant—whose serving Rob Zombie realness, with a dash of Dave Navarro thrown in for good measure. The look is impeccable and striking, and that’s before he lights his guitar on fire and spins it around while its attached to his crotch. Landon’s emerged as an early front-runner after landing a (somewhat dubious) win the previous episode for his From Dusk To Dawn-esque, anti-Trump, Mexican vamp. The horror-themed transformations he has up on youtube are phenomenal (as are the ones where he dresses up as Pitbull) and at this point he seems like a shoe-in for top three.
It’s a pretty solid showing all round. Other highlights include perennial Drag Race hopeful and fan-favourite Evah Destrcution – who does a fantastic Freddie Mercury impression – looks great in her hand-spiked red leather jacket. She claims her look is primarily inspired by Aerosmith and Mötley Crüe, but she’s also definitely channeling season two winner Biqtch Puddin, which is not a bad strategy at all, considering Biqtch won the Shock Rock challenge her season as well. She also looks great, later on, during the band performance in a pair of killer knee-high boots that wouldn’t look out of place on a member of Cradle of FiIth. Louisiana Purchase cites Plasmatics‘ Wendy O. Williams and The Cramps‘ bassist Poison Ivy and you can definitely see the latter coming through in her leopard-print leotard ensemble. Priscilla Chambers delivers Dee Snider (by way of Thorgy Thor), thanks to some help from Maddelynn’s wig-styling skills.
Hollow Eve’s look doesn’t seem to match the challenge at first, but as drag legend Peaches Christ points out during the critiques, they’d fit perfectly into GWAR and they really sell the look with the intensity of their eyes and face. I also really liked Yovska‘s blue, demonic jester look, which is criticised by the Boulets for its “softness” and being “off the mark”. Yovska claims “’90s J-Rock” as an inspiration during one of their confessionals, which I don’t know enough about comment on, but I also really liked their look during the performance, which reminded me of modern-era Marilyn Manson, even if, as she says, everyone else was serving Twisted Sister.
Maxi Glamour misses the mark with a scattered, sequined sea-creature look that looks great but doesn’t really fit the brief of “heavy metal god”. Then again, they also pull a dollar bill that says “fuck capitalism” on it out of their ass, which I’m not going to argue with. Dollya’s look (which I can’t find a specific link for) shares a shoulder-skull and, likewise, while well-executed, looks more suited to last season’s “Four Horsewomen” challenge than “Monsters of Rock”. Maddelynn’s look is the only one that doesn’t seem to have a distinct point of view, but it’s hard to tell from all the quick cutting and her makeup is outstanding. In fact, it’s the usually-impeccable Boulets’ looks this episode, which seem more Mortal Kombat than heavy metal, that seem the least inspired of all.
The (mimed) band performances are more definitive. The rehearsals set it up like it’s going to be a wash for Maddelynn, Yovska, Hollow, Landon and Louisiana’s group Koven, who come complete with a badass logo with a Korn-style backwards-K in it and promises of a “blood ritual”; while Slag, who consist of Eva, Dollya, Maxi and Priscilla are busy in-fighting. However, it’s a classic case of “Da Black Magic” and, when it comes to the performance, there’s no doubt which team’s safe and which will be up for elimination. Koven’s blood ritual looks awkward and unrehearsed and further drama ensues when Maddelynn pulls a pair of spinal tap needles out of Hollows face too early (as you do).
There’s nothing as striking about Slag’s performance as, say, Abhora‘s circus tent stilts from season two, but the group look both coordinated and polished (with the possible exception of Dollya), especially when compared to Koven. Eva again channels Biqtch Puddin’ and is helped out with some impressive acrobatics from Maxi. Like Peaches says, they look like “a Gothic Jem and the Holograms“, while Koven are completely mismatched, with Maddelynn’s bright red clashing against the others’ darker, punkier pallet. The performance is also one area where the editing has actually improved from season two, with both bands’ cut together rather than shown back to back in full. (This season’s song: “Intro to Hell–House of Whores” by death punks The Dirty Horror; is also a welcome improvement over last season’s, if only just.)
Rock n’ roll and all-around legend Henry Rollins (who was also a judge during an early season of Drag Race) helps lend the episode some serious punk rock credibility. Rollins is animated in his feedback and his enthusiasm is palpable. He oozes positivity throughout his critiques and his praise for Maxi is especially welcome, given how hard some of the other competitors come for them earlier in the episode. It’s also refreshing to see Hollow Eve own up for her mistake rather than resort to the extensive “bus throwing” that goes on ad nauseam on certain other programs. The elimination challenge is another throwback to the Shock Rock episode from season two, with the bottom contestants selecting surprise tattoos for their competitors, but you’ll have to watch it yourself to find out the results.
Dragula is currently streaming on Amazon Prime. New episodes (usually) come out every Tuesday, which means there’s probably a new one out by the time you’re reading this. Definitely go back to the first two seasons if you like what you see. They’re a lot of fun (even if the first one’s pretty rough).