The pilot episode of The Boulet Brothers’ “Dragula” aired, fittingly enough, on Halloween night of 2016 on the Hey Qween YouTube channel. The Boulet Brothers, the legendary queer nightlife figures and provocateurs, were on the hunt for someone to carry on their filthy legacy in the world of alternative drag and LGBTQ culture, and brought their stage show/competition “Dragula” to the small screen. Even with the occasional nod to RuPaul and his iconic “Drag Race,” Dracmorda and Swanthula Boulet punt-kicked the rulebook out of the window for their competition reality series. We all have to start somewhere, and “Dragula” started with a bang unlike any other.
Before performing the autopsy on this series, though, a little bit of background and fair warning for the initial run of the show is necessary. The first season of the show was one with not a large budget. Due to their not being backed by a television network at the time, money was an object, and as such, all nine of this season’s contestants were from the LA area. The only on-location shooting outside of Los Angeles of any kind would only happen in episode three (more on that later). And I may be getting ahead of myself here, but the extermination sequences were nowhere near as grand as they would become, though there certainly is a schlocky, B-movie charm to the early death scenes (again, more to come on that later).
Perhaps the most telling aspect of the lack of budget came from the fact that the winner’s prize purse of $10,000 was to be crowdfunded. Fans of the show could tip the performers, much like they would at a regular drag show, and add that total to the prize pool, which would be capped at the $10,000 mark and awarded to the winner at the end of the season. When I watched the series for the first time, I kept wondering, “What if they don’t make the goal? Then what happens?”
The contestants are before the Boulets, with their heads covered with burlap sacks. One by one, the monsters vying for the Dragula crown are unveiled, and in order, they are:
1) Xochi Mochi, who describes herself as a killer clown from outer space,
2) Ursula Major, a bearded queen and genderfuck performer,
3) Foxie Adjuia, who reads as one of the more polished queens of this season,
4) Vander von Odd, a baby queen and a seasoned haunted house actor,
5) Meatball, who proudly proclaims that “They wanted a monster, but they’re going to get a goddamn terrorist,”
6) Loris, recently 21, vegan, and a crafty queen, making all of her own costumes,
7) Frankie Doom, a “zombie stripper” known for her prominent breastplate,
8) Pinche, a seasoned queen with elements of genderfuck drag, and
9) Melissa Befierce, a pageant queen who struggles to call herself a “monster.”
The ghouls’ first challenge is a two-parter. Not only do they have to create a witch look, interpreted however each girl wishes, for the runway, but they will have to perform a reimagining of the death of The Wicked Witch of the West, water and all. With the power of hindsight, we know that this challenge came before the bust of a witchy runway that “Drag Race” gave us this most recent season, and here, the first iteration is indeed the better one. After a reminder of the three tenets of Dragula (filth, horror, and glamour), the girls are excused to get ready for their trial.
Preparation for the floor show takes us behind the scenes and into the minds of the nine contestants. Loris is proud to admit that she is leaving her moral compass at home, willing to do whatever it takes to compete for the crown, even if it means going against her vegan lifestyle. Ursula shares similar concerns, as well as the story behind her “FAGGOT” tattoo on her torso. To her, claiming the word and calling herself a slur takes the power away from anyone who may use it against her. Resilience is a skill among many queer people, and seeing Ursula’s example serves to inspire the viewers and remind them that words have as much power as we give them.
Loris and Pinche appear to have similar outfits, though Loris reminds them that hers is out of vegan leather, earning hoots and hollers from some, and eye rolls from others who are already sick of her pulling the vegan card. I’ve been in a few drag dressing rooms in my short time as a performer, and I can say that this edit of the cattiness and empowerment is typical of a backstage area. We all learn from each other, but a little shade among friends and colleagues is par for the course.
The floor show sees Darren Stein, the writer/director of the film “Jawbreaker,” as a guest judge. His film about three girls accidentally killing the prom queen has been hailed as a cult classic among queer cinephiles. The runway presentation is shown in a montage featuring each queen selling her look to the judges and the viewers. Two of my favorite runway looks were Vander’s pale swamp witch and Meatball’s Hansel and Gretel meets Maleficent sugar witch. A second montage shows the reenactments of the death scene, and they range from frightening to farcical, with a personal highlight of mine coming from Vander crying out, “Los Angeles tap water!” after being splashed with the water that brings forth the Witch’s demise.
Camp and horror go hand in hand, and in that regard, Vander brought her best to this opening challenge. Her efforts score her the inaugural challenge win of the season, with her owning the character and the look from moment one to moment done. Scoring high in the challenge are Xochi Mochi and her colonial witch, which is dubbed the scariest look of the group overall, as well as Frankie’s turn as a sort of fertility goddess (I mean… the breastplate) and Foxie’s voodoo hooker with loads of attitude.
Ursula and Melissa get less-than-rave reviews from the judges, with the former being called cheap and the latter being clocked for a questionable shoe choice for her Jem and Holograms-esque look. For me, Melissa’s look suffered from the blacked-out neck and chin. Had the neck been blacked out and not that and the chin, I think the look would have read even better on the stage. Why she gave herself a sort of beard without some sort of pretense is beyond me, but she is safe this week, so bully for her. As for Ursula, her look read less witch and more bear. I didn’t outright hate the look, but it felt unfinished and not fully executed.
The bottom three for the first challenge are Pinche, Meatball, and Loris. Pinche seems to have sold herself short by blacking out her face and adding glitter, editing her own makeup skills for her look, with elements of Eldritch horrors in her gloves. There is a place for this look, as is any other look a performer can turn out, but on a main stage of a competition such as this is not the place for this look. Loris’ scarecrow witch looked great to start out, but the reveal ended up a bit clunky and unexciting. Meatball is praised for her character acting, but is criticized for her costume becoming something of a liability during the runway walk, not to mention looking too costume shop and not enough crafted.
Extermination means a physical challenge, only this one makes anything from “Double Dare” look as daunting as a daycare. The bottom three are to be buried alive, one by one, keeping their hands to their sides while all manner of earthy nastiness creeps in, including crickets, dirt, and even an apparent pisser. If a queen opts to tap out, the code is three knocks on the coffin lid for the burial to cease. The longer the queen lasts, the better their chances of survival. Once the challenge is over, both the floor show and extermination will be considered to determine who stays and who gets the Victoria Parker award for being the first to go home in series history (hey, Porkchop!).
It is here that Meatball and Loris both shine in their own ways, while Pinche struggles with the whole ordeal. Meatball takes pretty much everything in stride, even after getting a bug or a few in her bra and allegedly relieving herself while trapped in the coffin. Loris plays up the water stream in the coffin like she’s into water sports, which elicited belly laughter from me for minutes on end. While extermination challenges are far from comedy by design, Loris and Meatball play it up and wind up saving themselves from extermination, while Pinche is later killed off via being burned at the stake.
The elimination was not a shocker. Where Meatball and Loris proved their resolve, Pinche had her hands up to shield herself from the bugs and just seemed to have a hell of a time getting through the challenge. Combined with her cop-out of black makeup and glitter for her runway, and Pinche sort of earned going home first. Eight queens remain, and the montage of “This Season on ‘Dragula’” serves as a taste of things to come. Those things to come are brutal, unapologetic, and beautiful all at once. From everything I’ve seen and heard, Pinche is a great performer, but taken in the vacuum of “Dragula,” she did not bring everything to the runway, and as such was the first victim.
Episode two brings drag together with another passion of mine: pro wrestling! Stay tuned for more coverage of “Dragula” as your resident drag witch prepares for the premiere of season three this August.