Joshua Grannell lives in a cute, cozy apartment in San Francisco with colorful art on the walls and no sign of any enormous wigs—at least not when company comes over. He’s the creator of Peaches Christ, the outrageous drag queen, filmmaker and midnight-movie hostess—a strange occupation, but it’s one that the weird little kid covered in stage blood was born to grow into.
He was my guest recently on The Sewers of Paris, a podcast where gay men share intimate stories about the entertainment that changed their lives. As a kid, he was obsessed with two very different films: Annie and Psycho. Really. He watched them back-to-back with a friend. “I remember loving Psycho,” he says. “The other kid was terrified, and I loved that.”
Grannell loves being scared. Haunted houses and scary movies completely draw him in—even when he’s just watching on an airplane. “I dress up and scare people for a living, but I love it. I must,” he says.
He grew up a resort town in Maryland, and spent a lot of his time at the beach. Just outside of Baltimore, there was a boardwalk with a giant Psycho-style haunted house. “I was obsessed,” he says. “It terrified me.”
Sometimes he wouldn’t go through but just sat outside and watched. When he was older, he met the teens who were hired to dress up as monsters, and Grannell would buy a ticket so he could hide inside the haunted house himself.
On other occasions, Grannell would cover himself in fake blood and just hang out at the beach, sitting on the sand and freaking people out.
He had to have his own haunted house, so as a teenager Grannell arranged with the owner of a nearby forest to make a haunted trail. His parents helped out, and he slipped advertisements into the newspapers that he delivered on his paper route. It was a local hit and went on for several years.
He knew that he wanted to do theater, but in college it was filmmaking that stuck with him. Grannell loved to make weird movies, and at one point he hired a drag queen who bailed at the last minute. So he slipped into drag himself, and Peaches Christ was born.
Grannell’s college had a stuffy film program, and he wanted to poke a hornet’s nest, so he invited John Waters to the school. To his delight, the trash-auteur accepted, and it was a pivotal piece of inspiration for Grannell.
From there, he moved to San Francisco and started hosting ramshackle midnight movie nights. Like his haunted trails as a kid, they were a huge hit, drawing enormous crowds. That gave Grannell the audience he needed to start making films of his own. That caught the attention of John Waters, who remembered the kooky kid who invited him to speak at a small school in Pennsylvania.
The two filmmakers inevitably became close friends, and Waters once invited Grannell to join him for a swim at a beach.
“There were shark signs everywhere,” Grannell recalls. A perfect setting for the kid who always loved shocking, scary beachfront horror.
(Featured image by Jose Guzman Colon)