If I made a film about what I knew in my younger days, it would have to include a lot of Amish buggies and farm scenarios. The multi-talented Deborah Voorhees, best known from her eye gouging encounter with Jason in Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, meanwhile, allows her youthful knowledge of the dirty dealings of show business to inform Billy Shakespeare, her very fun take on the legacy of theater’s most famous bard.
Imagining Shakespeare as an artist trying to make it in contemporary times, writer-director Voorhees explores the wordsmith’s struggles to get audiences to connect with his Renaissance style. Particularly effective is the modern reaction to a volatile film version of The Taming of the Shrew, in which a combative woman is turned into a submissive companion to her husband. Skewered by feminists, denied by his ultra-successful journalist mother and urged by his agent to sell out by writing horror films, Shakespeare soon finds himself entering an even bigger maelstrom. When his best friend, a beautiful transgendered woman named Wilma, discovers his sonnets and thinks they are written for her, a bounty of misunderstandings and slapstick style entanglements soon occur. With heart and humor, Voorhees delightedly explores the many questions regarding Shakespeare’s sexuality and even when all seems resolved, the fadeout reveals that nothing, as in life itself, is for sure.
Terror fans, naturally, are going to enjoy Voorhees’ nods to her acting career, particularly an enjoyably blatant reference to her involvement in one of horror cinema’s biggest franchises. But, as a whole, she works with humor and skill here, creating a product that fans of theater and romantic comedy should both embrace. Granted, certain factions of the queer community might question the use of the word ‘drag queen’ as opposed to ‘transgendered’ when certain characters describe themselves, especially as those depicted appear to be living their lives as women. But there is no ill intent here, as Wilma and her companions are truly lovely creations who often the steal the show, who seem to be using that descriptor for humor’s sake.
Voorhees, also, gleans sophisticated performances from her cast, an important nuance as her accomplished script takes them through many complications. Jason D. Johnson supplies multiple layers to his Shakespeare. He is noble, comic and exasperatingly dense, all at once. Phillip David Collins fully brings Wilma to life, as well. He is entirely natural, making one truly believe that he lives every waking moment in female form. Meanwhile, as Anne, Shakespeare’s acknowledged lover, Catharine Pilafas fills the screen with steely grace and a vulnerable beauty.
Until the next time – SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan