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Salem Horror Fest 2023: Film Review — "Saint Drogo"

For over a year, I have been following Saint Drogo’s footprints in the sand, like a shark following a trail of blood. Basically, ever since I watched Death Drop Gorgeous, this troupe’s previous outing, I have been eagerly anticipating their next venture. Death Drop Gorgeous is a boisterous, grotesque, and queer as fuck slasher movie—available now on Shudder in the “Locals Only” collection—and it’s a great example of homegrown horror. Not just because it’s an insanely good time, but also because it has real shit to say about its setting and the culture that surrounds it. The same goes for Saint Drogo, only this time the team has packed up their black leather giallo-gloves and have slipped on wispy cloaks instead because it’s gay folk horror time, babes!

Folk horror is all the rage these days, thanks largely to movies like The Witch and Midsommar reigniting interest in the subgenre. I also suspect that the rise in Christian fundamentalism in mainstream right-wing politics has a lot to do with the rekindling, but that’s an essay for another time. (Or, you know, invite me onto your podcast, or whatever…) I say this because folk horror usually relies, to some degree, on piety, superstition, or arcane customs in its plotting. Please note: there is no one way to do folk horror—it’s a subgenre with tons of range. The villainous forces in these films don’t always appear in the form of a cultish sect, or a mysterious private society, but they often do; the protagonist of those films is routinely a nosy interloper investigating the peculiarities of said odd community. This implicit otherness—of the stranger and/or of the group—is innately queer.

So, in essence, the team behind Saint Drogo have taken a sub-textually queer subgenre and made queerness the literal, explicit text. Unlike a lot of the classic folk horror films, Saint Drogo is not set in the wilderness or in some rural farming village or in a cloistered old timey locale. It’s set in present day Provincetown, Cape Cod during the off season. The cold atmosphere summons a ghostly air of seclusion, perhaps a signal that those who aren’t encouraged to visit in summer are expressly not encouraged to do so in winter. (Full disclosure, my familiarity with “P-town” is by reputation only. I’ve never been there.) There is something inherently otherworldly about the concept of P-town to me, which seems a bit incongruous because the area’s supremely gay reputation should make me feel welcome… right?

Weeeellll… about that… Provincetown’s decades-long history as a gay destination spot has resulted in the area developing its own sort of folklore. For many outsiders, there’s a sense of foreboding that comes with the perceived exclusivity of the place. I know plenty of midwestern and southern gays who’ve accepted that they will likely never go there for any number of potentially self-defeating notions: they aren’t hot enough, they aren’t articulate enough, they aren’t wealthy enough, they aren’t cool enough, etc. Thus, choosing to set Saint Drogo, a contemporary folk horror tale, in Provincetown—an illustrious place that’s technically within reach yet ostensibly sectioned off as well—was an apt move.

The directing trio of Michael J. Ahern, Ryan Miller, and Brandon Perras are no strangers to using their production prowess to speak their truth. Being gay is great, but gay culture can be pretty fucked up. With Death Drop Gorgeous, they dissected misogyny and body standards (among other things) within the gay community by carving people up. In Saint Drogo, they’re exploring the allure of insular, highly toxic environments—and the nefarious practices that might be keeping their attractiveness thriving. Of course, as with many folk horror stories, there’s some real-life sinister stuff brewing under the surface, and these filmmakers from the region have much to say about it!

And I must add: these guys have really stepped their game up with this latest motion picture of theirs. One of the highlights of Death Drop Gorgeous is its gnarly special effects makeup, and with Saint Drogo they have raised their own bar. The movie begins with a dreamlike sequence that boasts some of the most impressive practical effects guts that I’ve seen in a hot damn minute. That’s how you open a movie, especially when you know you’re gonna get naysayers who think super-indie productions have nothing eye-popping to offer. Well, they have plenty to offer, bitch! Guts and butts and bears—oh my!

I expect Saint Drogo to be a headlining topic on numerous horror movie podcasts in the very near future—the queer ones in particular. There is a lot going on here. Saint Drogo is a film that provides the viewer with ample pieces to pull apart and study. The film also, somehow, acts as a canvas to project one’s thoughts and feelings onto (as you have gathered). Once again, there is a lot going on between the lines. It’s very possible that when I eventually re-watch this film I’ll come away with an entirely different reading of it. Michael J. Ahern, Ryan Miller, and Brandon Perras are still on fire, and I remain eagerly awaiting what they do next.

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