Drag. Filth. Horror. Glamour.
That’s what it’s all about in the ‘Dragula’ show, which has brought its most recent 2 seasons to Netflix.
‘Dragula’ is a drag competition that demands its contestants deliver their most horrifying costume design, performance, and endurance to show who is the next Drag Super Monster. The show is like if ‘Drag Race,’ a Marylin Manson video, and ‘Fear Factor’ were put in a kitschy queer blender.
The resulting cocktail is served to you by two spooktacular hosts, The Boulet Brothers. Dracmorda and Swanthula Boulet are so endearingly, ass-kickingly into their slasher-meets-queen thing. Any true horror fan can’t not love them.
While ‘Dragula’ may seem a random or overly gimmicky combination of drag and horror, the Boulet Brothers and their contestants emphasize that the mix makes a lot of sense. Many queer folks grow up identifying with the weird and the villainous, with the outcast. For many, being queer is all about being put in a box and saying “Nah, fuck that box.”
And even with those common queer experiences, ‘Dragula’ speaks to those who have been told that they’re too weird for the mainstream queer scene. Many contestants talk about being alienated within their home drag communities for embracing their true strange selves.
As the Boulets discussed in an interview with Wussy Magazine: “[W]hen you are young, and you feel unaccepted by your family or community, and you’re like, ‘I’m gay. Let me go to the gay city and join the gay community,’ and then you get there, and you’re like, ‘Oh. I don’t fit in here at all. This is not what I expected.’ Those are the people who end up on ‘Dragula.’”
On the show, each episode starts with a little campy, creepy cold opener. The opener features our deadly diva hosts Swanthula and Dracmorda, committing murder and mayhem in utterly fabulous attire.
After the opening credits, contestants are given a challenge. Turn your drag persona into a Cenobite from Hellraiser. Transform into a circus freak. Craft outstanding but vile Trash Queen Couture.* Each challenge keeps the audience guessing about how wild each look will turn out.
*I remain INCENSED that no one referenced the Zoolander ‘Derelicte’ trash fashion show in this challenge.
In between getting the challenge and showing off their work, the contestants work on their projects in the Boudoir, chatting and catting.
Season 3 has the best Boudoir scenes. That season has the best Boudoir set up and provides viewers with a better idea of how contestants draft their concepts. And, either because of editing changes or having different casts, Season 3 has a great mix of backroom interactions. There’s gossip and putdowns, but there are also more moments of encouragement and vulnerability. Contestants discuss struggles that speak to a lot of the greater queer community—addiction, homelessness, traumatic parental rejection. Not gonna lie—expect some waterworks here and there.
Then, contestants present in the Floor Show, exhibiting their incredible talents in character design, costume crafting, and performance. It’s naturally the best part of every episode, but what’s especially awesome is the variety of what you’ll see.
Shows like ‘Project Runway’ just give you stuff that wants to look pretty. ‘Dragula’ welcomes glamour, but is also a home for the grotesque and bizarre. So in the Floor Show, your eyes get to be treated to an incredibly diverse display of art and interpretations of drag.
The same floor show may feature one contestant on stilts, another one covered in fake plague scabs, another looking like a gothic goddess. These performers will put needles through their faces or eat their own hair—they came to SLAY (maybe literally….) You’re never gonna know if these queens will set out to intentionally entice or disgust you. It’s just so frickin’ awesome.
Like any great runway competition show, the contestants are then delivered praising or scathing judgment by the Boulets and guest judges. Interestingly, a disclaimer was added in Season 3. Contestants are told each episode: “We are not here to judge your drag. Drag is art and art is subjective. What we are judging you on is your drag as it relates to this competition.”
This statement is so important, and so different from any other reality show. Even the notoriously overly-kind Great British Bake Off doesn’t tell their bakers “Frosting and sprinkles are art, and art is subjective.”
This disclaimer acknowledges both the respect for performers’ art and that the challenges are asking for a temporary adaptation of that art to a particular purpose.
In the judging portion, the Boulets address their charges pointedly but honestly. “We want to push you to grow and develop,” as they say. The judging showcases the Boulet Brothers’ and ‘Dragula’s’ mixture of nasty and nice. When the nasty comes out, it’s sharp like butcher knife. When the nice comes out, it’s genuine, thoughtful, and cathartic.
After judging, a winner for the week is declared. But the bottom 2 or 3 are then slated to battle in Extermination Challenges. This is where the ‘Fear Factor’ part of ‘Dragula’ comes in. The Boulet Brothers really mean it when they say this is a horror competition. They aren’t going to shy away from the truly terrifying. They aren’t going to spare their contestants from facing real fears. And yes, this means sometimes eating bugs, enduring pain, or being buried alive. Just be glad it isn’t happening to you, kids.
As the Boulets explain in Season 2, the extermination challenges are crafted to drive participants as much as they are to intimidate them. The challenges are all about “push your limits, I am alive, I am a primal being, I’m tough. …and it’s fun as fuck to watch.”
Sometimes it’s clear who has succeeded or failed at an extermination challenge, sometimes it isn’t. But at the end of the episode, things transition to the ‘Later That Evening…’ sequence. In these scenes, we find out who has been eliminated by watching that contestant get killed off, slasher-style.
Likely modeled after the horror classic ‘Blood and Black Lace’, each contestant gets brutally taken out by an unseen killer. The real killer isn’t much of a mystery—the trademark talon-like nails are a dead giveaway for the Boulet Brothers. It’s camp, it’s nasty, but it’s also kinda sweet. For those being sent home, they at least get to star in their own mini feature (which were probably a blast to shoot).
If you dive into all of ‘Dragula’s’ seasons, you’ll watch it grow from a ‘wing and a prayer’ budget ala Season 1 (available on YouTube) to the much better funded Season 3. Season 3 shows what the Boulets can do with production quality when they have a solid budget, and it’s frightfully fabulous.
Another improvement in Season 3 is that unlike past seasons, all contestants are shown out-of-costume during their confessional scenes. This choice and the casting of seasons have highlighted ‘Dragula’s’ promotion of a truly open drag and queer scene.
Season 2 featured the incomparable Disasterina—who is a straight man married to a woman when she isn’t strutting her outrageous self on stage. Disasterina was beloved by the contestants and judges. This casting broke a taboo not usually addressed in mainstream drag or queer culture: one can be straight yet also a queer. In ‘Dragula,’ it’s just a part of the joyfully celebrated ‘high gender fuckery.’
Season 3 features a drag king who proudly plays with her Hispanic heritage, and a nonbinary queen who crafts costumes from tampons.
This diverse casting influences the inclusivity of drag culture even within ‘Dragula.’ For example, in past seasons with no AFAB(Assigned Female At Birth) performers, the word ‘fishy’ is thrown around candidly. In Season 3, however, nonbinary AFAB Hollow Eve shuts down use of that word as soon as it comes up in the Boudoir.
Through these groundbreaking casts, ‘Dragula’ has made more history in its representation within 3 seasons than ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ has in its 11 seasons. Until ‘Dragula’ Season 3, no drag king had ever been featured on a televised drag competition in the US.
This might speak to how embracing the weirder side of life actually means embracing the more inclusive side of life. All freaks may freely chant “One of us! One of us!”
That open approach to drag really shows the positive message that ‘Dragula’ is all about. Entertainment-focused, bizarre art can also be thoughtful in its position and direction.
“What we need to do is dig our hands in and change peoples’ minds,” as the Boulets say in Season 2.
And that’s the awesomeness that can really suck you in at ‘Dragula.’ It isn’t here for complacency or divisiveness (Boudoir cattiness aside.) It isn’t here for fear, regret, or remorse. ‘Dragula’ is here to change what queer art is about and to give a happy ghoulish home to all the weirdos out there.
You can check out all the supermonsters of ‘Dragula’ seasons 2 and 3 now on Netflix.