An Evangelical Racecar Driver Seeks Self-Acceptance in the Rock Opera “Evil Babylon”

“Portraying reality through insanity and campiness is kind of our natural defense mechanism.”

Evil Babylon (Body Academics)

Portland is no stranger to fabulous queer storytelling, but local artist collective Body Academics has definitely upped the ante with their latest film, Evil Babylon. The rock opera is billed as “a phantasmagorical, psychosexual science-fiction movie musical masterpiece: the story of a sexually repressed evangelical racecar driver and the kink-positive party planet that leads him on a journey towards self-acceptance.”

Essentially, it’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show on a monster dose of THC with an extra helping of queerness on the side. And the film has already become a success, thanks largely to the support of Anthony Hudson, aka Carla Rossi, who hosted its premiere as part of the Hollywood Theatre’s Queer Horror series.

Evil Babylon returns to the big screen Sept. 29 at the Clinton Street Theater, complete with a pre-show by Body Academics. WW sat down with filmmakers Jeffrey Ray Kieser and Tommy Spaghetteri to learn how the film came to life.

WW: What was the inspiration for Evil Babylon?

Jeffrey Ray Kieser: Well, in November of 2020, Tom and I ate like 300 milligrams of edibles, wrote the plot, then completely forgot that we had written it. Then I woke up the next morning and was like, “Holy shit!”

Tommy Spaghetteria: Then, musically, it all started at the beginning of the pandemic when we were both listening to a lot of goth rock, like a lot of Sisters of Mercy, Clan of Xymox, The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees. So I started making a whole bunch of instrumentals that kind of sounded like those bands without any kind of clear idea of what they were going to do and then gave them all to Jeff.

What made you all decide you wanted to combine animation and live action?

Spaghetteria: I’ve always been a big animation fan, especially stop-motion animation, like weird Czech animation from the ‘60s from Jan Švankmajer. We’ve both always wanted to do animation so we taught ourselves how to do it.

Kieser: I’m a really big Roger Rabbit and Space Jam fan, so I wanted to blend live action and animation just like they had. We had limited resources, so everything had to be shot on a green screen in the studio.

Was there an inspiration for the racecar driver, Lucky Thundermax (played by Kieser)?

Kieser: I was watching this reality show called Welcome to Plathville about this really weird Christian family who kept everything super insular, like their kids weren’t allowed to do anything. There’s this one character called Micah Plath who, he’s not gay, but he’s a male model in L.A., and he always had these huge eyes just looking at the world like he had never seen anything. Everything was new to him.

With all of the different themes that you explore in Evil Babylon, like queerness, heteronormativity and religion, what made you all decide to play in this sandbox?

Kieser: I grew up in a really, really atheist family, and the way that I rebelled was by joining the Baptist church when I was 14. It was really fun and the guys were really cute. We had lock-ins at the church where we played basketball and Halo on the Xbox and it seemed like a really friendly and welcoming environment, until I realized I was gay. Then I began to realize that they didn’t want that part of me. But ever since I’ve been fascinated by Christianity, especially the energy of youth groups.

Spaghetteria: I grew up as a halfhearted Christian. My parents never took me to church, but I went to Catholic schools and I hated that so much. I saw the hypocrisy of these so-called Catholics at school and became a hardened atheist in my preteen years.

Evil Babylon is as campy and kooky as they come, but it is also tethered to a reality that we can recognize in our day-to-day lives. What are your thoughts on portraying truth through such extreme hyperbole and insanity?

Kieser: I think that if you can laugh at something, especially something that is affecting you, then you can reflect on it and maybe heal from it a little bit. At the premiere, we had someone who used to be a pastor who’s now a drag queen, and they fucking lost it but were also very touched by it.

Spaghetteria: I just feel like real life is already so absurd and surreal and gross that I guess portraying reality through insanity and campiness is kind of our natural defense mechanism.

What are your future plans for Evil Babylon?

Kieser: I think we’re gonna do a VHS release before we even put it online. I just want people to become obsessed with it and, so far, we’ve had people that want to keep seeing it. I think that’s a really good sign.

SEE IT: Evil Babylon screens at the Clinton Street Theater, 2522 SE Clinton St., 971-808-3331, 7 pm Friday, Sept. 29. $10.

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