Icons of drag, horror, filth and glamour, The Boulet Brothers are back on our screens with the fourth season of their reality competition series Dragula. The show has undergone a massive budget jump, with higher production value than previous seasons, and a whopping $100,000 prize, up from just $25,000 in Season Three.
For anyone who isn’t familiar with Dragula, the new season plunges you into the pure shlocky beauty of its aesthetic with an opening sketch. The iconic Boulet Brother masks find their way into people’s lives to signal the approach of a new series. This skit has the precise vibe of every classic horror movie that has stood the test of time.
Horror is not just an aesthetic for Dragula; it informs every element of the show. Season Four kicks off with the contestants being dropped off in a dark alley. To arrive at the competition, they must make their way through a dingy corridor haunted by shrieking figures leaping out of the shadows.
There are a wealth of clumsily made horror films out there to show just how easily this all could have gone terribly wrong. However, from the first minute of the show, the Boulet Brothers make their horror expertise evident. The competitors seem genuinely shaken by the experience, but in a way that makes it clear they’re enjoying it. Watching from home, you get the impression of a really well-made, immersive experience for the competitors that is shot and edited in a way that absorbs you fully into the atmosphere.
The episode is structured to give you plenty of time to get to know each competitor as an artist and performer. The balance of confessional segments, scenes of them interacting and the scripted horror sections makes for a well-paced show.
The cast is fantastic, with a fair amount of diversity in everything from age to cultural heritage and creative approaches. HoSo Terra Toma stands out immediately, with her Yōkai-inspired horror looks offering a different perspective on the genre as a whole.
It’s also lovely to see trans woman Bitter Betty and cis woman Sigourney Beaver competing. As well as both being incredible creators, they are each given space on the show to discuss their place in the wider drag community and the role that women, both cis and trans, have historically played in drag culture. It’s refreshing to see such topics broached directly and see them taken seriously.
One unexpected addition to the cast is Jade Jolie, who has previously appeared on RuPaul’s Drag Race. Her drag isn’t known for being particularly alternative – and she does show up initially in attire that leans more towards pretty goth girl than monster. However, it soon becomes clear that she has thrown herself headfirst into the spirit of the competition. In both the challenges and the confessionals, she comes across as upbeat, optimistic and generally excited to be in a different type of drag environment.
The first challenge the competitors face is to get through an “extreme maze of terror” just to reach the work room ahead of their debut floor show. This sees them locked in claustrophobic boxes, led through abandoned prison bunks and sat in front of headlights speeding towards them. The way this tests their ability to fully embrace the horror experience, as well as the aesthetic that they bring to their drag, makes for a hugely entertaining, if at times terrifying, show.
The first floor show sees the contestants create a look inspired by a horror icon. This offers a great start to the season. As well as showcasing each competitor’s creative approach and ability, it also gives us a glimpse into their relationship with horror as a genre and the kind of characters that they relate to. This makes it really easy to connect with different performers based on what favourites you have in common, along with being able to appreciate each one’s design and performance skills.
The floor show is about so much more than just the looks. It’s masterfully edited to feel like the episode is ramping up to an amazing climax. It begins with a montage of silhouettes, offering a tantalising flash of each one, before moving onto the reveals. You are then treated to sequences of each contestant walking the runway, flinging off any top layers and showing off their chosen props.
This is where the performers really shine. In addition to looking the part, they incorporate elements of movement to evoke the characters they are inspired by. Their ability to blend their own identities into their parts makes for some of the most captivating moments of the entire show. The way that artists manage to make characters like Michael Myers from Halloween and the Xenomorph from Alien into sensual, sexy drag displays an unrivalled level of skill on the stage. Jade Jolie throwing a handful of squirming maggots into her mouth made a statement about her commitment to this series that was impossible to ignore.
The Boulet Brothers, it should go without saying, are stunning.
The judges’ critiques across the board were fair and presented constructively and kindly. While other drag-centred programmes are currently seeing controversy for putting negative comments into judges’ mouths, Dragula’s approach to competition is undeniably refreshing. They accept that drag is an art form and that art is subjective, and that their comments are directed at how well each performer completed the task they were set.
The bottom two competitors faced off against each other in the extermination challenge, which forced them to confront very real fears. Having two artists buried alive while their coffins gradually fill with bugs feels like a difficult challenge to top in future episodes. It is going to be absolutely worth watching to see what else the Boulet Brothers put their monsters through to win that coveted sceptre.
The episode finishes with another scripted scene. It sees the two bottom competitors escaping their graves and running home through the forest – only for the one that didn’t survive the extermination to be captured, stabbed and left for dead on the ground.
This feels like a perfect way to end the episode, bookending it comfortably with the short film at the beginning. It also showcases a Boulet Brothers original track without it feeling shoehorned it. Finally, it lends the revelation of the exterminated competition a sense of drama that fits with the themes and tensions of the rest of the episode so far.
To pull off this scene in a way that feels just the right about of hammy to suit the horror aesthetic, but not veer into the realm of silly or off-putting, is in itself a talent.
Dragula has, in every possible sense, set a new precedent with the first episode of its latest season. The production value and quality is ramped up, the competitors are fierce, and the stakes feel impossibly, irresistibly high.