Last month, I analyzed Joshua Grannell’s indie camp horror movie, All About Evil (2010), and in that post, I mentioned that the original inspiration and short film, Grindhouse (2003) was also included in the special edition Blu-Ray. (Please note that the 2003 short film Grindhouse is different than the 2007 feature film of the same name, starring Rose McGowan and Kurt Russell.) I thought it would be fun to continue the scary season in order to analyze the original short film and compare the portrayals of the central reel librarian character, Deborah “Deb” Tennis, in both versions.
If you’re unfamiliar with the central character and premise, the summary on the Blu-Ray edition for All About Evil captures the foundation of both the short film and feature film:
When a mousy librarian takes over her late father’s struggling movie theater, a series of grisly murders caught on camera will transform her into the new queen of indie splatter cinema.
Let’s start by outlining some basic info about each version:
|Grindhouse||All About Evil|
|Director & screenwriter||Joshua Grannell||Joshua Grannell|
|Length||14 mins||98 mins|
|Lead actor playing Deb||Jennifer Taher||Natasha Lyonne|
|Additional librarian characters||None||Mink Stole as Evelyn|
|Library scenes||No library scenes; Deb is referred to one time as a “dirty little librarian” by her mother||Two scenes set and filmed at San Francisco Public Library Presidio Branch library|
|Character played by Joshua Grannell||TV interviewer Richard Hunter||Peaches Christ, drag queen & horror movie buff|
Below is a visual comparison between how we first meet Jennifer Taher as Deb in Grindhouse vs. Natasha Lyonne in All About Evil. Both versions showcase Deb reading a book while at the concession stand, dressed in dowdy clothing and a messy bun. Interesting to note that the 2003 Deb wears glasses — a typical prop for the reel librarian! — while the 2010 Deb does not.
The initial transformation of Deb from librarian to a star — after her first kill is caught on the movie theater’s security camera and accidentally shown to the audience in the theater — remains very similar in both versions. Deb embraces her “star quality” after her first kill, and her liberation from librarian to filmmaker begins:
The way that Deb’s mother describes her also remains almost identical between both versions (except for an adjective used with “librarian”):
- 2003: “You are nothing but a dirty little librarian with big, big, big dreams, and hideous little looks. You read too much. You are nothing but a loser.”
- 2010: “You are nothing but a boring, little librarian with big, big dreams and hideous little looks. Besides, you read too much. You’re a loser.”
In both versions, this is the only time anyone refers to Deb as a librarian.
After this initial “first kill” scene, the rest of the short film then features a TV interview with Deb and interviewer Richard Hunter (Joshua Grannell), during which we flash back to scenes from her real-life slasher films. The TV interview and reporter also pops up in the feature film; the character, a much smaller role, is renamed Peter Gorge (Patrick Bristow). It’s also fun to see how different Deb looks in each incarnation:
Both versions feature tongue-in-(bloody)-cheek references to great literary works, which serve as the inspiration for Deb’s short films:
|Film title / literary inspiration||Grindhouse (2003)||All About Evil (2010)|
|A Tale of Two Severed Titties / A Tale of Two Cities, a novel by Charles Dickens||✓ |
(scene & movie poster)
|The Slasher in the Rye / The Catcher in the Rye, a novel by J. D. Salinger||✓|
|The Scarlet Leper / The Scarlet Letter, a novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne||✓|
|The Maiming of the Shrew / The Taming of the Shrew, a play by William Shakespeare||✓ |
|Gore and Peace / War and Peace, a novel by Leo Tolstoy||X||✓|
|The Diary of Anne Frankenstein / a literary mashup from The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank, and Frankenstein, a novel by Mary Shelley||X||✓|
|The Satanic Nurses / The Satanic Verses, a novel by Salman Rushdie||X||✓|
|I Know Why the Caged Girl Screams / I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, a memoir by Maya Angelou||X||✓|
|MacDeath / Macbeth, a play by William Shakespeare||X||✓|
Beyond the movie titles and posters, Deb’s focus on literature is also highlighted in both versions:
- In the 2003 short film, Deb states in the interview that “While it’s true my films are filled with gore and violence, if you look past all that, you’ll find the great literary works of all time.”
- In the 2010 feature film, we see Deb doing research with a copy of A Tale of Two Cities in her hands, and she gets angry at Mr. Twigs when she suspects he hasn’t read the book she gave him.
This literary connection is also why I think it matters that we learn she’s a librarian in the opening scenes. Although Deb soon sheds her librarian persona in favor of being a “directress” (her own words in both versions), she remains true to her librarian and literary roots.
Here’s a visual comparison between the posters for “A Tale of Two Severed Titties” featured in both versions:
The closeups of Deb portraying “The Scarlet Leper” is also a fun visual comparison, as the bathroom setting for this short film remains similar in both versions.
The original short film doesn’t delve into WHY Deb kills people, beyond her first kill when she stabs her cruel, domineering mother. Grannell fleshes this out in the feature film version, and here’s how I described it in my post last month:
But in her mind, she doesn’t just murder people for fun… she murders them for a reason, because they break “the rules,” her rules. Yet in killing them, she becomes the ultimate rule-breaker herself.
Interestingly, in the 2003 short film, the interviewer also references rule-breaking when describing Deb:
I must say, Deborah, you truly are an original. Never one to play by the rules, you’ve carved out your own Hollywood-type niche.
Ultimately, when comparing the original 2003 short film with the 2010 feature film version, the broad strokes remain the same: Deb’s liberation from librarian to serial killer, her focus on literary works, her murderous method of making her short films, her evolving sense of style, as well as her growing self-confidence and ego. Grannell took the kernel of the idea and reel librarian character from the short film and expanded it, including adding another (epic!) reel librarian character (Evelyn, played by Mink Stole). The more expansive structure and additional characters makes sense, in order to turn a short film into a feature-length film, and it’s gratifying to realize that the foundation for both is similar and solid. Both versions gift us with more reel librarians to be able — as the reporter in Grindhouse puts it — to “love, love to hate, or hate.”
You can read about the tale of Deb and Evelyn, the two reel librarian characters in the feature film version, here in this post, “All about the reel librarians in ‘All About Evil’ (2010).”
- All About Evil. Dir. Joshua Grannell. Perf. Natasha Lyonne, Mink Stole, Thomas Dekker, Cassandra Peterson. Severin Films, 2010.
- Grindhouse. Dir. Joshua Grannell. Perf. Jennifer Taher, Joshua Grannell, Timmy Spence. Backlash Films, 2003. 14 mins.
- Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “All About the Reel Librarians in ‘All About Evil’ (2010).” Reel Librarians, 26 Oct. 2022.