Nearly Naked's Devil Boys from Beyond Proves Everything Old Is Still Old

I think I need a break from camp.

I realized this after attending Devil Boys from Beyond at Nearly Naked Theatre last weekend. It was, I thought, a perfectly executed send-up of old Z-grade science fiction films. But just the fact that I'm typing the phrase "send-up of old Z-grade science fiction films" for the umpteenth time makes me weary. In an age when RuPaul has his own show and in which network family-hour shows offer hourlong tributes to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, everything old seems especially not-so-new again. Shouldn't we be post-camp by now?

I get it: Scoring Buddy Thomas and Kenneth Elliott's zany drag spoof of flying saucer movies right after it closed Off Broadway is a coup. And Devil Boys is exactly the sort of show that put Nearly Naked on the map: a hyper-comic satire of cheeseball cinema, in which some of the women are played by men in Joan Crawford drag and half of the jokes are of the nudge-and-wink variety and designed to make us feel clever for recognizing their provenance.

So, if I was bored at opening night of this comic campathon — and I was, terrifically — it wasn't because this isn't a worthy production. It's because I'm old. Old, old, old. I remember when a man wearing an earring — just one, in his earlobe — was considered shocking; when knowing who Ed Wood was (not to mention having seen his crap masterpiece, Bride of the Monster) was a rare and beautiful thing. Today, I can't help but wonder: Do people still find schlocky space-alien moves of the 1950s funny enough to write one-act parodies of?

Apparently. Because there we were, laughing in spite of ourselves at cornball gags made at the expense of already corny one-liners from old movies. Tittering at the sight of Damon Dering in a giant negligee, frying eggs; sniggering at Doug Loynd as a smart-talking newspaperwoman who's equal parts Totie Fields and Tallulah Bankhead, his face painted like a relief map of Utah. Director Toby Yatso, whose grandparents were probably in grammar school when the flickers being spoofed here were new, has spit-shined these by-now-usual goings-on, and keeps the pace of a Poverty Row programmer. Eric Beeck's amazing set is a Chinese puzzle, unfolding again and again into handy new configurations.

There's a story in there somewhere, of course — typical Hammer Horror nonsense about a small town overtaken by little green men who morph into humpy studs bent on impregnating the local gals. It's all a colossal scream, full of funny one-liners and stacked with profanity and innuendo — and it's all been done a thousand times before. Not always so well as Devil Boys from Beyond, certainly, but when it's camp — a mockery of something that's already crappy to begin with — who can tell? And does it, this late in the game, really matter? Camp used to be shocking and naughty, but lately I find it just a different kind of amusing.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela