By Jude Jones
An anthropomorphic fox-deity parading a human-skin kabuki mask. A muscle-suit murderer hidden inside a Hello Kitty head. A bimbo alien stripper blessed with two pairs of voluptuous, Amanda Lepore-esque tits.
These are just a few of the monsters inhabiting the twisted cosmos of Chinese-born, New York-based make-up artist and fashion designer Niohuru X, recently crowned the winner of season five of The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula. Her run, during which she accumulated two wins and high praise from the judges in almost every single episode, is one of the most dominant we have seen from the freak-show consortium of contestants that the Boulets bring to our screens each year, their show gaining swelling momentum as the grungier, grittier stepson to the often hyper-sanitised, hyper-glamorous drag-world zeitgeist that RuPaul has been feeding for over fifteen years now.
That isn’t to say that the glamourous has no place in the Boulet Brothers’s topsy-turvy drag underworld. Much to the contrary, it was precisely Niohuru’s ability to infuse jaw-dropping glamour into looks dripping (sometimes literally) with the show’s other two core tenets – filth and horror – that won her so much applause. Which is testament to Niohuru’s sheer artistry. Because although Dragula is increasingly becoming a staple of the queer television circuit, it still lacks the magnetic pull and cultural ubiquity of its elder stepsister, meaning it lacks its market power, too. Of course, the low-budget, ‘70s slasher punk aesthetic is – I would hazard to assume – much more the visual referent Dragula is gearing towards than World of Wonder’s gaudy Main Stage and Werk Room. However, the lesser money in the “monster drag” that Dragula spotlights also induces a hook-and-crook craftiness in its contestants. In a concept largely foreign to the Instagram-model queens of the contemporary Drag Race epoque, then, all Dragula monsters must finish all their looks on-set before adjoining it with a convincing on-stage performance, often in front of bonified horror icons like Elvira or heavy-metal android Poppy. Failure to live up to expectations results in contestants being dropped into “extermination challenges”, of which past iterations include live burials, latex suffocation, and hypodermic-needle injections.