Sunday, May 20, 2012

Screaming In High Heels The Rise And Fall Of The Scream Queen Era

Scream queen Quigley Stevens

As the poster above says "a Jason Paul Collum scream come true", Screaming In High Heels The Rise And Fall Of The Scream Queen Era is clearly a labour of love for Collum, who not only wrote, produced and directed the documentary but also appears as an enthusiastic talking head throughout. For the most part the film is an excellent treatment of it's subject, a subject that has been screaming (sorry!) out to be tackled in just this kind of way.

Setting out to tell the story of the mid to late 80's boom in B movies, filtered through the lives and careers of three of the most recognisable starlets of the period, Linnea Quigley, Brinke Stevens and Michelle Bauer. Collum's film also prominently features two of the most prolific directors of these actresses, Fred Olen Ray and David DeCoteau, in movies such as Slave Girls Beyond Infintity, Sorority Babes In The Slimeball Bowl-a-rama (known to UK audiences under the far less exciting name of The Imp.) and perhaps most famously Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers. Films that combined wild titles that always promised more than the movie could deliver, gratuitous nudity, terrible puns and occasional violence on tiny budgets.

Scream queen Quigley Stevens

If I have a criticism of Screaming In High Heels, it's that the film tries to cram a little too much into it's hour or so running time and leaves parts of the story lacking in detail. It begins by covering the decline of the US institution of the Drive In cinema and the subsequent rise of home video as its replacement in fulfilling the needs of exploitation film fans in particular. From there we move onto how the three girls got started in the film business, with some interesting soundbites and clips from the early works of the scream queens, including the revelation that Linnea Quigley was painfully shy! Hard to believe, right? And footage of Bauer in a Playboy video called Flashdancers, complete with New Order's Blue Monday on the soundtrack.

Scream queen Quigley Stevens
As they were
Once the scene setting is complete, we move on to the movies that made them famous, Return Of The Living Dead is mentioned in regard to Quigley but it's mostly the work of Fred Olen Ray and David DeCoteau that are featured. This is the most fun part of the documentary as we get to see the explosion in popularity of the ladies through some great footage of news and chat shows as well as convention appearances. The enthusiasm for this period is infectious as the participants talk of how hard they worked but mainly how much fun it was to be involved.

Scream queen Quigley Stevens

Unfortunately, as with most things, the good times have to come to an end and for Quigley, Bauer and Stevens a combination of three things ended their success. Firstly, the market being flooded with scream queen wannabes, secondly, huge changes in the video industry, namely the proliferation of the massive chain video store such as Blockbuster and thirdly, the inevitable march of time itself. The girls do little to hide their feelings of bitterness on the wannabes, who they feel destroyed the convention circuit for them by ripping off the genuine fans.

Finally we're brought up to date with what the girls did next and this part is a little vague, with Stevens still being active in the horror scene but in micro budget features. Quigley similarly is still active but has done fewer films, having taken time out to care for her sick mother. Bauer says she has largely given the acting up but a quick look on imdb shows she is also still active but to a lesser extent.

Collum does a great job highlighting the three distinctly different personalities he's working with and each has great moments, such as discussing their families reactions to the films they starred in. He has also dug up some excellent clips including a segment on the controversy surrounding the killer Santa flick Silent Night, Deadly Night (in which a topless Quigley is famously featured), with Gene Siskel denouncing first the TV advert and then the movie itself on TV, alongside footage of a protest outside a cinema showing the film (pictured below).

Scream queen Quigley Stevens

As a teenager during this period, at the time these movies were appearing I was already obsessed with film, working my way through the horror and splatter classics, alongside a burgeoning interest in the Hong Kong cinema I grew to love so much. At the same time I was taking in what I could find from the likes of Kurosawa, Leone, Lynch etc. My appetite for film was voracious and I wasn't particularly picky, so I was quite happy to mix the class with the trash. When these films appeared on the local video store shelves, many of which were from Colourbox video in the UK, I couldn't resist the titles, the gaudy cover art or the fact many of them featured Quigley who I was already a fan of from her appearance in Return Of The Living Dead. I enjoyed them on their own terms, recognising the limitations and embracing them as fun trash, the repetition of the leading ladies certainly helped and added personality (not to mention copious nudity!) if not exactly brilliant acting ability. Sometimes personality is more important than ability and in these movies, this was definitely the case.

Scream queen Quigley Stevens
As they are now
What Screaming In High Heels does best is to get across that none of the participants think they made great art with these movies, they see them for what they are. That isn't to say they aren't proud of the work, they quite clearly are and this shines through alongside what a great time they all had.

Whatever your opinion of the movies themselves, if you are of a certain age Screaming In High Heels is guaranteed to take you on a nostalgia trip, back in time to the late 80's, and despite the fact it could have gone deeper on the lives of the girls, that was more than enough for me to love it.


systemshocks said...

Fantastic post, Martin. This sounds like a really interesting and in depth documentary. I recently interviewed Linnea Quigley for Starburst Magazine - she's a nice woman. I think she tried to take some control over her career by going into producing. She has just made a film called Disciples with Brinke Stevens and a host of horror actors, Bill Mosely, Tony Todd, Angus Scrimm.

A hero never dies said...

Thanks Jon, was the interview in person?

The doc is great fun and as a fan, it's required viewing.

robotGEEK said...

I cannot believe I've never heard of this one! What's wrong with me?! Time to fix that ASAP!
Really great review. I was already sold just by the subject matter alone, but your review only makes it sound 1,000 times more interesting. Great job!

robotGEEK said...

Wow! Apparently it's not even available in the U.S. yet because I can't find it anywhere. Guess I'll just have to wait.

Anonymous said...

It's currently airing on NBC Universal's Chiller TV and will be out UNRATED on DVD August 28th from Breaking Glass Pictures. It can also be pre-ordered on Amazon now.

A hero never dies said...

Thanks for the info Anon, may well pick the dvd up!

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