“I wouldn’t if I were you/I know what she can do/
She’s deadly, man, she could really rip your world apart…
Ooh, the beauty is there but a beast is in the heart…
Here she comes/Watch out, boy, she’ll chew you up.
She’s a maneater!" — Hall & Oates
It’s 1986 and Liane Alexandra Curtis, then Liane Curtis, was working as a hostess at Ruelle’s, a posh New York City restaurant on Columbus and 74th St. This is before Critters 2: The Main Course, but even then Curtis was hungry for adventure. After her shift, Liane and her brother Stever and some dude named Ray took a spin in Liane’s pick-up truck (yes, she had a pick-up truck, a Nissan 4 x 4 purchased while shooting her arc on the Best Times TV series, “to impress a guy”). Ray drove…because he’s Ray, and Stever rode shotgun. Liane was sandwiched in the middle of the truck’s cab, gaping curiously out the driver side window.
As they headed North up Broadway a red light brought them to a stop beside a car driven by a guy in his late-twenties, a guy who was totally pissed that he hadn’t made the light. Since the windows to the pick-up were down Liane decided to lean over Ray and ask, in her off-handed way, “Why so mad?” Then she pulled “Froggy,” a rubber finger puppet, off her cigarette lighter. Placing it over her pointer finger, she looked at the miffed man in the next motor vehicle and said, “ Froggy’s a happy guy and he says you should lighten up.” Smiling, she threw the puppet through Pissy’s open window.
“Oh yeah?” Pissy replied curtly. “Why don’t you come get your Froggy?”
Curtis did just that, getting out of the pick-up and heading over to Pissy’s driver side window to retrieve her cigarette lighter cover. Pissy grabbed Liane by the back of her hair in haste and pulled her into his car through the driver side window. With his left hand he held her down in his lap by her hair and, with right hand in his pocket, proceeded to throw a mondo shit fit.
“Maybe Froggy should mind his own fucking business! How do you know I don’t have a gun to your head?! I’ll give you fucking Froggy!”
Ray got out of the driver’s seat of Curtis’s truck and started pounding on Pissy who released Curtis so he could defend himself. Liane got back in the truck and hid behind Stever while Ray got in the driver side. “Super freak is now out of his car,” Curtis later tells me. “He tries to throw a punch at Ray but clips Stever in the nose.
“I, of course, am smashed between the two seats so I don’t get hit. It all happened so fast. Ray then accelerates and we start up Broadway with this nut bag following us. At one point in the chase, Ray turned left onto a one way street and then backed up Broadway for a block.
“Then he hopped over to 10th Ave still heading uptown. I told him to go straight up to 82nd street, to the 20th [Precinct] where I knew two of the officers who came around the restaurant. I knew they would help.”
They finally got up to 20th and Liane went tearing in. Pissy pulled up behind Curtis & Co. and was “stupid enough to run in after me.” Liane rambled a mile a minute and was, ultimately, escorted out after being offered some water. Meanwhile Pissy got popped for possession of illegal substance after the cops discovered some booger sugar on his person.
A coke-addled crazy curmudgeon psychotic enough to follow his “victim” to law enforcement’s lions den? Some would call that a close shave. Some would say Curtis was lucky the lunatic with the load of weasel dust didn’t set aside his speed ball and surface aggression long enough to pull a gun or blade on them. But Curtis? She sees it differently.
“Good times…I actually still talk to two detectives up there.”
Such is the steely shrewd ‘tude of Liane Curtis and such was the spirit of the Eighties, a time when even voodoo economics and scary global arms trading and record poverty couldn’t keep the space blasters down. It was the epoch of slap bracelets and snow lights, a simpler (?) or, at least, crazier time when adventure could be yours for the taking and where a nose bleed was “B.F.D.” The Bowery was alive, at all hours, with the remnants of an awesome scene that had started in the mid-Seventies and had yet to be bought and sold by Beverly Hills bureaucrats intent on turning punk rock into bourgeois boutique.
Liane Curtis was one of these punks, whether she knew it or not, and that self-same spirit of fearless confidence oozes from the crevices of her entire cinematic canon. Whether playing the cutesy best friend (Benny & Joon) or the leather-clad outcast (Rock N Roll High School Forever), Liane exuded and still exudes the essence of an era that now stands as a monument to excess, unrest and irresponsibility but which should stand, in the minds of the nostalgic and keen, as the last great apex of possibility.
To watch the films, especially the horror films, of the Eighties is to hear an obsidian siren call that sings, “The night is for fucking.” That is to say, night is a time of boundless pleasures and possibilities, an ochre-pastel purgatory of thrills and pandemonium. Wilson Pickett sang about it thusly, “I’m gonna wait til the midnight hour/That’s when my love comes tumbling down.” It was, also, an exceptional phase for fearsome flicks and one of the funniest and most unique was a 1989 B-movie that capped off the era in appropriately subversive fashion. It was called Girlfriend from Hell and you’ve doubtlessly vibed out to its vampish allures in the midnight hour when, stoned for sleep and dog-tired of lousy late night TV offerings, you toggled over to Comedy Central or Cinemax and saw something you’ll never shake—a serpentine siren in sheer stockings engaged in Stooges-worthy slapstick and some hardcore soul-sucking.
I had admired Curtis and the soul-sucking horror quasi-spoof ‘Girlfriend’ for all of my adult life, but I never thought we’d flap jaws or otherwise interface in any real way. So you can imagine my surprise when, thanks to the universal connectedness of social networking, I received a Facebook message on my twenty-ninth birthday from Liane, wishing me a happy b-day. Hardly the kind of kismet it might seem, since I did, after all, send her a friend request earlier in the year, when I was attaching actors to an ultimately doomed Dario Argento remake and had her work on the brain. But still…Maggie the Succubitch come with birthday tidings while visions of pubescent hi-jinks and soul-sucking dance in my dome? It was almost too good to be true and I knew I had to grill her about the decidedly gore-free gruefest that was ‘Girlfriend.’
A bizarro world B-comedy, Girlfriend From Hell was distinct from the horror-comedies of the period by virtue of its many peculiarities, anachronistic touches like…why is the leading man’s couch potato father wearing surgical gloves while reading the newspaper?! It also had all the cornerstones of a good wacky weirdo pic of the period, not least among them the diffused blue light pouring through the bay windows at the film’s central house party location (where our anti-heroine happens to crash-land unannounced and put a serious damper on the block-headed Rocko’s reluctant birthday party), and a pushy port-and-tequila-swilling succubitch with a red dress on that so many of us wish we could walk with down a dark alley…especially if leather-clad street-punk hoodlums who know Karate happen to show up (yep, it’s that varied).
Then twenty-four years old and fresh off her first supporting lead role (in the aforementioned Critters sequel), Liane Curtis got the part of “Maggie,” a waif-ish wallflower girl possessed by a salacious demoness, at the expense of her representation at ICM (one of the industry’s largest and most coveted talent agencies).
“It was a combination of things,” Liane told me of her falling out with her agent(s). “The last straw is that I got pregnant with my now twenty-three-year old, Tyler. The comment from my agent there, Steve Small, was,’Nobody wants to hire a pregnant woman. Go home and get skinny and call me after you have the kid.’ I was soooooo pissed off.”
“I knew that August Entertainment had called to make an offer and, for two days, I was being told from the GFH [Girlfriend From Hell] side that ICM was not returning their calls. Small was on vacation and Carla Hacken [now running Fox 2000] was watching out for his clients.
“When I finally called over there and asked why they were being so slow to respond to a solid offer, she [Hacken] said, ‘ICM doesn’t rep talent who insist on being in a B movie like GFH.’”
This was the blow that broke the camel’s back. “Umm…whether I am at ICM or Joe Schmo agency you (agent person) ultimately work for me, not the other way around. So I said, that may be true, but please don’t blow the deal. Call them back, accept it and let’s move on please.”
“What was it about the film that ruffled feathers there?” I ask.
“I think they thought I was above it. I am not, nor have I ever been, above taking work, unless it is outright porn or a film which espouses something so sicko that I make a conscious choice not to participate.”
Girlfriend From Hell may not be a sicko movie, but since its release—largely overlooked at the time but later embraced on basic cable throughout the Nineties—it has attracted a cult audience that just might have a spazmo pervo or two in the bunch. Witness the following statement, from a blog post @ Mr. Gable’s Reality: “There is this one pretty epic scene,” Gable says of GFH. “Between this dude and his girlfriend.
“He just got jerked off by Satan and it was the greatest thing ever. And his girlfriend is jealous and preachy. She decides that she’ll blow him to show him how much she loves him. She pulls it out and she’s all like, ‘Icky icky icky icky,’ and then she looks at it and proclaims, ‘IT’S SO UGLY!’ HAHAHA so true ladies, so true. But she goes down on him anyway and when it’s all over, HE STILL WANTS SATAN! HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!”
I tell Liane that there are legions like this lad Mr. Gable who love ‘Girlfriend’ for the eye candy alone. “There’s a whole paragraph in one of the blogs I’ve read about the film that is totally preoccupied with the undergarments and ‘leg coverings’ worn by you in this movie. What can you tell me about that? Was this stuff that you were outfitted with by the costume dept or was everyone bringing in stuff from home?”
“It is usually a mixture of all of that,” Liane explains. “But for GFH I was dressed by Libby Goldstein, our wardrobe designer. If an actor has everyday clothing that’s already distressed (gently worn) so it doesn’t look like it was just bought, sometimes wardrobe prefers to use it.”
“And how did this unique cinematic beast come to fruition?” I ask.
“Insanity basically prevailed and pedal to the metal was the M.O. ’cause we had eighteen days and a limited budget. Everyone loved [director] Dan, so we all worked hard for him to make it happen.”
It was during pre-production that this love manifested itself in a more consummate way, as intimacy blossomed between the auspicious director and his bedazzling she-devil star. “He was super-nice,” Curtis tells me. “And funny as well. He still makes me laugh.”
Androgyny was big in the Eighties, at least in those dark margins that la nouveau romantique inhabited, and the movies were no exception. I fondly recall Joyce Hyser in Just One of the Guys as readily as my crotch throbs with nostalgia for the salad days of Siouxsie & The Banshees. Just One of the Guys was, for those of you too young or fucked up to remember, the grandmother of all gender-bending flicks. It concerned an ambitious high school senior who wanted desperately to win a journalism internship at a popular newspaper and her subsequent masquerading as an effeminate man-boy after sensing that she was denied said internship because of her sex. Without it the abrasive Amanda Bynes would never have had such tween success with She’s The Man and John Cameron Mitchell may never have gotten to share with us his Angry Inch.
The first charm of Curtis in ‘Girlfriend’ is her boyish good looks as the awkward "Maggie," a wallflower chick fond of plastering her hair back against her skull like a Charlie McCarthy doll and grimacing at the prospect of wearing faux-eyelashes. It is this sense of The New Half, as the trannies call it, that makes Curtis’s transmogrification into heinous hell-born sex-demon that much more intense–kind of like pining for the nerdy best friend and then going over to her house on a humid weekend afternoon and discovering that her saucy older sister just came home from spring break with an uncontainable itch to show everyone her flawless tan line. It could just be me but I think the dryer shrunk my swim trunks.
But of course Liane Curtis’s succubitch is far more than mere boner fodder. Courtesy of Curtis’s inimitable cackle, crazed imp-eyes and sly smile, Maggie The Succubitch is elevated from object of estrus to raw paragon of pure puppy love–how can you not fall head over feet for a hell-hound who horks gallo like she doles giallo to dorks? This chick isn’t just damn sexy, she’s goddamn unpredictable and funny to boot!
The film holds up today due in large part to Curtis’s confidence in the part and, alternately, the swagger seen on-screen from Dana Ashbrook (then of Twin Peaks fame) who plays “Chaser,” the consummate figure for Eighties anti-hero—a beer-quaffing skirt-chasing phallic-raygun-wielding human erection in a rain coat. If the movie commits a crime (other than passive-aggressive male chauvanism) it’s the film’s choice to run wastrel on long digressions concerning Diane (Curtis’s character’s possessive best friend) and her Yuppie tool of a boyfriend, when we should be spending more time with Maggie who is so much fun that simply observing her chewing on a Cheesy Curl is a bona fide blast.
But to love Girlfriend from Hell is to love it warts and all and, even if you are put off by the brief desultory asides, it could always be worse. Director Dan Peterson had initially conceived of the pic as something called Babysitter from Hell, no doubt in a move to capitalize off of (or lampoon) the success of the Chris Columbus-Elizabeth Shue collab Adventures in Babysitting that had scored big back in ’87. Horror fans and horny hell-hounds everywhere can thank the gods we didn’t get that one, even if Curtis herself insists that it would’ve made sense. “In real life I was the Babysitter from Hell, for sure.”
By the late-eighties we’d all seen horror take on the shape of a Henny Youngman routine with the mainstreaming of the macabre delivered us by the sequelized Freddy Krueger (once a child molester now, suddenly, an opening stand-up act spouting silly catch-phrases), but nowhere had we seen a pseudo-villain as sharp and self-effacing as she was succulent and salacious. If Krueger was horror’s Jimmy Durante then Maggie-As-Demoness was genre film’s Marquis de Sade & Lady Godiva & Lady Bathory all rolled into one fine pair of red leggings.
If you strip away Maggie, and Curtis’s metamorphosis of the same, from nebbish nerd to big-haired behemoth bitch in heels, you’re left with a sub-par sci-fi spoof with little going for it beyond the typical Summer School/Porky’s/Real Genius sex comedy sight gags and neon Speedo couture. And this is a testament to the very special and inimitable talent that Curtis achieves, in this and everything else she’s ever done.
A quick glance at the desperate direct-to-video sequel Rock N Roll High School Forever, a seemingly too-little-too-late follow-up to the Allan Arkush-Roger Corman-Ramones Mania classic, displays the earmarks of any lame sophomore endeavor. Indeed, the flick in question appears, on the surface, to lack everything that made the Seventies original what it was—no Ramones, no first or second generation punk rock music, only a secondary turn by the first film’s Mary Woronov [fellow B-movie legend] in a role that’s more a deranged parody of her part in the first than a direct descendant of said original, and a Damn The Man prom demolition plot that only hints at the groundwork previously laid.
Then you look closer and you see a gleeful chaos erupting all over every frame, as punk posterboy Mojo Nixon shows up as the notorious Eagle Bauer, Corey Feldman skateboards into frame doing his most assured Michael Jackson schtick and weirdness proliferates in every direction, from “Lithuanian” refrigeration worshiping to bewitched black magic stereotype shattering and beyond. And who is that in the director’s chair this time? Why it’s not Allan Arkush, it’s Deborah Brock! A UCLA Film School student with a bizarro sense of humor and mondo balls to go with her vagina.
And who is that black-clad figure in the spindly skintight jeans and Band of Outsiders bangs looking like Joey Ramone’s twin sister? Lo, it is Liane Curtis sho nuff! And she’s strutting and swaggering and clowning for the camera in a way that makes you wanna sing, “Hallelujah! Gabba gabba hey!” It’s then, as Curtis’s moves carry us through the Nickelodeon-worthy opening credits sequence and into sordid and strange gender-eschewing shenanigans, that we realize this movie is Ramones in spirit but the best kinda Feminist in execution and that is what makes things interesting.
Gone are the jingoistic chauvanist sexual preoccupations of the Arkush-Corman original and here is something completely unique to the lo-fi quickie comedy genre—a B-rock pic with a Richard Lester sense of manic fun and an arch-Absurdist woman’s touch. And virtually all the credit goes to my new friend Curtis.
“Oh, there was quirk cubed,” Liane says with a nostalgic lilt when queried about the queer brilliance of the sequel. “Between the refrigerator dance, my eating the sushi in Science class (causing Whitney to projectile puke), the Mojo Nixon [bedroom] sequence and going to see Michael Cerveris & his "cheval" special…pretty nutty. I got to have a blast with it all. So I would say that was D.G. Brock’s quirk + my zany = Stella (Curtis’s character in the flick).”
And this parallels pristinely the improvisational achievements had on the ‘Girlfriend’ set (“Spitting the wine through my front teeth @ Hilary was all mine and the 1st thing which jumps out in my memory. I have also had people be uncomfortable with my driving before and gone into fits of uncontrollable laughter as a result hence the cackling while mowing nuns down and throughout all the driving scenes. I actually laughed out loud just now thinking about it.”).
A fairly grand-scale image begins to appear, one of a work-horse eccentricity savant whose every move made the movies in question what they were. Then there’s always the work of the department keys whose job it is to take modest endowments and soup them up for the age of Bigger Is Better: “Make up and my wig took over an hour to apply and put on. They had to grip tape my boobs and stuffed my bra and shade in a cleavage.” Here the ordinarily coquettish Curtis demurely adds, “Was that T.M.I.?”
For die hard fans of fetishistic fun and funky period ridiculousness, there is no such thing as T.M.I.–just look at the way fanboys eat up those “special features” that litter the digital video disc. Despite Lionsgate’s refusal, to date, to release Girlfriend From Hell to DVD the flick has amassed a king’s ransom of kinky and keen fans, the sort of cult acolytes who are scattered and random but loyal as all get (just see the blogposts for the evidence). And Liane would like to be pals with every last one of ’em. “They should friend me on FB…It’s always a lot of fun to talk GFH.”
“We call it a cult film now,” I say. “But it seems like it struggled a bit back then. Any idea what the catalyst was for its slow maturation into a fan favorite?”
“We never got a theatrical release,” Liane says, sharing with me a story that is, unfortunately, all too typical of the innovative genre offerings of its time. “LIVE [then-distributor] put it straight to video and then buried it. Lions Gate may own it now but I’m not sure. I wish there had been more money behind it. Usually [that is] the problem when things don’t see the light of day. It’s a funny film and I think Dan’s best work. I think the catalyst was and is, probably, word of mouth.”
Maugre the massive oversight of the distributor’s modern-day treatment of this archived neo-classic, Curtis nevertheless brightens at the prospect of a return to the Maggie material. “I would love to reprise my Maggieness. GFH: Next Generation or something, where we meet the couples 25 years later…it would be a total hoot.”
That might sound like a muddled fever dream or an utter implausibility, but then you think of what Liane’s RNR Forever castmate Corey [Feldman] has done with the ‘Lost Boys’ franchise or what the now-red-eyed ‘fro-centric Fresh Prince is doing with Barry Sonnenfeld, it seems like a reasonable request.
While we’re on the subject I ask Curtis for a few pointers about what to do if one finds themselves in the clutches of a Succubitch. “If the demoness enters my date what can I expect?”
“An Excedrin headache of immense proportions, to be sure.”
“How might one avoid a soul-sucking?”
“Pretend you’re gay,” she says, evidently as amusing as she ever was.
“And does one even want to avoid it?” I ask with characteristic lasciviousness.
“Well,” she says. “Don’t pretend you’re gay, but please do let me know afterward whether or not one wants to avoid it…I’ll be waiting. Post-haste, dear.”
She’s succeeded in turning your reliable narrator on and all I can do is take the proper precautions (This is the Eighties, remember? Ya can’t be too careful). “What are the fringe benefits of a soul-sucking?”
“One loses all of one’s excess weight in a blissful, stealthy, accelerated yet permanent way,” she promises. “Unless the demoness decides or is convinced to return you to your original state of being.” There is a penetrating pause and then, “Good luck, Chuck…I mean ‘Bob.’”
Now we’ve both turned as bright red as Maggie’s glowing hell-hound eyes and the conversation must veer back into professionalism, for the sake of my soul if nothing else. I share with Liane my feelings about the films of the Eighties, the sense of nocturnal dangers & thrills, of stimulating possibility. “What do you generally get up to in the Midnight Hour?” I ask, striving for that journalistic responsibility.
“How disappointing is this?” she exclaims. “I am usually watching Law and Order re-runs on channel 13…post-TMZ. Or I am sound asleep on the couch, pretending to be watching Law and Order re-runs while drooling on to a pillow, telling whoever it is who tries to shut the TV off that I am actually awake and was ‘not sleeping!’”
None of this is disappointing to a true blue Girlfriend From Hell fan since it illustrates how authentic Curtis’s demoness really was/is. Instead of the squeaky clean Stepford actress slumming it up as a hell-spawned demon-atrix, Curtis really revels in the dark arts. And that is just what any fan wants to hear.
At one point I ask her what she thinks would make for the perfect night out on the town for the Girlfriend From Hell in the year 2012. “It would start,” she replies. “With a trip to NY to my mom’s place (not very romantic) where I would get a bag of water balloons and toss them out her window for kicks. Then I might try to see if I could throw another old LP out the window like a Frisbee to see if I can get it further than last time. I would have to go to B’klyn and get Anthony Barrile and Dana Ashbrook after which we would go to TX and grab Lezlie Dean then come back to LA and get Jim Daughton and Dan.
“A double date with two chaperones is always so much more fun. Then I would have to go downtown (I would drive, of course) to my friend Morgan’s Rooftop Drive-in where they would show a double feature. ‘Exorcist’ and The Omen.
“Then maybe some dancing (not at a titty bar, though, ’cause I’m too old for that shit) where I would have to suck some random souls in the filthy bathroom.
“I’m sure I’d be famished after all of it so we’d have to go for a 5 star dinner at a REALLY FANCY PLACE … maybe transport back to NY to go to MASA for a sushi fest. Then I would dump those guys and make Dana send everyone home with his doohicky [the raygun-like godkiller] & probably end up at home on my couch for my midnight date with Law & Order…and no, I am not asleep! I’m watching!”
Far from the magnum opus of Eighties macabre-spoofs (for that see the Scary Movie precursor Student Bodies), Girlfriend From Hell endures because of the pure impish iniquity of Maggie as Succubitch. And the credit there goes solely to the lovely (and potentially dangerous) Liane Curtis. “Maggie (post possession) is pretty close to who I can be at times,” she asserts. “It was not far from Liane, this Maggie character…probably why Dan [Petersen] chose me over Tawny Kitaen.”
She adds, with characteristic thoughtfulness and candor, “I mean, I kinda have no filter, I love to mess with people as long as it isn’t hurtful, and I like to start trouble…which I hope doesn’t hurt people.”
If it does hurt it hurts so good and for that we can be grateful to the graceful Curtis who continues to stir things up in riotous roles on the likes of TV’s Sons of Anarchy while managing her daughter’s acting career, singing self-penned songs in West LA coffee houses and kicking out the jams with that special brand of magic signature to her career. All things considered, you couldn’t ask for a better siren to suck your soul. I tell Liane this and she throws me a digital wink. “Be careful what you axe for.”
Watch Girlfriend From Hell for free on YouTube.