Screaming in High Heels: The Rise & Fall of the Scream Queen Era (2011) – By Cary Conley

While Fay Wray was arguably the screen’s first Scream Queen and Jamie Lee Curtis briefly held the title in the very early 1980’s, by the mid- to late-eighties, three women rose to the top of the B-movie circuit to collectively claim the title of world’s reigning Scream Queens. If you are reading Rogue Cinema, then it is likely that you know of these three women; perhaps you own copies of several of their movies as I do. They are Linnea Quigley, Brinke Stevens, and Michelle Bauer, and for the better part of the eighties and well into the nineties, these three ladies carved out more than a niche in the B-movie/cult/horror/exploitation market–they owned it. Together these three women made hundreds of cheap but popular titles, a few of which played theaters but most of which went straight to cable or DVD. There were even a few genuine hits (1985’s Return of the Living Dead, 1988’s Night of the Demons) and genuine cult classics (1988’s Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers and Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama) scattered amongst the one-week wonders that compose the majority of their collective filmography. Teenaged geeks, nerds, and fanboys flocked to the local video stores to rent the never-ending output of low-budget fare starring these three lovely ladies, hoping to be titillated by the inevitable nude scenes featuring Linnea, Brinke, or MIchelle…and sometimes featuring Linnea, Brinke, AND Michelle! Director Jason Paul Collum clearly was one of these adolescent fanboys who eventually grew up but never forgot his roots.

Screaming in High Heels is a love letter to these three Scream Queens who entertained the teen set–including director Collum–for close to two decades. Collum has done a superb job cobbling together new interviews with the ladies and interview material from the cadre of directors that were responsible for much of the output during this time as well as vintage interview snippets and scenes from some of their classic (and not-so-classic) films. Along the way Collum briefly traces the origins of the Scream Queen moniker before focusing squarely on the period of time when home video was in its heyday and these girls became household names. It is a fascinating journey and Collum covers it thoroughly in this 60-minute documentary. And while all three ladies are very gracious and have many fond memories during the height of their popularity, Collum also explores the less glamorous side of fame including long periods of time on the road as well as stalkers that harassed the girls. Through it all, the ladies come across as content with how things turned out and very gracious. And even though all three spent most of their time playing characters that weren’t very smart, in reality each of them is quite intelligent. It was a revelation to discover that Brinke Stevens has a Bachelor’s in Psychology, a Master’s in Marine Biology, and was in a doctoral program in Marine Biology before turning to an acting and modeling career.

But Screaming in High Heels is much more than just an exploration of the rise and fall of the Scream Queen; it also serves as an ode to the video boom of the eighties and the brief burst of fantastically creative and inventive exploitation films this boom created. While the primary reason Screaming in High Heels was made was to discuss Linnea, Brinke, and Michelle, to those of us who came of age during the video boom, this second story is just as fascinating. Some of the great exploitation directors from that time are interviewed and serve not only as platforms to discuss the Scream Queen phenomenon but also as de facto historians of an era I fondly remember as tremendously exciting. I remember a time when films were rereleased regularly–I saw the original Star Wars 14 times at the theater–and I will never forget watching Star Wars on a videotape recorded from HBO. What a revelation!

While Screaming in High Heels will be a walk down memory lane for those of us who came of age in the 1980’s, it is interesting and entertaining enough for film fans of any age. It serves as a reminder of perhaps the last Golden Age of Filmmaking as well as the first exciting years of the Video Boom. Screaming in High Heels will be released by Vicious Circle Films on August 28th and is well worth the asking price of $19.99. For more information, go to www.breakingglasspictures.com.