For a person to say they like horror movies is kind of a misnomer. While it’s easy to break down films into horror, action, comedy, etc., that really only scratches the surface of the multiple sub-genres and mini-divisions of each of those basic genre groups. But within the horror genre, there are so many of these aforementioned subsections that it’s easy to become lost, and even intimidated. Somewhere down this rabbit hole exist the B-horror comedy, the B-horror softcore, the B-horror exploitation, and on and on and on.
So again, when a person says, “I like horror movies,” does that automatically include stuff like Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama, or Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers? Who knows? Probably not. But while they may have been shot in 5 days and cost $50,000, they’re still horror, through and through.
For those of us old enough to remember the mom-and-pop video stores that provided most of us horror-loving sociopaths our fixes in the ‘80s and ‘90s, these titles may sound familiar. Their cover art featured glorious cartoon cleavage, belonging to a group of blondes and brunettes cowering in terror from a monstrous thing. I personally recall wandering down row after row of gigantic VHS cases like these, transfixed by the chesty ladies right before my eyes, terrified my mother would catch me leering at the halfway-pornographic images when I should have been in the Kids section.
Screaming in High Heels: The Rise & Fall of the Scream Queen celebrates that gone-but-not-forgotten subgenre of horror: the cheap, low rent, trashy, direct-to-video movies that overflowed video store shelves during their reign. The doc begins, literally, with an ending – that of the heyday of drive-in theaters – and explained the tactic behind their programming, something I’d previously not known and found incredibly interesting. Many drive-in theaters would show not one but two films in order to appeal to the entire family unit. The first, the A picture, was the one with more appeal, and the more family-friendly tone. But somewhere during that A picture, the kids would fall asleep, leaving the parents alone with the B picture, featuring the types of films celebrated in High Heels. The films were fun and titillating, and because they were cheap to produce, they should have made an instant profit. But because of the questionable investors and release companies involved with these types of films, the filmmakers hardly ever saw such profit.
But that all changed once drive-ins became a thing of the past, and filmmakers realized they could make films directly for video stores, and with moderate publicity, rake in the profits.
For fans of the cheapest, most low-rent horror films that could be found in said video stories, Screaming in High Heels: The Rise & Fall of the Scream Queen is an endlessly fascinating piece of entertainment. While the skeleton of the doc is centered around the three scream queens of the ‘80s – Linnea Quigley (The Return of the Living Dead), Brinke Stevens (The Slumber Party Massacre), and Michelle Baur (The Tomb) – the doc really covers the genre in which these ladies worked and prospered. Featuring additional interviews with known trash-makers Fred Olen Ray (Jack-O, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers) and David DeCouteau (The Tomb, Puppet Master 3), this unheralded and looked-down-on subgenre is explored and discussed with great, but not at all deluded, admiration. The filmmakers and actors interviewed know they were making trash, but there is not a detected ounce of shame in regards to their films, which they recollect with fondness. Nor should there be, really.
|This is Fred Olen Ray. |
He directed Alien Dead.
He says, "you're welcome."
The doc makes great and clever use of hundreds of clips from films being discussed, not just as reference material, but to fill in the on-screen gaps and keep the study moving forward. Even as the interviewees explain the video store era, or recall specific anecdotes, appropriate scenes from these cheapie movies are spliced into the doc to complement the information we're being provided. It was a clever tactic and one I appreciated. The quality of sources from which the doc's film clips are grabbed range from crisp to 37th generation VHS. Personally, the first time I saw The Slumber Party Massacre was courtesy of a previously viewed VHS with hundreds of miles already on it, so the degradation of the film clips weren't a distraction at all, but rather strangely appropriate and indicative of the many films like it that I watched in my youth.
Our ladies start at their beginnings—with their upbringings, their exposure to the biz, and their highs and lows affiliated with their careers. They speak candidly about being comfortable with their bodies (though Quigley shocking admits to having been been very shy and self-conscious about her body during her youth) and how they had eventually become known for doing such movies. In the same way Schwarzenegger and Stallone became the default choice for action films during the late '80s/early '90s, these ladies, too, had soon become the default choice when a film needed a lead character to have a little fun, get a little dirty, and kick a little ass.
I was interested enough to sit down with this doc and give it a watch, being that I love watching documentaries based around horror movies, but admittedly I was a little concerned that I wouldn’t be able to fully appreciate High Heels’ focus. I consider myself pretty well-versed in the horror genre, but I’ve only seen a handful of films featuring Linnea, one with Brinke, and hadn’t even heard of Michelle. Despite that, High Heels proved an immeasurely interesting watch, as it covered not just their careers, but the subgenre for which they skyrocketed to B-movie stardom. Not only that, but I came away looking at all three ladies in a different light; they were no longer just “those girls” who took off their clothes for whatever array of films in which they appeared, because in High Heels they had been humanized, explored, and celebrated in a way that most people never would have even considered doing.
Hats off to director Jason Paul Collum for this little endeavor. While a few more talking heads to fill out his cast of interviewees would have been nice (where the hell was Jim Wynorski?), those who did sit down and discuss their careers more than made up for the absences.
Strap on some High Heels, people. It's a hell of a lot of fun.