The 1980s was a pretty great decade to be a horror fan: after the early-decade surge in slasher films, it seems like every other week another classic horror film was hitting the big screen somewhere. And the small screen started to offer more than it ever had before thanks to the popularity of video stores and the inevitable straight-to-video releases. Out of the low-budget horror scene came a new concept in stardom: The Scream Queen. These women made their careers knocking out low-budget horror films, often direct to video, to a cult audience that tracked down every appearance of their favorite stars. Of all these actresses, however, there are three women who helped define what it meant to be a Scream Queen: Michelle Bauer, Linnea Quigley, and Brinke Stevens. Jason Paul Collum’s new documentary Screaming in High Heels: The Rise & Fall of the Scream Queen Era takes an affectionate look back at the 80s and the women who ruled video store shelves and fan magazines.
Screaming in High Heels is mostly made up of interview footage with Bauer, Quigley and Stevens, along with countless clips from their films and interviews with the directors who made the films that made them famous: Fred Olen Ray (Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers), David DeCoteau (Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama) and Kenneth J. Hall (Linnea Quigley’s Horror Workout) all give entertaining interviews and share stories about life on the super low-budget front lines in the 1980s. The interview footage with the Queens themselves, though, is the real heart of the film. While there may not be much new information here for hardcore fans, the more casual viewer will discover a number of surprising facts– for example, Brinke Stevens has a Master’s degree in Marine Biology and studied dolphin communication before moving into modeling and acting full-time. She also, happily, seems to have no regrets about the strange trajectory her career took after those early modeling gigs.
If there is a major complaint to lodge against Screaming in High Heels, it is that much like the heyday of the Scream Queens themselves, it is far too short. Clocking in at barely over an hour, it is clear that the film was assembled quickly– all of the interviews are staged against a black backdrop, and it seems that they all took place in a marathon session of shooting over the course of a few days. The viewer gets the idea that for every crazy story one of the ladies or behind-the-scenes interviewees tells, there are probably a dozen more. One other minor complaint about the film is the lack of input from Jim Wynorski, although given that he still seems to be constantly making the same kind of films that he was making back in the 1980s (and at an accelerated pace), he probably just couldn’t squeeze in time for an interview.
Despite its brevity, Screaming in High Heels is well worth a look for anyone who remembers picking up Scream Queen Hot Tub Party at their local video store, or who wants to know what it was like on the other side of the production cycle back then. It’s a fun look at a fascinating time in horror history.
Breaking Glass Pictures released Screaming in High Heels on DVD on 4 September 2012. Special features include bonus interview footage with Bauer, Quigley, and Stevens and footage from the Flashback Weekend of Horror Q&A session.