A lot of men in their thirties and forties (and plenty of others) have fond memories of youthful hours misspent watching cheesy B horror movies, and an awful lot of those movies starred one of the three original scream queens: Brinke Stevens, Michelle Bauer and Linnea Quigley. Screaming in High Heels: The Rise and Fall of the Scream Queen Era is an adoring documentary about those three, how they got into movies, and the environment in which they worked, and is also lots of fun.
The film is made up of archival footage of their films and interviews, both with the three scream queens, and people who worked with them: actors such as Jay Richardson and directors like Fred Olen Ray and David Decoteau, and others. The film explores the childhoods of the trio, and one would guess that even fans will discover a new tidbit or two about their idols that they didn't know before. For instance, that Brinke Stevens has a master's degree in marine biology, or that Linnea Quigley was an incredibly shy youth whose father is a college administrator. Of the three, Michelle Bauer is the most ambivalent about her career. It's not that she's ashamed of her work, but rather that she's had to deal with a lot of grief from family and friends, and so now is very reticent about it, and doesn't volunteer any information to those she meets.
The interviews discuss what was going on in Hollywood in the late seventies and early eighties, when the girls got their start. While it was nearly impossible for filmmakers who catered to the drive-in market to make a profit, the home video revolution created a great demand for content, any content, that video stores could use to fill their shelves. Quickly made low budget films could do quite well here, and did, especially if there was a superabundance of gore and scantily clad women. Linnea, Michelle and Brinke all admit that they were able to find steady work because they were not shy about taking off their clothes. As Fred Olen Ray says in one interview, "The sexy horror comedy works so well because it's hard to fail." Indeed, the rise of home video created a sort of perfect storm for the B movie world, and for a time it operated largely through mutual friends hiring friends. Several people mention it feeling "like a family".
All that rises, of course, must at some point fall as well. The golden age of the "sexy horror comedy" couldn't last forever. As the big box video store chains grew (who generally didn't buy B movies) returns dwindled. The cost of making films fell, the market was flooded with super cheap films, and any girl who took her top off in a horror film labeled herself a scream queen. Linnea and Brinke take this in stride, continue making movies and riding the convention circuit. Michelle essentially retires in the early nineties, but still makes the occasional film. All three talk about what they are doing now, and reflect on their long careers, and all the ups and downs that went with it: the fame and steady work, but also the type casting and stigma of appearing in exploitation films.
Screaming in High Heels works quite well as a documentary on all fronts. It has an interesting subject, snags a lot of great interviews and reveals plenty of information for the drooling fans, but is also accessible and interesting to the general public. But mostly it works because Michelle Bauer, Linnea Quigley and Brinke Stevens are just so darned likeable. These three women come across as incredibly personable, humble and intelligent. It's a treat to get to know them better. Highly recommended.
Screaming in High Heels Trailer
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