Judge Gordon Sullivan is an ice cream queen.
Donald Farmer's Legendary Scream Queen Exposé!
The other day I picked up a copy of Ira Levin's classic novel Rosemary's Baby and it happened to have a forward by Stephen King. In the opening paragraph, King compares Levin to another writer, and then in parentheses he lists one of the pen names of that author offhandedly. It's a pretty common sight, listing an author's alias, but something about the way King did it struck me, like he was sharing a secret. It took me a minute, but I figured it out…the forward was from 1981, long before something like Wikipedia made pen names easy to discover and even longer before an author like J.K. Rowling had only a couple of months before being outed for her pen name. That pen name, whatever it was, was probably a hard-won secret for King, traded amongst those in the know.
I say all this because it reminds me that there was an era before the ubiquitous access to information at the touch of a button, and certain products are evidence of that. Not only Stephen King's forward, but the documentary Invasion of the Scream Queens. Before the era of YouTube and IMDb, it could be difficult to track down information on your favorite scream queen, and what you usually got was an interview in a fan magazine, maybe a fold-out poster. In the heady days of 1991, it was a kind of minor miracle that someone went out and interviewed all the best scream queens of the era and edited the footage together with trailers and excerpts from their harder-to-find films so that fans could get a sense of what was out there. For contemporary viewers, Invasion of the Scream Queens is an interesting peek into one of horror's campier eras and the women that made it possible.
Invasion of the Scream Queens has two basic kinds of footage. On the one hand we get interviews with various scream queens. Familiar names like Brinke Stevens (Sorority Babes in the Slime Bowl-O-Rama) and Michelle Bauer (Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers) show up, as do lesser known ladies like Ruth Collins (Doom Asylum) and Melissa Moore (Sorority House Massacre II). Interspersed with their reflections—-the women discuss their careers, their films, their experiences, and how they feel about their status as ?scream queens?—is footage from their films. We get excerpts including famous scenes and trailers that help give context to the scream queens' remarks.
There's some obvious nostalgic value to Invasion of the Scream Queens—I grew up on the horror of the era documented here, and there's a definite twinge of recognition from my adolescent self. However, what's amazing about Invasion of the Scream Queens is that it will likely have a wider audience than those simply nostalgic for by-gone horror. The interview segments are surprisingly wide-ranging and frank, and more importantly, balanced between general and particular interest. Die-hard fans who've seen most or all of these ladies' films will appreciate the insight they give into the details of their filmographies and what it was like to work with the famous names of the business like Fred Olen Ray. On the other hand, the film tries to be accessible to new viewers as well. We get trailers that help give context to the kind of films under discussion, and the subjects are also able to answer more general questions about why and how they became scream queens.
The DVD release is excellent too. Long only available on VHS, Invasion of the Scream Queens gets an appropriate 1.33:1 transfer that preserves the video aesthetic it was shot with. That means some drop outs and noise, but overall the film looks fine for a low budget production of its age. The Dolby 2.0 Stereo audio does a fine job keeping dialogue clean and clear. The music is mixed a bit aggressively compared to the subjects, so keep the remote handy.
Extras start with a brief intro by director Donald Farmer, who reappears in an interview segment. He's informative and personable, though the real meat of the extras is extended interviews with the participants, which fans are sure to enjoy. Unsurprisingly, there's also a photo gallery of the scream queens, along with excerpts from the companion Invasion of the Scream Queens book.
Of course those with no interest in the subject of scream queens, especially those in the late '70s to late '80s will probably not find a whole lot to enjoy here. The film's structure can also get a little repetitive at times, as well as the women answer similar questions. The film also definitely feels dated. Part of that is the VHS aesthetic that makes the film look like it was shot to be sold at conventions, but also the way the film has to include lots of clips because the material is hard to find. In the current era most of these films are probably available on YouTube. Even to most fans, the film itself is more of a curiosity than a total necessity.
Invasion of the Scream Queens will still appeal to anyone with a fondness for '80s horror, especially the lower budget stuff. Even those with a casual interest in horror culture from the time will find something to love in the numerous stories shared here. Couple that with a decent DVD release, and fans of scream queens have a reason to well, scream.
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