Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Something to Scream About (2003)

Directed by:
Jason Paul Collum

Finally a documentary about low-budget horror / exploitation actresses done right. Filmmaker Jason Paul Collum seems more interested in painting an honest picture of the fringe industry, warts and all, and the women who populate it, than doing a simple sugar-coated love letter to the B-movie genre. Part of his success lies in the fact that he seems more interested in exploring the minds and opinions of his interview subjects than their bodies (a place where many other supposed documentaries and genre magazines fail to go). Nine women are interviewed here; from those whose genre career is limited to one or two films to those who are genre mainstays with considerable cult followings. Brinke Stevens is the perfect hostess for this (she also hosted the genre documentary MONSTER & MANIACS back in 1988, as well as the 1990-91 SHOCK CINEMA series) and does her job on a simple set with posters from films featuring the interview subjects. The photography, editing and sound are all very good as the ladies tackle such subjects as racism, sexism, fans, conventions, image, stereotyping, self-image and aging.

I was glad to see veteran Judith O'Dea (Barbara from the touchstone horror classic NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD) here. She talked with fondness about her NOTLD cult success, the conventions, fans and her stage work and came off as smart, sophisticated, poignant and grateful; a total delight (with an infectious smile). I am happy to see that Judith will be seen in a few new genre pictures, as well. I was also taken back by Ariauna Albright. I'm not well versed in her work or Ariauna as a person, but she was well worth getting to know. She is a great conversationalist; subdued, mature, intelligent, witty, interesting and very knowledgeable about the genre. I plan on seeking out some of her work now. Denice Duff talks about getting started in the business, her cult following after her stint on the SUBSPECIES series and says "We're not in it for the cash, we're in it for the joy." Felissa Rose talks a lot about SLEEPAWAY CAMP, of course, but also about how her Italian background has given her limited mainstream opportunity (a big defense for the independent film community, who welcomed her back with open arms). Lesser known actresses like Debra DeLiso (SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE, ICED) and Brandy Burkett (SPM3) seem like an odd choice for this documentary at first (one wonders where Michelle Bauer, Linda Blair and Linnea Quigley were when this was being filmed), but once they start talking you see why Collum chose them. They are both knowledgeable and insightful enough to hold their own against the better-known actresses. Gravel-voiced B star (and former professional dominatrix) Lilith Stabs, who's been in more genre films than DeLiso and Burkett combined, was the least visible of the ladies.

My two favorite interview subjects, by far, were Debbie Rochon and Julie Strain. Debbie comes off as intelligent, thoughtful, highly animated (she likes to play with her hair and often seems like she's about to jump out of her seat) and obviously loves acting and says she does what she does for two reasons; the fans and the creative love of the medium. She also has great and well-thought out insights about screen nudity, foreign film actresses vs. American actresses, what a "Scream Queen" really is, how she has to constantly work (25 films in a year!) just to pay the bills and many other subjects. Julie Strain is a very candid person, so I enjoyed listening to her as well. She's funny, knowing, bluntly honesty about her image, her plastic surgery, her skin cancer and her career, frustrated with the industry yet able to look back at it all with a sense of humor... It's amazing seeing a three-dimensional person you almost always see on screen in a one-dimensional stereotype.

There are plenty of stills and great movie clips from films like TERROR FIRMER, SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE, NOWHERE MAN, BLOODLETTING, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, HELLBLOCK 13, VAMPIRE RESURRECTION and many other films. There are also several different DVD versions to chose from. The one I saw had many extras, including the short JULIA WEPT from Jason Paul Collum, an interview with Brinke and a featurette "Introducing Lizzy Strain." Another version pairs this with the 1990 documentary SHOCK CINEMA (also hosted by Ms. Stevens). It also pops up in the wee hours of the night on Showtime every once in awhile.


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