Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Psychobabble recommends 'Confessions of a Scream Queen'

The “scream queen” label is as seemingly limited as women’s roles in horror films. It brings to mind some torndress-clad victim shrieking for her life as she’s about to be carried into a boggy lair or hacked to death by a psycho killer. Too often this is the case, but the queens may also be the ones eliciting the screams. Thankfully, Matt Beckoff’s interview anthology Confessions of a Scream Queen doesn’t define the term rigidly. His discussions range from Carla Laemmle, who danced in Lon Chaney’s silent Phantom of the Opera and spoke the first words in Dracula, Universal’s debut talky horror, to Adrienne Barbeau, who played the hero (Stevie Wayne in The Fog) just as well as the victim (Wilma Northrup in Creepshow). In between are talks with 13 other actresses, including Lupita Tovar (the Spanish language Dracula), Judith O’Dea (Night of the Living Dead), Karen Black (Trilogy of Terror), Ingrid Pitt (Countess Dracula, The Wicker Man), Marilyn Burns (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), and P.J. Soles (Carrie, Halloween).

Beckoff tends to tread lightly with his questions, so the success of each interview often hinges on how much the subject is willing to dig into her own experiences. Some of the older actresses are too polite to compel. Others, like Jessica Harper (Suspiria), come off as a little short on time and interest. But interviews with Burns, who goes deep into the horrendous hardships she suffered while making Texas Chainsaw…, Dee Wallace Stone (The Howling), who isn’t afraid to get her claws out, and Black, a great eccentric who insists she’s never been in a horror film (!), make the book worth reading.

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