In entertainment, an awful lot of stuff happens behind closed doors, from canceling TV shows to organizing music festival lineups. While the public sees the end product on TVs, movie screens, paper, or radio dials, they don’t see what it took to get there. In Expert Witness, The A.V. Club talks to industry insiders about the actual business of entertainment in hopes of shedding some light on how the pop-culture sausage gets made.
While women screaming in terror has been a fundamental of horror movies since the silent-film era, the term “scream queen” didn’t come into use until the 1980s, when the development of VHS created an enormous demand for film, and cheaply made horror films were a way to fill that market. Concomitant with this explosion of cheap independent features was the growing fame of the women who starred in them. One of the most prolific and famous of these actors is Linnea Quigley, who got her start in the late ’70s in horror films, and hasn’t stopped working since. With roles in films like The Return Of The Living Dead, Silent Night, Deadly Night, and Night Of The Demons, Quigley carved out a place for herself as one of the most recognizable and popular of the women working in B-movie horror. (Her website also maintains a charmingly retro style.) The A.V. Club spoke with her about getting her start in horror, realizing she had a fan base, and what it takes to make it in the world of low-budget cinema.
The A.V. Club: Do you remember when you auditioned for your very first horror film?
Linnea Quigley: I think I do. It was a movie called Don’t Go Near The Park, and it was done by Lawrence Foldes. He was probably 19, not much older than me. I went in, and it was when they had this [casting call publication] called Drama Log and they had “looking for a 19-24-looking woman…” I sent my picture in, and they called me and I read for the part of this woman that bears a child. They’re supposed to age me, like she’s all grown up and everything, and I had a real babyface then, but they used the worst makeup, and I just looked like I had stipple on. It was crazy. It looked so bad. The movie was terrible.
AVC: When you auditioned they hadn’t even explicitly said it was for a horror film, they just said, hey, we’re looking for somebody?
LQ: Actually, I think they did. I was excited because I loved horror. I was like, “Oh my god, I got a part!” I was very excited.
AVC: Did you have an agent yet?
LQ: That was just me pounding the pavement.
AVC: Was the process for the audition any different from a regular audition? Did you have to scream?
LQ: I didn’t have to scream. I don’t know why. If I remember right, reading a part was it. I wasn’t used to doing that, either. It was like, “Oh my god,” because I don’t think I’d started acting classes yet. After that, I did.
AVC: Being a working actor prompted the start of the acting classes?
LQ: Well, yeah, because I thought, I’m getting some roles, so I better take some classes so I can do it right. Even though they didn’t have any screaming classes, on what it’s really like.
AVC: Can you talk a little bit about the distinction between a normal audition and one where you have to scream?
LQ: There’s a lot of things that you’re not prepared to do, like looking at nothing and being petrified, or in love, or sad, or whatever. But especially scared… you feel kind of dumb because you’re really letting yourself go in front of people, and if you’re not a good screamer it sounds really bad. It’s embarrassing just to have somebody scream. It’s like, okay, you’re going to scream at nothing. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried it. Have you tried it?
AVC: No. It sounds like it would be very difficult.
LQ: It’s harder than I thought it was going to be.
AVC: So do you remember what your first role entailed? Was there a death scene?
LQ: No. I didn’t have a death scene. You never find out what happens to this lady, really. Supposedly, this guy that was twice my age or something, he hypnotized me [Laughs.] into—you didn’t see the sex scene or anything, but it was assumed. We got married, they show the wedding, and I have a kid that’s weird, and I didn’t get scared in it, but it was a horror film so that was cool with me.
AVC: Were you a fan of horror movies prior to that?
LQ: Oh my gosh, yes. Definitely. Watched them, like most people, every Saturday night, for the Creature Feature, with my girlfriends.
AVC: Was there one that was your favorite or one that made you want to be in them?
LQ: Night Of The Living Dead was good. I wish I could’ve done The Birds. I liked a lot of Alfred Hitchcock stuff. Who did I want to be? Well, I guess the pretty girl who gets taken off and she gets saved. But then after doing that for a while, I wanted to be the one that kicked ass. [Laughs.] I got tired of that part. Fainting, and, “Oooohhhh….”
AVC: Do you remember the first time you did have an onscreen death?
LQ: That would’ve been when I did Graduation Day. That was with Christopher George and Linda George and Ernest Borgnine. They had some cool names in it. In that one, I tried out for it, and they didn’t call me back, so I thought, okay, whatever. But then I got a call: “Oh, we want to use you!” I found out the girl they hired… they cast her and everything, they were on set, and she said, “I’m not going to do any topless stuff.” After it’d been shot and everything, and they made a life cast of her. But I didn’t really have any qualms about that, because my dad was a doctor. I didn’t really think, “Oh my god, that’s terrible, I’m going to have to do a topless scene.” You know, it was a little scary, but in that one, my boyfriend gets his head cut off while he’s going to take a potty break, and I see it and I scream and I start running, and I trip, and a dog jumps out and I scream, and… one of those.
AVC: One of those classic horror-movie running-away scenes.
LQ: It was funny because the life cast [The one taken from the original actor hired.—ed.], when they show the picture, it doesn’t look like me at all. So I don’t know, it would just be confusing for people I guess, or people have already left the movie theater. I don’t know.
AVC: You mentioned they already had that life cast made. Is that a normal step if you’re going to have an onscreen death in a movie? What does that process involve?
LQ: Well, there’s life casting, which used to be really miserable. If you’re going to lose any body parts or a whole body is going to be used, they have to cast it and they put alginate all over you. I’m not claustrophobic, but they let it dry and they wrap it like a mummy, and then they have to tug it off you. So you have to make sure your eyebrows and everything are covered with Vaseline or they’ll come out, too. And then once they make the life cast, they make latex and stuff to fit your face, and then they lay that on your skin with medical adhesive, which I hate. You’re in this horrible makeup for hours and hours and hours.
AVC: Once you’ve got that done and you’re actually on set, is there a process where the camera needs you to be there and lie still for X amount of time before they swap in the cast?
LQ: Yes. In Italy, for this movie Fatal Frames, I almost got hypothermia really bad because I had this machete sticking out of my shoulder and it was really cold there and we were in this castle in the cellar. It was cement, and I was laying there in fake blood and the coldness on my back for a long time. When I got up, I was all bloody and everything and I could hardly walk, my knees were just [Makes wobbly sound.], you know? So they took me to this place and said, “Oh, we’ll find you a shower.” It was the worst place. The shower was in a bathroom that didn’t have a curtain, it just opened out into everything, and the water wouldn’t stay warm, it kept turning cold, and oh, it was horrible. I was frozen!
AVC: That’s pretty bad.
LQ: Whereas Return Of The Living Dead, they got the mud off me with a fire hose. [Laughs.]
LQ: There was nowhere to clean up. They just put the fire hose on me. The glamorous life I lead!
AVC: Are there specific things on a film set for a horror movie that feel different than for a non-horror film?
LQ: Well, you don’t think you’ll get a life cast or anything, or a lot of blood on you when you do another movie, like a drama or something. You might, but you probably won’t have to.
AVC: Is there more a sense of camaraderie on a horror set, because everybody knows they’ve all got gross and exhausting stuff to do, versus a normal film?
LQ: I think so. They band together and don’t mess around too much, because most of them know it’s not a fun process and you want to get it over with.
AVC: So after that first one you did, was it a coincidence that you ended up doing a number of horror films right out of the gate, or was there sort of a method involved?
LQ: It was just a coincidence. They started making those films, a lot of them back then, and at that point, I had some credits behind me, and I was really good for the roles. I was in that age bracket, I’d taken acting classes, I was a member of Screen Actors Guild, and it just worked.
AVC: And as you just ended up in these roles, at that point did you start seeking out more horror roles, or did it continue to be luck of the draw for a while?
LQ: It was just luck of the draw. I was going out, when I had an agent, for commercials and TV shows, but I always got excited when it was going to be a movie—a horror film. I liked that the best.
AVC: At what point did you start to realize you had found this niche in the horror world?
LQ: It wasn’t until after Return Of The Living Dead was released—like eight months after that, maybe. I went to a Fangoria convention and I was like, “Oh my gosh, people want my autograph?” I was totally incredulous. Like, what? I was shocked.
AVC: Do you remember the first time you were offered a part, rather than just having to battle through an open casting?
LQ: I think the first time was with David DeCoteau on this film called Freakazoids. Then we did a lot of films together after that.
Speaking of being invited, though, I almost didn’t do Night Of The Demons, because as an actor you get really sick of rejection. So my manager called me and said, “They want to see you,” and I’m like, no, I’m not going in. I said, “This is for a 19-year-old and I am 25. I’m not going to go in. I’m just not, because I’m not going to get it.” And, you know, back and forth, and oh, no, they really want to see you! No, they really are a fan, they want to see you! So I finally went in, and they cast me right then. I was like, whoa! [Laughs.] But I almost didn’t do it. I never thought they’d say that.
AVC: That must be a rewarding moment, where you start to feel like you’ve made a mark.
LQ: Exactly. It was a great feeling.
AVC: Which role was the first time you felt like you were one of the stars of the film?
LQ: Oh, boy. Return Of The Living Dead was an ensemble. So was Night Of The Demons. I guess the first one was maybe Sorority Babes In The Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama? David [DeCoteau] let me choose which character I wanted, and I wanted that one right away. Like, yes!
AVC: So once you started to appear in horror films more regularly, did you start to develop a specific set of skills that are more in demand for horror?
LQ: I definitely did. Screaming on cue, running, having to be patient with things, and all the lovely things that go on when you’re doing a horror film… being sprayed with blood. [Laughs.]
AVC: You’ve presumably seen other people come and go who weren’t able to deal with the patience that’s required. Would you see people get impatient and think, “No, you’re not getting it”?
LQ: Yes. Especially that girl that wouldn’t take her top off, and I was like, no, no, no. It used to be, and I think it still is in a way, the formula for those [movies]. The women are topless, they take a shower, or are doing something like that, undressing, and the guy sees them in the window, that same thing, and something happens.
AVC: That’s interesting you brought that up, because you’ve gotten asked a lot over the years about feminist criticism of the horror genre and how a lot of these roles get criticized for just being “the hot girl who gets killed.” Have your views changed over the years?
LQ: I think that more people are really accepting of [these kinds of movies], and especially the women are amazing. There are so many people that are into it. I mean, they love them and they don’t really care about that. I think I’ve pretty much stayed away from the victim roles, so that doesn’t really impact me. Now, the only one that really kind of impacted me a little bit was Silent Night, Deadly Night. And I was out of the States, filming in Mexico, when that happened.
AVC: What was it about that one?
LQ: All the protestors.
AVC: Why were there protestors?
LQ: It had violence against women, and I was topless, and Santa killed me.
AVC: Were you surprised by the outcry?
LQ: Oh my god. I was shocked when my manager called me in Mexico and said that. I was like, are you kidding me? I mean, to me, that was just another horror film. I couldn’t understand it at all.
AVC: Having had time to reflect on it since then, what do you think it was about that one that triggered such a response?
LQ: Because the kids got scared when they saw Santa Claus chopping people up.
AVC: That makes sense. It’s one of those things that once you step back and look at it you go, “Oh yeah, of course that would freak kids out.”
LQ: I think it freaked out moms, too, because… they were just jealous. [Laughs.]
AVC: Especially when you’re working on some of the lower budgeted films, are there stunts or other work you’re required to do that has tested your endurance or your stamina?
LQ: Not really. Because they’re usually short cuts and things like that. In the Horror Workout [an exercise tape she made in 1990—ed.], I had a little bit of trouble keeping up with the choreographer that was in front of me, that you couldn’t see. It would be like, “Oh, I’m going left but I should be going right.” I can dance on my own but I’m horrible if it’s watching someone else and doing it, and ever since I was a kid I was like that.
AVC: You became so known for that. What was the impetus behind wanting to do a workout video in the first place?
LQ: Kevin Hall and I were watching Murder Weapon on the monitor when we were doing it, and he was watching me—I have a black hood on, you don’t know who the killer is, and I’m taking this big hatchet thing down again and again. And I go, oh, my god, that’s heavy. And he said, “Horror movies are hard work. Why don’t we make a horror workout?” So the week after, we were doing it, in two days.
AVC: So it really was just a spur of the moment thing.
LQ: Oh, yeah.
AVC: So at that time did you have any expectations for it? Were you anticipating the attention that it got?
LQ: Oh, no. We thought it’d just be a few people who would probably say, “Oh, that’s cute.” But now people give me pictures every year, where they have parties on their birthday and they make a cake with me from one of my movies on it, and they have their friends come over dressed like one of their favorite characters of mine, and they work out to the horror video, or DVD or whatever it is now. But I thought that was really something to be proud of. I liked that. That was cute.
AVC: So would this be a moment when you started to realize you had a fan base?
LQ: I’d say so. The first time I went to the Fangoria convention I had to hide in the bathroom for a while because I was terrified. All these people were coming up to me wanting my autograph and I just didn’t understand it. I was scared going there. I’m like, “Oh my god, no one’s going to want my autograph, I’m going to be embarrassed, and I’ll have to sit there and it’s going to be really embarrassing.” Then I got there and that happened, and I was like, what’s happening? So I ran into the bathroom just to go, “I gotta breathe, I gotta breathe. How am I going to do this?” That was a complete surprise to me.
AVC: Do you remember what year that was?
LQ: Oh god, I can’t remember. It’s so long ago. ’85, ’86… about ’87, I think. I think Robert Englund was there, too. And Elvira and Anthony Perkins, and it was in L.A. So it was a good lineup.
AVC: And that was the first time you had been asked to come attend a convention?
LQ: Yes. They were pretty rare back then.
AVC: Back then, what did a visit to a convention entail for you?
LQ: Well, they’d pay for your ticket and hotel room, and they’d give you a little fee, which back then was actually pretty good. You would bring your own photographs, you would autograph them for free, and it was a whole different business. It was more fan-friendly, I think, instead of these people that now are putting “Meet and greet is $10 just to talk to me, and $25 or $30 to take a picture with me with your own camera.” I mean, it’s gotten a little out of control.
AVC: Was it usually just over a weekend, where you’d quick fly out, do the event, fly back, and head back to work?
AVC: Do you recall when you started to have the term “Scream Queen” applied to you?
LQ: I think it was a little bit after that. I think when I did Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, for some reason it makes me think that’s when. I did a Premiere magazine [interview], because I was proud of it. The actors at the time did not want to be called that, because they thought that was the lowest, to be called that. So I embraced it while they just kind of said, “No, I’m an actor. I don’t do those kind of movies.” It was like that then.
AVC: You mentioned Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, which was 1988. Did you approach the roles you were doing then differently, in terms of preparation between those bigger or smaller roles? Because you tended to alternate between smaller roles in really big things like Nightmare On Elm Street 4, at the exact same time you would be above the bill in cult films like Nightmare Sisters or Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers.
LQ: It was all enjoyable, because every one of them has a story behind it, and funny things that happened, and you’d meet all kinds of characters.
AVC: You must’ve maintained a sense of humor about the whole thing as you’re doing it, too. Because presumably, when you first see a name like Slimeball Babes In The Hollywood Bowl-O-Rama, it’s hard not to laugh.
LQ: Yes. I thought it was going to be called The Imp. Then when I heard [that name], I thought, that’s a horrible name. Then it ended up being good! It took me like a year to say it, though. I was like, “Balls Of… what? Uhh… Slimeball-O-Rama?” I just had a hard time.
AVC: Nowadays, horror-comedy is a very common genre that people are used to. But at the time, you were making that new style of horror movie, the grisly ’80s slasher that could also be quite funny.
LQ: That’s true. They put the silliness in there and the horror element in there at the same time, which I think works a lot better than just all kinds of horror all together, and the… oh what is it called, like Hostel and stuff like that? They’re called…
AVC: Oh, the term they use now?
LQ: Torture stuff, yeah.
AVC: Torture porn?
AVC: Did you find it easier to get roles, once you were established?
LQ: Oh my gosh, yes. That made a big difference. I got called in by John Landis to do a little part in Pittsburgh for a movie called Innocent Blood.
AVC: That was in ’91 or ’92?
LQ: Yeah, I think it was.
AVC: Directors knew at that point that you had done almost every kind of horror scene under the sun, so did you often get asked to do even crazier stuff because they wanted to try and top what had come before?
LQ: Definitely. They still do. I just did a film outside of Chicago, it’s called Devotion. I had so much dialogue, it was a great character that I got to play, and now I’m not getting the typical girl wearing a short skirt or being in a bathing suit or showering or something like that, and being cold, so now I can play some really interesting characters, too.
AVC: Nicolas Cage has actually talked in interviews about how it can be tough nowadays when he’s asked to do “that crazy Nicolas Cage thing,” because there’s only so many ways he can go crazy. He’s done them all over the years. So for you, does it get harder to keep that “here’s where you scream and die” fresh and inventive as the years go by?
LQ: Oh yeah. It’s like you don’t want to do [the same thing.] Maybe they like it, but I don’t know. I don’t want people to get tired of it.
AVC: Those are conversations you’ll have with the director? How to do some horror scene and not make it the same old thing?
LQ: Exactly. Then it’s stressful because I have the younger actors looking at me for guidance and sometimes I fuck up too, and I’m so embarrassed. It’s terrible. You know, they’ll go, “Oh, we love your movies,” and they all want to watch your scene, it’s like, oh my god. It’s embarrassing sometimes.
AVC: What seem to be the most notable ways the industry has changed from the ’80s slasher heyday to now?
LQ: What’s changed? Well, CGI of course. What else… The actors are getting prettier. Not the typical girl next door, or normal girl. They’ve got really nice apartments they live in, and really nice clothes, and really tight clothes, and hairstyles that are great and the makeup that stays on with everything. I mean, I’ve seen movies where they’re in space, and their makeup is perfect! It’s just kind of weird.
AVC: You wouldn’t think space makeup would be the perfect makeup.
LQ: No! And this midriff top with jeans that are tight, it’s like, “No, I don’t think you would wear that.”
AVC: If there was a thing that you could change about the horror-film industry as a whole, what would it be?
LQ: Hypnotize them all and have me hired for everything I wanted. [Laughs.] Maybe more practical effects, and not the same old scripts. Something different for a change. So you don’t go, “Oh, I know what’s going to happen.”
AVC: Do you find that the independent horror world seems to be more open and accepting of roles for women as you get older, or does it suffer from the same increasing lack of jobs as Hollywood in general?
LQ: I think it’s about even. They’re doing a lot of horror films ever since The Walking Dead. I mean horror is getting to be just… Everyone knows zombies and stuff. I think the real horror fans are having a little bit of a tiff about it, because [Adopts voice.] “They’re not real horror fans. You know they came on board when it was popular with the masses!” We’re getting the funding together, for a Dark Shadows type of show, and it’ll be a soap opera horror series, which’ll be interesting.
AVC: You’re putting that together right now?
LQ: Yeah. We’re trying to get it all together and speaking to like six writers that want to do it, and we just had an event for it, so hopefully it’ll go. And we’re looking for crew, too, if anyone is in the Florida area!