The three women who are profiled in Screaming in High Heels - Brinke Stevens, Linnea Quigley, and Michelle Bauer - certainly have a special place in the history of smutty b-cinema. The majority of their films - things like Nightmare Sisters, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, and Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama - are not what I was expecting when I became a horror fan after watching things like The Phantom of the Opera, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and The Blob. So I've always found their slice of the horror pie - the one filled with direct-to-VHS titles that generally offered great nudity and terrible storytelling - to be a strange one.
For those who weren't around in the '80s, Screaming in High Heels documents who these women are and how they got here, but it also spends much of its time (perhaps too much) trying to justify why these movies were necessary and how these movies were so great. There's an incredible bias on display, as the few people interviewed are directors and actors who worked on the films headlined by the three women, and some of these men seem a little too excited about their work. There's a loving tone, to be sure, but the amount of superlatives thrown around makes it really hard to really believe that these guys are offering a fair assessment of a subgenre they made a living in.
(I do not intend to debate whether or not these men are right or wrong about the value of their films. Where there's a niche, there's value in a product. My thoughts on these films - most of which I am not acquainted with - is a different story for a different day.)
The heart of this documentary - as the title suggests - is the three women who headlined this era. Each of the actresses appears and is frank and candid about their experiences, for the most part. (Though, I did think it was a little weird when Brinke Stevens explained how "she studied SCIENCE" and she came to LA "to get a job IN SCIENCE" like she was a bad sci-fi character. An area of specialty might have made her story more palpable.) Bauer, who has distanced herself from acting more than the others, is the most down to Earth and accessible of the the three queens, while Quigley and Stevens seem to still fit perfectly with the image they represented in their heyday. In each case, it's easy to see the intrigue each actress offered to their films (which is not just their willingness to get naked, of course).
The trouble with Screaming in High Heels, on the whole, is that there's just not a lot of intrigue outside of a few tidbits in interviews that perk your ears. Unlike more accomplished genre docs - like the amazing Corman's World, which I covered earlier this year - the scope of this film is very limited. We get the opinions of the three stars and a half dozen folks who worked with them - and that's it. I suppose the argument could be made that this doc, like the film's its talking about, should be held to a much lesser standard than more financially sound productions, but it still feels like there's a lack of outside perspective. Instead of fans and critics talking about these actresses and filmmakers, we get these actresses and filmmakers talking about fans and critics. There's talk about families of the involved, but no actual talk with the families of those involved. Things like this hurt my interest in the film, and left me a little bored at times.
If you don't know much about these women and these films, and want to learn what they were about in their own words, Screaming in High Heels should interest you. Just be prepared for a rather slight and one-sided look at these films. The low retail price of the disc compared to other releases seems to reflect the short (it's barely an hour long) and sweet approach to the production. On the other hand, fans of these films and stars probably aren't going to learn a lot from Screaming in High Heels. To me it feels more like a DVD extra than a full length documentary, because it doesn't dig deep enough to really cover a wide berth of topics regarding this movement in genre film.
Screaming in High Heels will be out on DVD on August 28th, and is worth at least a rental to those interested in learning about the best of '80s sleaze scream queens. Horror buffs will probably enjoy the interviews, but might feel like they already know a lot of what's being said. Still, this one's probably worth a rental.