Scream Queens, Heroines of the Horrors
by Galvin Thomas Beck. Collier Books. Paperback.
344 pages. Out of Print.
As the title suggests, Scream Queens focuses
on approximately 30 female actresses who were not just screen fodder for mad scientists,
marauding monsters or malevolent aliens. Many of the women had the ability to repulse,
arouse and above all scare us! For those who strove to make their niche in this genre,
more often than not they had the talent to achieve the desired effect.
Amongst the book's abundantly illustrated pages, the reader is treated to an
informative piece detailing each actress of the genre from its conception to the late
Seventies, starting with cinema's first lady, Alice Guy-Blache. Previous coverage of this
woman's achievments has been scarce to say the least, but at last, her dues are given in Scream
Alice Guy began her film work in France during the 1890's with a leaning towards the
fantastic and even claimed in her later years that she appeared in these sorts of films
before Georges Melies! After relocating to
America her film output grew until she made her last appearance in 1920. Sadly many of
these innumerable films are lost, but a small handful still survive in various archives.
The more obvious candidates are not ignored including Mary McAvoy who not only appeared in THE JAZZ SINGER (1927),
but also starred in horror's first talkie The Terror
(1928); Brigitte Helm who is chiefly
remembered for her portrayal in Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1926) and Mary Philbin, an actress who could scream as loudly as Fay Wray even
in the silent Phantom of the Opera (1925) and
gave a moving performance as Dea, the blind girl in The
Man Who Laughs (1928), one of the greatest silent horror films directed by Paul Leni.
It was also nice to see a chapter devoted
to Laura La Plante and Olga Baclanova. La Plante, whose only genre
offerings were made under the guidance of Paul
Leni in The Cat and the Canary (1927) and The Last Warning (1929), is nevertheless deserving
of a mention. Baclanova, sensational in her femme fatale roles, also appeared in The Man Who Laughs (1928) and as Olga the trapeze
artist in Tod Browning's celebrated Freaks (1932).
Fay Wray who epitomises the term
"Scream Queen" gets a lengthy treatment as does Elsa Lanchester, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis and onward to Hazel Court
and the star of many European horror flesh flicks, Barbara Steele.
This is well worth seeking out in the dark
recesses of your favourite second-hand bookshop and it would also be worth your while
finding a copy of Beck's earlier work Heroes of the Horrors published in 1978
before the companion tome Scream Queens.
It is refreshing to find a book committed
to highlighting some of the earlier "scream queens" and not just the usual
Hammer Studios stable of beauties that seem to grace most mainstream publications.
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