Over three decades, Brinke Stevens, along with friends and frequent collaborators Linnea Quigley and Michelle Bauer, has helped define the term Scream Queen. She has starred in countless horror films, the first of which was a Slasher, The Slumber Party Massacre. However, becoming known for horror films wasn’t necessarily a choice. “When the video boom hit in the mid-80s,” she explains, “I continued to be cast in dozens of low-budget horror movies, quickly churned out by independent filmmakers like Roger Corman, Fred Olen Ray, David DeCoteau, and so on. Soon, I was totally typecast in the B-horror genre and unable to break out of it.”
Stevens, who trained as a marine biologist before turning to modelling and film, chooses to adopt a fatalistic view of her career as an actor. “I always say, ‘My career chose me, I didn’t choose it.’ After three busy decades, it seems like I was fated to fulfill my destiny as a Scream Queen.”
The fact remains, however, that only a few women have been able to attain the title of Regina Terroris. Stevens’ appeal went far beyond a recurring presence in horror films and willingness to disrobe onscreen. Stevens brought and continues to bring an element of approachability, of down-to-earthedness to her characterizations—a quality she shares with her aforementioned fellow Scream Queens and is more fully explored in Jason Paul Collum’s wonderful documentary, Screaming in High Heels.
Now Stevens brings that everyperson quality to her role as Sheriff Charlene Wopuzer in Joston Theney’s upcoming Slasher film Axeman at Cutter’s Creek. Though Stevens is far choosier about the roles she takes on today, having added writing to her already long list of endeavors and achievements, she had no difficulty accepting to work on Axeman.
“I’d worked with Joston Theney a few years prior on Bleed 4 Me, playing a tough vampire slayer. It was a very pleasant experience, and I could see that Joston had great talent.” The role itself was also a strong selling point. “I was thrilled when he offered me the macho Sheriff role, even though it was clearly written for a male actor. I’d just finished playing the President of the United States (in The Silicon Assassin) and was excited to take on another strong, powerful, rather masculine role in Axeman.”
As a veteran of horror films, and as a woman, it should come as no surprise that Stevens has been called upon to play cringing victim more often than tough Sheriff (or President of the United States, for that matter). Given this, I wondered if Stevens felt there was an inherent sexism—or even misogyny—in horror films, and Slasher films particularly, especially where the violence was concerned.
Her own experience with violence on film, as she explains, has actually been surprisingly balanced. “So far, I’ve appeared in 150 movies. I’ve been killed 32 times. And I’ve killed other people in 20 films. So, you can see that I don’t die too often . . . and I’ve slain a large number of victims myself.” Stevens also sees the preponderance of male aggressors as based in reality. “Face it, most killers are men merely because they have the physical strength and stature. It’s not so much sexist, just practical and logical. And we’ve always had some very spunky, courageous heroines who delight us by putting up a good fight!”
In fact, though she didn’t get the chance to partake in the fun, one of the best examples of women putting up a good fight appears in Stevens’ very first film. “Many critics labeled Slumber Party Massacre as the first ‘feminist’ slasher film,” she says, “because ultimately the gals ganged up on the male killer. I don’t think it was ever deliberately intended to make such a statement; it’s just the way the script was written.”
She does, however, acknowledge that stereotypes exist within the genre but that her new film defies them nicely. “[Axeman at Cutter’s Creek] is neither sexist nor misogynist. The two biggest authority figures are both female (the Sheriff and her Deputy), and we’re intimidating characters. The potential victims include some very strong women, and some rather weak men. In particular, Tiffany Shepis has a wonderful role as a gun-crazy moll who could shoot her way out of any situation. It’s truly a perfect balance in this script.”
Even with an abundance of experience, Stevens did some research to ensure she’d pull off the steely-eyed fortitude required to face down a killer like the Axeman. “To prepare for my role, I re-watched American Gothic (an awesome 1996 TV-show) to study actor Gary Cole’s portrayal of a tough, small-town, southern sheriff. I noticed how he never blinks—he just stares you down with unshakable confidence.”
Conversely, practice with her sidearm was likely not required—unless it was as a quick refresher. “Inside my front door,” she says, “there’s a framed certificate on my wall . . . It says I’m proficient at shooting, loading, cleaning, and reassembling an Uzi submachine gun. One of my finer accomplishments!”
One of many.
For more on Ms Stevens’ career, watch Screaming in High Heels: The Rise and Fall of the Scream Queen Era.