When it comes to women representing horror, none do it as well, or as more often, as this month’s icon. Popular with audiences worldwide, she is the epitome of a Scream Queen. Ladies and gentlemen, Dee Wallace.
Born under the name of Deanna Bowers on December 14, 1948 in Kansas City, Kansas, she was described as a happy-go-lucky child. That happy-go-lucky nature continues to be a focal point of her bubbly personality.
Dee attended Wyandotte High School in Kansas City before attending the University of Kansas, graduating with an education degree. She briefly taught drama at Washington High School in Kansas City in the early 1970’s before deciding to take a crack at the big time herself.
She first broke into the acting scene in the mid 70’s with an appearance in the TV series Lucas Tanner in 1974. Her first role was as a waitress and she was credited under the name of Dee Wallace-Stone.
The following year, after another minor appearance in a TV series, Dee stared in the The Stepford Wives, which would be the first of many trips into the world of horror.
If you are not aware of the storyline behind The Stepford Wives Joanna Eberhart has come to the quaint little town of Stepford, Connecticut with her family, but soon discovers there lies a sinister truth in the all too perfect behavior of the female residents. (Fun Fact: It was remade in 2004 and starred Nicole Kidman)
Two years later in 1977, Dee landed a more predominate role in Wes Craven’s cult classic, The Hills Have Eyes. The plot for The Hills Have Eyes is a family going to California accidentally goes through an Air Testing range closed to the public. They crash and are stranded in a desert. They are being stalked by a group of people, which have not emerged into modern times. This film is highly recommended for anyone looking for a few good scares as it not only delivers in gore but suspense as well.
For the remainder of 1977 and 1978, Dee found herself back on TV starring in shows like Starsky And Hutch, Police Woman, Police Story, Barnaby Jones,, Lou Grant and The San Pedro Beach Bums.
In 1979 Dee starred alongside Dudley Moore, Julie Andrews and Bo Derek in 10 before returning to television with an appearance in Trapper John, M.D., Taxi and ChiPs.
In 1981, the horror genre came knocking again and Dee was offered a leading role alongside her husband Christopher Stone, in The Howling. With eye-popping special effects this werewolf story is considered one of the greatest werewolf movies around. Karen White (Wallace) goes on a retreat after a traumatic incident with a serial killer. Doesn’t sound like much of a horror film, but if you include that the residents of The Colony that aren’t exactly normal and her regaining her lost memories, this film is certainly worth the watch.
In 1982, Dee decided to do something a little friendly for families and played Elliot’s mother in Steven Spielberg’s classic film E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. (Fun Fact: Dee considers E.T. to be her generation’s The Wizard Of Oz)
The following year, horror called again and Dee answered with a heart-stopping performance in the movie adaptation of the Stephen King classic, Cujo. The story behind Cujo is Donna Trenton (Wallace) is a frustrated suburban housewife whose life is in turmoil after her husband learns about her having an affair. Brett Camber is a young boy whose only companion is a large Saint-Bernard named Cujo, who, after chasing a rabbit is bitten on the nose by a rabid bat. From there, things get worse. While her husband is away, Donna and her son, Tad, visit Brett’s father who is a mechanic, only to have the car break down. But Cujo, who is now rebid from the bite, has turned vicious.
Now I’ll be brutally honest when I say that this film gives me the wiggings. I love animals and I’m a dog person, so watching a poor dog suffer the way Cujo did was unbearable for me. But what made this story so memorable was the determination that Donna had to save her son who was also trapped in the car with her, dying of dehydration. Also, for those that have seen the movie, there’s one memorable scene that always comes to mind when thinking of the film and that’s where Cujo finally breaks into the car by shattering the front window. (Fun Fact: Stephen King said that if he could go back and change anything from one of his books, it would be letting Tad live. And this is why he survives in the movie. Stephen King has also said that out of all the adaptations of his work, he feels that Dee Wallace’s performance was the best – beating out Kathy Bates’ Oscar winning performance in Misery) A chilling story and a must see movie.
In 1986, Dee took a break from horror to star alongside Tony Curtis in the thriller Club Life which is about a young man from a small town goes to Hollywood to make his fortune. He gets hired as a bouncer at a disco club, but soon finds himself caught up in drugs, gangsters and eventually has to flee when his boss and another bouncer are murdered by drug dealers, who are soon after him. Despite not being part of the horror genre, Club Life is certainly worth the watch as it is a dazzling visual experience and gives the audience more than they bargain for.
That same year Critters was released which saw Dee return to the horror genre. Critters sees a race of small, furry aliens invade a farming community and make lunch out of the locals. Working alongside M. Emmet Walsh, Scott Grimes, Billy Zane and Lin Shaye, Dee certainly stood out and her performance couldn’t be faulted. If you’re looking to kill a couple of hours, then Critters is the way to do it.
Fast forward to 1991 where Dee Wallace starred with one of my favourite actors of all time, Anthony Perkins, in the TV movie thriller, I’m Dangerous Tonight. Also appearing the movie was R. Lee Ermey and Mädchen Amick. I remember seeing this film when I was a child and being amazed by the Aztec cloth and curse that makes up the story. Whoever wears this cursed cloth becomes spellbound where all their inhibitions and moral responsibilities are lost. Now if that storyline isn’t enough to have you running for the video store in an attempt to find this gem, then consider this: It was directed by Tobe Hooper. Yes, that’s right. I’m Dangerous Tonight is a rare film, but if you are able to find a copy then I suggest you hold on to it because it really is a forgotten gem. Dee’s performance as Wanda is sensational, and you can’t go past Anthony Perkins playing something other than Norman Bates. Despite their small screen time, both Perkins and Wallace impacted the film. Team that with Tobe Hooper’s direction and it really a fun film filled with seduction, danger and horror.
That same year Dee starred in a little movie called Popcorn that saw a Leatherface type psycho (a mad man who wears other people’s skin as a mask) murder at an all-night horrorthon at an old theatre that is being hosted by a group of film students.
When you think of cheesy horror, Popcorn isn’t exactly a title that will spring to mind. It’s almost been forgotten over time. Don’t get me wrong, the cast were amazing and even their characters were well rounded, but the problem was the dialogue. The script fell a little flat. Jill Schoelen (who worked with Robert Englund in The Phantom Of The Opera in 1989) plays the leading role of Maggie and did so very convincingly. Dee, as usual, gave 110% to her role even though I deem it to be beneath her talents. If you can find Popcorn, and you have nothing else to do, I suggest you give it a watch. Just don’t go into it thinking it’s going to be a serious horror. It’s far from serious.
Speaking of cheesy films, Dee also starred in Alligator II: The Mutation. (Fun Fact: Kane Hodder also had a small appearance in this film) Like all creature features from that time, Alligator II was about a larger than normal alligator running riot in a small town with a lake connected via the sewer systems. In typical creature feature storyline; no one believes the alligator exists until people begin being ripped apart. If you have Alligator, get this to complete the collection. Otherwise skip over it.
In 1996 Dee showed off her kooky side with the role of Patricia Ann Bradley in the Michael J. Fox comedy horror, The Frighteners. Also making an appearance was R. Lee Ermey, Jeffrey Combs, Trini Alvarado and Jake Busey as Johnny Charles Bartlett.
The Fighteners is a perfect combination of horror and comedy and sees the ghost of serial killer Johnny Bartlett killing the living, with dreams of having the highest body count in history. And if that’s not enough incentive to see it, how about the fact that it was directed and co-written by Peter Jackson. Also, if you would like to see Dee Wallace shine as a crazed psycho, this is the film for you. The Frighteners is one film I highly recommend.
A year later, Dee starred in Black Circle Boys, a drama/thriller/horror movie about Kyle, an all-American boy, who is the newest initiate of the Black Circle Boys, an underworld society of gothic groupies whose primary interests are creating mayhem and studying the Occult. Not the greatest film that Dee’s name has been attached to, but it is a good way to kill a couple of hours.
From 1997 to 2001, Dee starred in a number of TV shows and television movies, mostly drama, to showcase her talents. But in 2001, horror called again with Killer Instinct. Working with Corbin Bernsen (The Dentist), the film follows a series of unsolved crimes from the past that prove to be the common thread in three stories that intertwine to reveal big problems in a small town. An interesting movie, to be sure and it’s a good way to pass a couple of hours quickly.
In 2004, Dee found herself back in horror’s grasp with an appearance in Dead End Road. A low budget film that wasted the talents of all who starred in it as well as having a poor script, this film is a miss, even for devoted Dee Wallace fans.
Low budget horror seemed to follow Dee because in 2005 she starred in Scar, a horror about a young man and woman visiting a remote wooded location, that reminded me of the location from Evil Dead, to try and figure out who killed a friend the previous year. Add some ghosts and Dee Wallace as a wacky hotel owner and it’s easy to see this film wasn’t really designed to be seen by an audience. It’s actually embarrassing to see Dee in this film. Poorly acted, bad script, terrible effects are enough reasons to avoid this film.
Headspace, also released in 2005, was a slightly better low budget movie, though the film in general was still dull compared to Dee’s earlier works.
Fortunately 2006 was looking better for Dee with Abominable. The storyline for this is simple: It has been sighted 42,000 times in 68 countries. A creature of myth and legend known by several names; Yeti, Sasquatch and the infamous Bigfoot! We've hunted it for years, but what happens when it decides to hunt us? Abominable centers on a man recovering from a mountain climbing accident, trapped in a remote cabin in the woods, who sees the legendary beast, and must convince someone to believe him, before the monster goes on a bloody rampage.
Now I have to say, a lot of my friends dismissed this film, but I gave it props for being creative and giving us something new. The ultimate Bigfoot movie is yet to be made, but this is a great jumping off point.
Also that year, Dee teamed up again with Jeffrey Combs for a TV movie called Voodoo Moon. The basic storyline is a demonic being destroys an entire town, except a young boy and his sister. Twenty years later, the sister is an artist with psychic abilities and her brother has grown obsessed with tracking down the demon that destroyed his town. (Fun Fact: Buffy The Vampire Slayer star, Charisma Carpenter also stars) Sadly, this film wasn’t anything to write home about, and was just like a live action comic book. Very one dimensional. But, if you’re like me and a huge Buffy fan, you’ll get your kicks from it.
In 2007 horror called on Dee Wallace in a big way. Rob Zombie was reimagining Halloween and Dee won the role of Cynthia Strode, Laurie’s mother. Now, in the past I have been brutal in my reviews of this movie. I don’t like it. But one thing I can’t fault is the horror icons that make an appearance. Brad Dourif, Danielle Harris, Dee Wallace and Bill Moseley all star as Michael Myers gets remade.
While I don’t like the film, Dee’s role as Laurie’s mother couldn’t be faulted. She was fun, quirky and just seemed like an all-round nice person to the point that I wished she was my mother, which is why her demise brings tears to the eyes. It’s hard watching her against Michael and the manner in which she’s killed is just disturbing. If you want to know what happens, you’ll have to see it for yourself.
The following year, Dee found herself against Daniel Baldwin and James Russo in Little Red Devils. The storyline is as follows: Jimmy Lidell is a "nobody", stealing to earn a living in a dead-end life searching for his long lost girlfriend. That is until he meets Luc Tyer - a bigger-than-life underworld heavy that makes him an "offer he can't refuse". Jimmy accepts, but is leery about the secret motives behind Luc's willingness to teach the business. Jimmy's mother suspects that Jimmy may be running with the wrong crowd, but Jimmy turns a deaf ear to her religious warnings. Luc soon reveals his plans to use Jimmy as his unholy servant in a deadly and bloody game of evil revenge and power.
Little Red Devils is an interesting film and is probably one of the best performances I’ve seen from Daniel Baldwin. Certainly is worth the watch.
In 2009 Dee found herself playing the landlady in The House Of The Devil. In the 1980s, college student Samantha Hughes takes a strange babysitting job that coincides with a full lunar eclipse. She slowly realizes her clients harbor a terrifying secret; they plan to use her in a satanic ritual. An interesting storyline, made even more interesting by the performances of Tim Noonan, Jocelin Donahue and AJ Bowen.
Now in 2012, Dee has numerous films lined up as well as working with Rob Zombie again in The Lords Of Salem.
I can’t speak for all of Truly Disturbing, but I’m pretty excited to see Dee Wallace in Hansel & Gretel, due for release in 2013.
Dee Wallace. Her name conjures up images of a mother like figure, strong willed yet gentle. Her talent is undeniable and despite being typecast in the horror genre as a heroine, the title of Scream Queen doesn’t do her justice. She is one of few actresses that can be consider THE ULTIMATE SCREAM QUEEN. Fans warm to her endearing smile and natural warmth and because of the love audiences have of her, Dee Wallace will be in demand for many years to come.