Not an epic voter turnout for the last battle (only 82 votes were cast), but a respectable one. And to those who trudged through the snow and sleet to get to your local voting centers, I commend you.
It’s a clear victory for A Nightmare on Elm Street’s Heather Langenkamp. She can go get a massage to ease her aching muscles and prepare for the re-entry into the ring for her pending semi-final round. Against who? We shall see. Congrats to you, our beloved Nancy Thompson!
Which means we say so long to Lois Chiles and her feisty Annie Lansing of Creepshow 2. There were but a few fans out there who only had eyes for you, but sadly, it just wasn’t enough. Onward to your new destinies, and may I offer this piece of advice – don’t pick up hitchhikers.
Final votes – Langenkamp: 78 Chiles: 4
Well voters… we have arrived. This is our last preliminary battle to eventually crown the Ultimate Horror Lady of the ‘80s. 32 women entered the ring for these initial battles, and we’re about to determine who will be the 16th (and final) lady to return for the semi-finals.
These next two ladies are scream queens. In fact, one of them currently stars on a television show called Scream Queens.
Both films to be examined are from that glorious year of 1980. Adrienne Barbeau will be taking the ring to support her performance as Stevie Wayne in Carpenter’s The Fog, while Jamie Lee Curtis will be defending her role as Alana in the slasher-classic Terror Train – in a battle I like to call, “Scream! It’s 1980!”
First up, as radio DJ and station owner, Stevie Wayne, Adrienne Barbeau is no stranger to genre films. With appearances in such flicks as Swamp Thing, Creepshow and Escape from New York, her performance as a concerned mother and concerned small town citizen in The Fog, is what won her placement in this competition.
And what discussion of Barbeau’s performance would be complete without mention of that sensual voice she puts out over the radio – specifically how she delivers her many double entendres. Barbeau’s certainly got a good career in radio, if this acting thing doesn’t work out. Hardy-har-har. But what I most loved about her performance, I truly only realized during this latest revisit to prepare for this battle – was how she would go from terrified one moment, and then quickly return to that patented smooth Stevie Wayne delivery when she would go back on the air. What’s great about this, is that it shows how deftly Stevie (and in turn, Barbeau) can change gears.
Her first glimpse of the ghostly fog also garners a primo reaction from Barbeau. She’s on the phone with weather man Dan (Charles Cyphers) discussing how fog can move against the wind, when she sees a brief glow on the horizon. It’s her first inkling that something’s wrong. I love this moment ‘cause it captures Stevie’s exhaustion, her innocent flirtations with Dan and also that she knows her stuff (radio and weather). She is running a radio station on her own, so she can’t defer to a weather man or a sports expert. This perfectly sets up that Stevie’s smart, on the ball and a multi-tasker. And without Barbeau’s on-screen charisma, would we love her as much? Just take a look at Selma Blair in the same role in the lackluster remake. I rest my case.
Following the creepy explosion of son Andy’s driftwood in the station, Stevie calls home to get some information from her son. The brilliance Barbeau brings to this phone call, is that we see within Stevie – true concern. But there’s something deeper – confusion. Sure, the driftwood and accompanying dark omen were frightening, but after all is said and done, nothing actually happened. Is Stevie just tired and overworked? Perhaps. But what I enjoy here is again, that concern. She’s upset, but she doesn’t really know why. She’s going off of her gut that something’s not right. After all, it’s just a piece of wood. But Barbeau gives us so many layers in that phone call. You can see that she believes she probably is over-reacting, but being a single mom, possibly she automatically goes to that extreme. Bottom line, Barbeau delivers a great deal of Stevie’s personality in these brief moments. And directly following the call, she looks at the driftwood, clicks the “on the air” switch, and exactly that, she’s “on”. There’s that awesome professional shift!
Barbeau’s crowning moments come when Andy is in danger. She helplessly looks on from her high vantage point as the fog covers Antonio Bay. The fog has knocked out power, so she rushes downstairs to desperately engage the generator. Once it turns over, she rushes upstairs and screams into the microphone for Andy and his baby-sitter (Mrs. Kobritz) to run. She then begs that any of her listeners who are near enough (she repeats the address over and over), to please rescue Andy. Stevie’s in full-on “mother” mode. She then pleads for Andy’s forgiveness, “I have to stay here”. It’s a nice change of pace to see such a strong female character. Sure she gets upset, but she doesn’t break down into hysterics – and eventually attempting the impossible by leaving her post and rushing back into town to save him. She’s smart enough to know that with that aforementioned awesome view, she needs to keep everyone informed. Barbeau sells Stevie’s decision to take into account “the needs of the many, rather than the needs of the few”. And not long after Andy is rescued (Stevie doesn’t know this), she returns to “all business” as she describes the fog’s movements into town. Dammit, Stevie’s a professional.
And being that Barbeau is a scream queen, let’s examine her final moments in the lighthouse. She sees the fog rolling down the impossibly long staircase (one of the best shots in the whole film) to the station, and Barbeau’s silent reaction is priceless. From there on out, things get pretty dire for Stevie. Barbeau has to scream, fight off the wormy ghouls and try not to slip off of the top of that lighthouse. It’s a very physical scene (Barbeau said in an interview that she was black and blue the day after they shot the sequence), and like all good beat-up scream queens, we love Barbeau even more for her tough-as-nails commitment to the role and the scene.
Finally, what’s most interesting about Barbeau’s performance, is the fact that Stevie’s going off of little to no information. During the course of the film, she never gains the insights of the other characters – that these are ghosts from the shipwrecked Elizabeth Dane – returning for their gold and their revenge. All she ever knows is that there are some gnarly creatures coming at her via the dense and glowing fog! So she’s going on survival instinct alone. Even if you were able to reason with these water-logged ghouls (Father Malone sort of does), she wouldn’t even know that this would be an option – she doesn’t know who they are or why they’re there! And despite her injuries and exhaustion, note that Stevie still returns to the microphone to inform her listeners of what’s happened. That’s commitment, not only from Stevie, but from Adrienne – who makes us love Stevie and believe that no matter what, she’s gonna keep that station afloat and continue to inform her audience.
“I don’t know what happened to Antonio Bay tonight. Something came out of the fog and tried to destroy us.”
And as a side note, who wouldn’t love to see Stevie’s reaction to hearing the experiences of the other townsfolk?
“They were ghosts from a ship that sank 100 years ago – fueled by the fire of revenge? Holy crap!” Yup, there’s more to the story, dear Stevie.
And opposite Stevie Wayne in the ring, is another Carpenter regular, Ms. Jamie Lee Curtis. I couldn’t choose her role in the original Halloween (not the ‘80s), and she’s basically a stumbling mute in the sequel. Halloween 2 is ‘80s, but there’s just not much for Curtis to do. Prom Night was never one of my favorites, so it all came down to Terror Train (final decision of which Curtis role to highlight was helped out by friends JT, Eric, Keith, Michael and Richard – thanks pals!)
In Terror Train, Jamie Lee Curtis gives us another role which further cements her status as Scream Queen. Her Alana is a college student. We never get much history on her, but we know she likes to party and she likes to play a part in pulling nasty pranks which she’ll later regret.
It takes a while to get to Curtis’ really good stuff in Terror Train, but when we do, watch out! However, early on we have some various boyfriend/girlfriend tiffs (with Mo, played by Timothy Webber), including a great scene where they argue over Mo’s over-reliance on his friend and the head of the fraternity — Doc (played by Hart Bochner).
“Doc’s my friend.”
“You don’t need an enemy then.”
“You think of that one all by yourself?”
Curtis even pulls off this pseudo-soapy stuff with class and talent. All of this college couple drama has to do with Alana’s reluctance to somehow be involved in further pranks, after the one three years ago ended up warping an already awkward kid’s mind. Said kid, Kenny (played by Derek McKinnon) returns for the big final college party (aboard a train) and intends to avenge his humiliations.
Curtis has a genuinely loveable scene as the train gets underway, with Sandie Currie (portraying Mitchy, Alana’s best friend). Alana is graduating early, and so must part ways with Mitchy. It doesn’t serve much as far as character development (or the things Alana will later face in the film), but it does offer a glimpse into her heartfelt feelings for bestie Mitchy: “We’re always gonna be friends.”
It’s all a raucous party with random scenes throughout, but once Mitchy is discovered dead and shown to Alana, things start to cook. For Alana, it’s a believable build from confusion to fear to grief/horror as the conductor attempts to explain to her about Mitchy’s death. Curtis’ best moment is her reaction to, “She’s dead.” It’s a slight, skeptical smirk, almost laugh – before her smile falls and she rushes out with an “I don’t believe you!” Once the conductor actually shows Alana, it’s a fantastic show of emotion from Curtis. She falls into the conductor’s arms and breaks down. Good stuff.
And it’s a wham-bam, sorry ma’am – double tragedy as Alana finds out shortly following Mitchy’s death, that boyfriend Mo is also a victim. It’s a mutually authentic (and moving) scene of mourning for Curtis and co-star Hart Bochner (as Doc). They play off of each other’s emotion in this moment, and it makes for a pretty impressive cry-fest over the characters’ mutual friend’s dead body.
The little battle between Doc and Alana – as he attempts to lock them in one of train compartments to keep them safe, is another chance for Curtis to shine. Doc doesn’t care about the safety of others – once they have discovered whom they believe to be the true killer – and Curtis’ disgust is worn on her sleeve. Another fun scene for both actors.
Curtis goes into “final girl” mode not long after, and we’re treated to her absolute rule as “Scream Queen” – as she runs, battles (Alana’s resourceful), cries, bleeds and of course, screams. It’s exactly the horror quality we’ve come to expect of Her Royal Highness. The lengthy fight scene in the conductor car is relentless and powerful. In this scene, Curtis really delivers the acting goods that God gave her.
Her final moment with the killer – in the conductor’s car – finds her face-to-face with the man she had a hand in humiliating and who is responsible for all of the death aboard the train. He reveals himself to her and there is a revisit to the opening “prank” sequence, as he repeats the “kiss me” line she used to taunt him for the big joke three years ago. Watch carefully as the gears go into overdrive in Alana’s head. Curtis perfectly captures the mental turmoil (she’s blood-stained and teary-eyed and exhausted), finally allowing Alana to lean forward and offer Kenny a kiss. You can almost see in her eyes – after all that has happened, “Is this all that was needed?” There’s this tiny bit of perverse hope that her kiss will solve all ills and forgive all sins. It’s a very nice moment for Curtis.
One little special moment I appreciate from Curtis, is her brief conversation with the conductor (Ben Johnson), as they watch David Copperfield (as The Magician) perform a few tricks. They’re both enjoying the show and we already know that the conductor is an amateur magician. She asks the conductor if he knows how The Magician does it. He replies with a coy, “We’re sworn to secrecy.” Curtis’ reaction is a wide and genuine smile – very sweet.
I have a feeling this battle may be a tough call for most voters. Two beloved queens of the scream screen. But choose you must, and vote you must.
You can do so right here on the site or over on Twitter with “Ultimate Horror Lady” and then your choice, #adriennebarbeau or #jamieleecurtis. You can also vote on Facebook, if you like! Just vote!
So let’s make the most of this very last prelim battle. Next up, you’ll be given a wrap-up/revisit of everyone we’ve seen triumph and also, everyone we’ve had to send to the locker room to clear out their belongings. Stay tuned voters, ‘cause the semi-finals and the remaining 16 ladies are coming soon!