Scream Queen [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Wild Eye Releasing
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (11th June 2024).
The Film

When veteran scream queen Malicia Tombs (Silent Night, Deadly Night's Linnea Quigley) storms off the set of a film being directed by low-budget horror specialist Eric Orloff (Jarrod Robbins) after a spat with her younger hopeful replacement Christine (Nicole West) only to be incinerated when her car explodes leaving not even a trace of her body. The tragic aftermath leaves everyone out of a job: Orloff obsessively rewatches the dailies, effects artist Squib (make-up effects artist Billy Cooper) toils away making novelty monster masks, Christine ends up at the reception desk for cut-throat producer David S. Sterling (as himself), wardrobe department roommates Devon (Nova Sheppard) and Jenni (Lost Soul's Emilie Jo Tisdale) are selling their fashions directly on the strip hoping to make enough money to open a shop, and actor Bud (Josh Matthews) is serving up lattes in a coffee shop frequented by Hollywood power players who take no notice of him. They all receive an offer too good to refuse from a mysterious patron who invites them to the hilltop Montauk Mansion on 101 Killington Street to finish shooting film with the promise of a ten-thousand dollar payoff for each of them.

It turns out their host is not the mysterious mini-majordomo Mr. Runyon (musician Kurt Levee) but Malicia herself who took advantage of someone trying to murder her and faked her death, collecting on her sizable life insurance policy. Hoping to live off the profits of the film's notoriety, Malicia swears them to anonymity as to her identity as the film's silent partner. She provides them with a new script and gives them the rest of the night to rehearse before they start shooting in the morning. As Orloff gets himself plastered, Bud and Christine running lines and Devon and Jenni discovering provocative clothing and props in Malicia's wardrobe lead to other things – Squib spends the night in the company of his full-size go-to corpse mannequin – and someone stalks the corridors picking them off one-by-one. While it is very likely that Malicia has set up the entire thing to expose the person who attempted to murder her, is she also killing off the suspects or does someone else want to prevent the truth from coming out?

The feature film debut of director Brad Sykes who has spent the past quarter-century helming genre product mainly for prolific producer David S. Sterling like the first two entries of the Camp Blood franchise (numbering thirteen installments so far) and the odd Witchcraft sequel on the outer outskirts of the direct-to-video market alongside the likes of Jay Woelfel (Beyond Dream's Door), Ron Bonk (Strawberry Estates) and Mark Polonia (Splatter Farm) who was one of the editors on the film and would take over the Camp Blood franchise, Scream Queen was certainly a shaky start. Shot in 1998 but unreleased until now – although references give a 2002 release date which could have been a festival screening – after nine of his subsequent films had been released, the film is cleverer in conception than execution. While he had only been in Hollywood for a couple years at the time, Sykes' dialogue adeptly skewers their end of the industry – particularly with Malicia's speculation on the lesser amount of seedy work Christine may have had to do to earn her "scream queen" moniker and exclaiming "This would never happen in a Fred Olen Ray film!" – and he seems to have taken a tongue-in-cheek approach to the less-than-atmospherically "gothic" location with an obvious forced-perspective model shot exterior to Runyon's history of the house's grisly past that only goes back as far as 1972.

On the other hand, the low-lit SVHS videography is not only low-quality in resolution and exposure but also just rather perfunctory in coverage apart from the actual kills where there seems to be some deliberation in the framing even though it often does a disservice to the make-up effects which are actually quite accomplished when we get a good view of them as in a scene where Squib scares Bud with a gaping arm wound which looked convincing to the viewer even as the camera recorded Cooper working on the effect, and another deaths seems to directly reference Dario Argento's Tenebrae. Either due to scheduling and budgetary limitations or paucity of imagination and performance ability – while also obviously working around Quigley's availability – the whodunit aspect goes by the wayside quickly in favor of the stalk-and-slash sequences and surprisingly chaste sex scenes, and the reveal feels more cheeky than clever. While the imperfect end result might be of interest to fans of the original eighties brand of "scream queens" – as opposed to those earlier personalities who were given the moniker retrospectively – it appears that the market was not the same in 1998 as it was when Linnea Quigley's Horror Workout could land a respectable video distribution deal (even with producer intervention as seen below).


Previously unreleased on video – unless it popped up on the bootleg circuit – Scream Queen is presented on Blu-ray in what is described as a "director-approved 480p master from original tape elements." We are not sure whether the director's approval extends to the video which has been upscaled to 1080i60 MPEG-4 AVC 1.33:1 pillarboxed fullscreen video encode or just the cut of the film which runs 73:43 compared to the 1080i60 MPEG-4 AVC 1.33:1 pillarboxed fullscreen video encode of the "producer's cut which runs 78:35 and includes two additional unrelated scenes running just under five minutes inserted before the credits featuring two nude models engaging in light S&M which are captioned as scenes from the film-within-a-film. The video quality of both is limited to the original underexposed and streaky videography which does not appear to have been cleaned up or AI-upscaled like the Blu-ray of the aforementioned Linnea Quigley’s Horror Workout.


The audio option for both cuts is a Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track that features primarily production audio, rough sound editing of added effects and scoring that only really comes to life just before the interminable opening credits which are preceded by a music video directed by Sykes featuring Quigley singing "This Chainsaw's Made For Cutting" which is exactly what you think it is. Optional English SDH subtitles are included and, shockingly for a label focusing on low-budget horror films, mis-transcribe the in-joke reference to Fred Olen Ray as "Fred Allen Wright".


The director's cut is accompanied by a audio commentary by writer/director Brad Sykes recorded back in 2020 but apparently not used until now in which he recalls that West was actually a diva and the scripted argument with Quigley in the opening scene was not entirely fabricated since West showed up late to an early morning shoot just hours after their last all-nighter in the mansion location (he notes that Vegas showgirl West had been one of Ted V. Mikels' muses, or "castle ladies", and likens her to an Al Adamson starlet). He recalls writing the script with Quigley in mind and that fellow filmmaker C. Courtney Joyner (The Lurking Fear) - who appears onscreen as a police detective early on – got her involved, and that she agreed on the condition that he shot the aforementioned music video for her. He provides some information on the cast including fellow Virginia Beach transplants like Joe Marino who had covered some of his video work back home and appears as the obsessive fan who badgers Orloff early on in the film, as well as effects artist Kaye Cochran – who also plays a TV reporter in the film – who was brought on by Quigley along with Cooper who was possessive of the actress. He also reveals that the workshop Cooper is seen working in early in the film belonged to Sota F/X who often loaned him props and effects pieces for his films. He also discusses the shoot and concedes that the location was not a Gothic as he had hoped – it was loaned out by a guy whose parents were out of the country – and what did not work in the shoot including Levee's performance but also cites some of his influences in Euro horror.

In "Once Upon a Time in Horrorwood" (29:46), Sykes appears onscreen and discusses his early career, coming to Los Angeles in 1997 and meeting producer Sterling while working on the crew of Iron Thunder and pitched him the idea for the film when the opportunity came up. His anecdotes mostly overlap with the commentary.

The disc also includes a new interview with actress Linnea Quigley (12:19) who did not realize the film had been written for her when she met Sykes through Joyner, vaguely recalls the shoot, the music video, and provides some recollections of her friends who worked on the film including Cochran and Cooper.

There is also an interview with editor Mark Polonia (2:58) who recalls it as his first paid commercial editing job and how the project looked without music, sound effects, or color correction.

Also included are a behind the scenes image gallery (3:14), a Linnea Quigley image gallery (0:50), original script excerpts which read a bit more visually than they were executed, the original trailer (2:09), as well as the Visual Vengeance trailer (0:51) for the film seen as a start-up on other releases for the line.


Packaging include a slipcover, reversible cover, video rental store card, sheet of twelve stickers, and foldout poster.


The feature debut of DTV horror director Brad Sykes, the Linnea Quigley vehicle Scream Queen is a shaky but not unrewarding minor work.


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