Adrienne Barbeau, pictured with hubby Billy Van Zandt and her books. The famed “scream queen” turned horror author will appear at a local signing on Thursday.
By TOM CHESEK (First published on RedBankGreen July 7, 2008)
As the archetypal fox of the drive-in and the video store, Adrienne Barbeau has shared the frame with some of the scariest co-stars of the past 30 years — from the briny boogeymen of 1978’s The Fog and the mutated menaces of Swamp Thing, to “Fluffy” in Creepshow — and even Bea Arthur, with whom she made her Broadway debut in the 1971 Fiddler on the Roof.
Just a few years after leaving a career as a go-go dancer in various Jersey badda-bings, the California native with the exotic gypsy-princess looks would go on to a long run as Arthur’s divorcee daughter in the 1970s sitcom Maude, but not before scoring a Tony nomination as the original (and, it’s said, definitive) Rizzo in Grease. She’s quick to point out that she won The Cannonball Run in 1981, and that she was one of the top players on The $20,000 Pyramid, but underlying all the cheese is a hard-earned sense of accomplishment at having navigated a “B-movie” career in the Age of Irony — something she’s done with grace, intelligence, humor and an appealingly brassy pin-up quality that somehow never goes out of style.
For better or worse, it’s as a “scream queen” that Barbeau stakes her most indelible claim on the pop-cultural consciousness. But for every project like 1989’s Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death, it seems, there’s a latterday “comeback” and triumph like the acclaimed HBO series Carnivale from a couple of seasons back. She’s appeared in husband/playwright Billy Van Zandt‘s comic ensemble film A Wake in Providence in 1999, and starred as a tragic Judy Garland in his play The Property Known as Garland, which previewed at Brookdale Community College before going on to an off-Broadway run a couple of seasons back.
The 62-year old dynameau Barbeau has also recently minted a parallel career as an author, with a best-selling volume of memoirs entitled There Are Worse Things I Could Do, as well as numerous magazine articles (check out her essay on orange juice in the current issue of Danny Sanchez’s Red Bank-based dTour Magazine). With this week’s publication of her first novel — the genre-bending horror-SLASH-detective novel Vampyres of Hollywood, with Michael Scott — the scream queen takes control, and turns that scare factor to her advantage.
Barbeau, who lives part of the year in Middletown, will be making an appearance at Barnes and Noble in the Holmdel Commons on Route 35 South at 7p on Thursday. Other than a July 9 signing event in Manhattan, the appearance will be her only East Coast date for Vampyres before she heads to L.A. for an intensive promotional whirl. With Van Zandt and the couple’s twin 11-year-old sons off on a summer-vacation tour of major league ballparks, Barbeau found a few moments to speak with redbankgreen on her arrival as a mistress of horror ink, and the celluloid legacy that put it in motion.
I guess I should ask, since I keep bringing it up, if you’re at least resigned to the phrase “scream queen?” How do you define scream queen, anyway?
A scream queen is someone who’s in a movie that makes a hundred million at the box office (laughs). Well, there were times when I was chased by the monsters, but I’ve also helped to defeat the monsters. I hope that I was thought of as the heroine as opposed to the victim.
You’ve embraced the whole thing, though; you’ve had fun with it, appeared at the conventions.
It’s amazing how supportive the fans of the genre are… if you’re into it, you’re hardcore. But I’m not even a fan of the genre myself. I don’t like to be scared!
I don’t know if anyone ever really set out to get themselves on the cover of RUE MORGUE.
No, working in the genre was never a conscious choice. In 1978 I did a TV film called Someone’s Watching Me; the director was a young guy by the name of John Carpenter, who had done a couple of independent pictures (Dark Star, Assault on Precinct 13) and TV movies (Elvis) by that point. Later that year I did my first feature film for him…The Fog, which was in production before Halloween became the huge success story it was. One thing led to another, and we were married in 1979. [They divorced five years later.]
Tell me about your co-author on this new book, Michael Scott. How did you come to work together?
Michael lives in Ireland. He’s actually Ireland’s leading expert on mythology. He’s got over a hundred books published in the UK; romance, sci fi, horror, young adult, you name it.
He’s also a close friend of a woman I was taking a writing class from. He said, ‘You should write a novel for your horror fanbase.’ Now, I had just put out my memoir, I never wrote fiction — [though] at one time in my career I reviewed books for ABC Radio. But he offered to help me, and we pounded out a half-dozen chapters to send out to publishers.
So what can you tell us about the storyline in Vampyres of Hollywood?
It’s a vampire S&M romance, a little fang-in-cheek, as Publisher’s Weekly says. There’s an adage in town that when a celebrity dies, two more will follow, and somebody is killing the A-list actors in some violent ways. It turns out they’re members of the same vampire clan as my main character, Ovsanna. She’s a B-movie actress and she’s Armenian — a lot of similarities to me!
Now, in our book, the vampires have always been part of Hollywood. It wasn’t until the advent of movies that they found their power. The camera loves them — they’re luminescent!
So who among the famous stars are really vampires?
Sounds like Mel Gibson in an unguarded moment! Well, it’s a cool premise, and I’m sure you’re already thinking franchise here.
I’m actually writing the sequel to Vampyres now, by myself, since Michael is busy with other projects. It’s been a real education for me; I didn’t realize there were so many subgenres of vampire literature. I went into one bookstore and found a 15-foot wide shelf of nothing but vampire novels!
What are some of your favorites?
Fevre Dream by George R.R. Martin…I loved it! And I enjoy Christopher Moore‘s books, such as You Suck — very contemporary. Also Kim Newman‘s Anno Dracula, and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro‘s St. Germaine series.
The book will be in stores on July 8, so once it comes out, we’ll see — it could go on as a series. I’m sure it would work well as a movie!