Tom Jolliffe celebrates some of the most popular B-movie queens of the video era onward…
Think of those legendary actresses of the last few decades. Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Scarlett Johansson, Margot Robbie… Big names, capable of selling a film themselves and a regular big screen fixture.
As someone who grew up in the VHS era, with a huge array of video premiere films to watch, I have become accustomed to the many great female leads who became bankable draws on video. Now some may have started in the video market from the beginning, but others began as a big screen presence before becoming a dependable audience magnet in the straight-to-video arena.
Back on those glorious video store days my eyes would be drawn of course to the latest Dolph Lundgren special, or a whole host of action gods beneath his level like Gary Daniels et al. Likewise though, there were so many B-Movie Queens that caught my eye, and continue(d) to throughout the current century. Here’s a few…
Having risen to fame as Sylvester Stallone’s girlfriend, and appearing in a couple of his peak era films (Rocky IV and Cobra), Brigitte Nielsen branched out and had a modicum of success on the big screen with Red Sonja and Beverly Hills Cop 2. Through the 90’s though, the big screen roles weren’t particularly coming, but she was beginning to appear in a number of DTV films (predominantly action).
The statuesque Nielsen made an engaging heroine but also a suitably imposing and icy villain. There were several trashy highlights like Compelling Evidence and Chained Heat 2, but Terminal Force (also known as Galaxis) was a standout film. A film reputedly once destined to be a She-Ra adaptation, was made as something with striking similarities to Masters of the Universe (many similar plot threads and individual moments). It’s got a good amount of explosive action and an odd mix of special FX which range from pretty good, to pretty terrible. Nielsen though, as an intergalactic heroine is compelling, even if her acting is sometimes awkward.
From 2000-2007 she moved away from films, appearing in a number of reality shows, and the film work upon her return was a mixed bag (of often smaller roles) but regardless, he fleeting appearance in Creed II (returning as Ludmilla Drago) was welcome.
After becoming something of a regularly fixture in Western cinema, Bai Ling began bouncing from bigger budget appearances to being more prominent as a video star in the 00’s onward. A difference with Ling and a few other B Queens, is that she’s courted the critical acclaim that has alluded many actresses who specialised predominantly in straight to video or B-movie productions (and in many cases I guess, for ‘physical’ attributes). She was lauded for her role in Red Corner, whilst she also had a very successful return to Chinese cinema with Dumplings.
You can certainly see at some point her off screen persona began to infuse her film work. What some people might call erratic, I call enigmatic and interesting. That may not work in getting you big Hollywood parts (aside from ‘quirky’ films like Crank 2 or Southland Tales) but it fits the B movie world. Even in the most dire straight to video films she’s appeared in, her mere presence elevates proceedings. Fiery, quirky characters, outlandish costumes, and wild delivery are Ling staples in many of her films. best exemplified in films like Samurai Cop 2, Game of Assassins, The Gene Generation and the enjoyably stylish vampire film The Breed. I always feel like, no matter the film, it’s always better for having Bai Ling in it.
From success in Hong Kong at the beginning of her acting career, Cynthia Rothrock quickly transitioned into becoming a prolific and popular video action star in the 90’s. Rothrock as an action star certainly ruled the roost among the female stars. She was a consistent and popular fixture.
One aspect that also differed with some of her female action contemporaries at the time was the fact she was the real deal, a legitimate martial arts badass performing her own fight scenes. There were similar (like Karen Shepherd) but none lived up to Rothrock’s on screen success. The China O’Brien, Lady Dragon and Tiger Claws films showed a demand for sequealising her work, and several other standouts like Sworn To Justice, Undefeatable (legendary in the so bad its good ballpark) and Guardian Angel. After a brief hiatus Rothrock returned to movies, albeit becoming more of a cameo artist than before. Still, during her peak period, nobody did it better as far as kicking ass.
A brief run of theatrical films, including a walk-on debut in Lethal Weapon, a villainous turn in See No Evil Hear No Evil and a nice support turn in Bird on A Wire, Severance quickly established herself as a TV premiere and straight to video specialist. Her forte was largely in the skin flick arena, and no stranger to baring flesh, but at the same time compared to some contemporaries had a more ‘natural’ look and more acting ability.
Among that slew of erotic thrillers, highlights include Illicit Behaviour, the oddly art-house Lake Consequence (which has a great George S. Clinton score), Payback and The Last Seduction 2. At the same time, Severance did branch out into other genres and in particular found some cult following with Black Scorpion, a made for TV comic book film made during that mid-90’s wasteland of slightly haphazard comic book movies (The Phantom).
Absolutely prolific, and a favourite in the formative years of UK’s Channel 5, which had a habit of showing late night erotic thrillers. Likewise, a regular presence in the darker corner of the video store. A former playmate turned Mrs. Gene Simmons, Tweed forged a solid career as a leading woman across the peak video years and had plenty of presence.
Her career also had a nice variation too. There were of course the Basic Instinct slipstream followers, but she also appeared in several action films like No Contest, Shadow Warriors: Assault on Devils Island and its sequel Assault on Death Island. Her standout film though, for the sheer ludicrousness of plot, was Electra. A mysterious serum that can heal and reverse ageing lies within a farm boy. A serum that Electra (Tweed) wants and which can be transmitted sexually. Oh yeah, and I think unless my memory is hazy, she’s also an alien… brilliant.
Most prolific in the 80’s, Danning had a particularly enjoyable and regular presence in Italian made fantasy movies such as Hercules, Warrior Queen and Seven Magnificent Gladiators. Her career was largely confined to exploitation films (from the 70’s, through to the 80’s).
Danning certainly had an impressive physical presence and gained a huge cult following for her mix of films. Was never as much of a strong video presence in the 90’s because she disappeared at the start of the decade, brought back into cinematic prevalence by Quentin Tarantino in Grindhouse (during one of the faux trailer segments). For most fans though, she’ll always be fondly remembered for such classics as Sex Olympics and Howling II: Your Sister Is a Werewolf .
A career loaded with so many cult horror favourites across both cinema runs and in the video market. Her entire career though has pretty much existed in B pictures and she’s worked consistently for over 40 years.
Quigley’s most iconic role was in Return of The Living Dead. She also appeared in such classics as Silent Night Deadly Night, Night of The Demons, and Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers. Always an engaging (sometimes live-wire) presence, Quigley’s career has endured and she still remains a popular genre presence in these films.
SEE ALSO: The Contemporary Queens of Action Cinema
Who is your favourite B Movie Queen? Let us know your thoughts on our social channels @flickeringmyth…
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has a number of films out on DVD/VOD around the world and several releases due out in 2021/2022, including, Renegades (Lee Majors, Danny Trejo, Michael Pare, Tiny Lister, Nick Moran, Patsy Kensit, Ian Ogilvy and Billy Murray), Crackdown, When Darkness Falls and War of The Worlds: The Attack (Vincent Regan). Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see here.