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Modern Exploitation – Amy Lynn Best on the “Spicy Sisters” PDF Print E-mail
Written by Written by Mike Watt   
Apr 03, 2005 at 02:00 AM
Exploitation is the mainstay of low-budget, independent horror. This means the time-honored combination of gore and skin: the formula for a successful (or, at least, sporadically entertaining) movie. But this formula is also what generally gets the horror industry in trouble. Video violence incites real life violence, whine the protractors. And all that nudity is just misogyny.

Well today’s horror movies aren’t your father’s brand of misogyny. These days, the so-called “helpless heroine” is just as likely to snatch up a chainsaw and turn it against the ghost-masked villain than she is to stand whining at the locked door squealing for her keys. As for that pesky nudity, it’s no longer the issue of career gunpoint that it was in the grindhouse ‘70s or video-house ‘80s. Most of the top stars in the microbudget world are female, and they hold the keys to their states of undress.

Thanks to the DV boom, more and more movies are being shot every year. Every day of the year in these tumultuous times, there is something being shot in someone’s back yard or basement, some new set of kids with a brand new GL-2 trying out the tricks that they’ve seen in countless similarly-budgeted digital movies. Horror conventions are well stocked these days with the offerings of new production companies (and the kids who were able to scrape $100 together for the cost of a table, but not that same amount to feed their cast or buy a decent microphone). One thing these backyard auteurs have learned is the necessity of the star. And the stars they will turn to are folks like Debbie Rochon (Stumped), Lilith Stabs (Malefic), Jasi Cotton Lanier (Severe Injuries) and Amy Lynn Best (Tenants). These women have made names for themselves in indie horror and their names alone can draw attention to the otherwise forgettable product. Because of their talent and their personas, they are production value in and of themselves. And that can be considered power—think about it: name three horror actors on this level whose names alone will cause someone to say “Oh, I have to see that one!”

Because of their name recognition, indie filmmakers turn to these women and others in the hopes of providing their box art and opening credits with a touch of class. And because of their gender, these actresses are often called upon in the hopes of getting them to disrobe, usually resulting in very disappointed young filmmakers.

Earlier this year, Amy and I produced “The Spicy Sisters Slumber Party”, which she conceived and directed. She got together with our three aforementioned friends and number of others—Robyn Griggs, Stacy Bartlebaugh-Gmys, Ryli Morgan, Linnea Quigley—to discuss their roles in the ever-evolving industry.

“Nudity is fine if you choose to do it,” Amy says at one point in the doc. “And if you don’t, that’s fine too. Exploitation is great as long as it’s on your own terms. Actresses are choosing to do nudity now, rather than being forced to in order to further their careers. More often than not, they’re choosing not to.”

(It’s a pretty candid discussion. Amy devised the term “Spicy Sisters” to replace the well-worn moniker “scream queen” that is affixed to every actress who appears in a horror movie. In her mind, there are only three: Linnea Quigley, Michelle Bauer and Brinke Stevens. Neve Campbell is not a scream queen. Neither is Jessica Biel. Neither, for that matter, are Debbie Rochon, Jasi Lanier, or Amy Lynn Best. It’s a distinction Amy has been making in interviews for the past few years, and she wanted to get it down on tape so someone may actually listen.)

The nudity issue is discussed pretty extensively in the doc. Ryli and Jasi have done it in the past, though Jasi will only consider it now on a case-by-case basis. Usually the answer is no. Lilith and Robyn won’t consider it under any circumstances and will actually ask for the clause in the contract (should one actually exist)—it’s not open to debate.

For Amy, it doesn’t matter who does and who doesn’t. As she says above, it’s not being exploited any longer—the decision alone makes it exploiting yourself. “You’re in control of the situation at that point,” she says.

This is a decision more and more women are making in the genre. So if you’re making a movie and you want a topless shot, be prepared to get a ‘no’. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a yes, but you might have to shell out more. Intimidation is no longer an option. Hell, most of these women could kick your ass for even thinking it.

Oddly enough, while the control is there, so is the stigma. Most women who appear in low budget horror are considered, by the mainstream, to be one step removed from porn stars, nudity or no. Look at the section of the “Slumber Party” where Linnea sits in at pool side to discuss her early years in the industry. Just as they all reach the conclusion that this attitude is no longer as prevalent, shooting was halted by hotel security.

It seems that a church group—also guests at the hotel—complained that our crew and stars were shooting a “porno” in the hot tub, and that the girls were performing strip teases in front of their impressionable Christian daughters. It turns out that one of the good, God-fearing husbands was also in the hot tub and wouldn’t—or couldn’t—leave while the ladies were there. This angered his wife, naturally, and she threw her morality all over the front desk in a fit of righteous anger.

It could be that she wasn’t even aware of the ladies’ statures in the industry—that she could have been ignorant of their identities entirely, which is most likely. But they were aware that a horror convention was being held in the hotel—the signs and banners were giving that away. And it is possible that horror equaled porn in her mind. Or she merely wanted her husband to quit ogling the better-sculpted younger women and cried porn to cover her own insecurity. Regardless of the reasoning, the stigma was plain.

Exploitation is important for b-movies. Exploitation on your own terms is more important for b-movie actresses. Don’t be ashamed in either case, Amy says in the doc.

But don’t expect to win everyone over no matter what you do.

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