In previous columns, Culture Wedge contributor Kyle Byrd has paid birthday tribute to both Bruce Campbell and Ray Harryhausen – worthy honorees, no doubt. Today, there is another birthday that my particular nerd molecules can not let pass by unmentioned, that of the beautiful Tiffany Shepis, über–Scream Queen.
Now, perhaps the term “scream queen” doesn’t really have the same sort of connotation today as it did during the genre’s hey-day, and many may scoff at the endless parade of bleached-blonde models, who star in the endless onslaught of DTV horror movies, being mentioned in the same breath as icons like Barbara Steele, Ingrid Pitt or Jamie Lee Curtis. But the term still means something to die-hard fans of horror, who can see through these obvious attempts to market “bimbo #2” as the genre’s next big thing (you know what I mean – it’s not hard to spot actresses who are most likely appearing in a horror film because their agent told them it was a good idea, but otherwise have no real vested interest in the genre). These fans, like myself, instead insist on reserving the designation for that rare breed of actress that not only make their living in the genre, but honestly seem to live and breathe it. These women are in no hurry to leave horror behind for more “respectable” fare – no, for these women, a day not screaming their lungs out while covered in fake blood is a day wasted. And of this group, there’s little question that the current reigning queen of queens is Tiffany Shepis.
Yes, Shepis is hot…there is little question of that. In fact, earlier this year, Complex Magazine voted Shepis the “hottest scream queen of all time,” beating out such notable favorites as Adrienne Barbeau, Sybil Danning, Debbie Rochon and Danielle Harris (cue heated nerd debates…now!). Being a horror fan and saying you have a crush on Shepis is like being a fish and saying you really like water. It’s just sort of expected, and I think many will agree with me when I say I’ll glady take Shepis’ natural, devilish cuteness over those aforementioned factory-produced models-turned-actresses any day (and Shepis deserves extra special credit for getting hotter as she gets older – a definite rarity in Scream Queen land).
But, looks aside (which might be tough given the pictures I’m including in this column), what has really helped Shepis win over the hearts of the horror community has been her unrepentant love and enthusiasm for the genre. Shepis’ career began when, at age 17, she was cast in Troma’s Tromeo & Juliet, starting a relationship with the company that would continue on to see Shepis become super-Tromette “Bulimia” and co-host Troma’s short-lived TV series Troma’s Edge TV. Like many others, this period was my first exposure to Shepis, and while I found her particularly appealing, I still didn’t really expect to see much of a future from her, as Tromettes – while all hot – had usually proven to be kind of dime-a-dozen and typically quickly forgotten.
And yet Shepis defied the trend by moving beyond the Troma association and plunging straight ahead into the world of made-for-video horror. In films like Scarecrow, Death Factory, Delta Delta Die and Corpses, she quickly made a name for herself; not just with her willingness to shed clothes (though that certainly didn’t hurt) but also the sheer sense of contagious energy she brought to her performances. Watching her onscreen, you could tell this girl was really having fun and loving what she was doing, a fact her numerous interviews in horror magazines and websites confirmed. Horror fans’ hearts were a flutter – this was not just another actress looking to make a quick buck in the genre while pandering to its fanbase. She clearly loved horror. She could intelligently discuss the genre, and seemed legitimately honored to sometimes work with its legends. Best of all, she was refreshingly candid whenever one of her projects didn’t really live up to its potential. All said, Shepis was – and is – one of us. Gooble gobble, gooble gobble.
Today, Shepis is one of horror’s most recognizable faces (among other body parts). She is one of a handful of actresses whose name can actually be used to drum up interest in and ultimately sell a project (actually, forget actresses…this honor puts her in a rather small group of actors, period). And through a relentless schedule of convention appearances and an online presence, she has also earned a reputation as one of the nicest, coolest and most fan-friendly stars in the genre. This has given her the sort of dedicated fan-base many actors can only dream of. For instance, I myself am an aspiring horror author, and I look forward to the day when I might potentially have the clout to tell a movie studio they can only buy the rights to one of my stories if they are willing to consider Shepis for one of the roles.
There are those who will say there are much more important things to write about today. There are those who will suggest I’m only doing this as an excuse to post pictures of Shepis and bump up the site’s hit count (fools…they should know I hardly need an excuse to spend an hour looking up Shepis pictures). But I don’t care. This site was created to honor nerdy things, and there are few things I am as nerdy about as this woman. They say Doctor Who fans all have their Doctor. Well, no offense to women like Steele, Pitt and Curtis (all deserved legends, and I love each one of them), but Tiffany Shepis is MY Scream Queen. Happy Birthday, Tiffany. I hope you’re having a bloody good day.
TIFFANY SHEPIS – AN ESSENTIAL VIEWING GUIDE
Considering she works predominantly in the straight-to-video-horror world, it probably goes without saying that not all of Shepis’ films are what you would exactly call “winners” (though I’d argue that her presence alone is sometimes enough to make even stink-bombs like Dorm of the Dead or Abominable worth seeing once). So, for those of you that might not be that familiar with her work, I’ve included a quick guide to what I consider to be the essential Shepis movies.
HONORABLE MENTION – BONNIE & CLYDE VS. DRACULA
In the interest of full disclosure, I admit I have yet to see this recent release (hey, I’ve been busy and it’s not on Netflix. Sue me!). But, I mean, c’mon – it stars Shepis as Bonnie Parker, fellow Troma-vet Trent Haaga (in my opinion one of the most talented performers in the current indie-horror scene) as Clyde Barrow, and – unless it has one of the most misleading titles in cinema history – concerns the notorious criminal duo coming face-to-face with Bram Stoker’s immortal bloodsucker. I refuse to believe these are not the elements of a ridiculously fun film.
Let me just say – Nympha is not for everyone (even more so than the rest of the movies discussed in this column). A throwback to the infamous “Nunsploitation” movies of the 70’s, this Italian film features Shepis as a young woman who joins a mysterious convent, only to find herself tortured by her fellow nuns and subsequently communicating with spirits. It’s a lot more brutal and sleazy than most other Shepis films (which usually lean towards the “dumb-fun” side of horror), and will certainly turn off those bothered by “torture porn” or exploitation cinema in general. But, hey, I’ve never hid my love of tasteless exploitation movies, and despite a few issues with pacing, I found this movie to be a fairly effective tribute to those boundary-ignoring films of the ’70s.
THE VIOLENT KIND
This recent release from the Butcher Brothers is an odd film. During its running time, it morphs from a zombie movie into an occult thriller into a home invasion story into a supernatural revenge tale into an alien invasion movie. It maybe has more ideas than it knows what to do with (or can adequately present with its budget), but, in a weird way, that overwhelming and arguably misguided ambition to mix so many genres together is what makes it so surprisingly entertaining. Shepis is a definite highlight here, playing a demon-possessed bitch who allows a biker-punk to feel her up (while she is covered in blood) before suddenly tearing into his throat with her teeth. Good times.
Home Sick is one of the weirdest movies I’ve ever seen…and I’ve seen The Violent Kind. This one starts off intriguingly, with a man known only as Mr. Suitcase (played by the always awesome Bill Moseley) crashing a party and forcing the attendees to name out loud people they hate. Soon, those named are being brutally murdered by a masked figure, which is an even bigger problem than it sounds, since the last guy at the party unthinkingly blurted out “everyone in this room!” While this might sound like the synopsis of a rather straight-forward slasher/thriller, a viewing of Home Sick instead reveals a film not afraid to slip further and further into its own self-created insanity. Characters begin talking in a strange unnatural cadence and appear ghoulish for no reason (due to odd, raccoon-like eye make-up), and strange dips into illogical nonsense border right on the edge between filmmaking ineptitude and surreal genius. It’s like an Argento film as envisioned by a sleep-deprived David Lynch. By the time Tom Towles shows up as a chili-obsessed redneck gun-enthusiast, and the main characters find themselves trapped in a house with a heretofore unseen demon, you can’t help but throw your hands up and just surrender to the movie’s “we might just be making this all up as we go along” mentality. In a signature sequence, Shepis discovers the dead, mutilated body of her own mother, and inexplicably responds by laughing uncontrollably, stripping down to her underwear and rolling around in her mom’s intestines. Oddly, this scene can sort of be looked at as a fitting encapsulation of Shepis’ entire filmography…and I mean that in a good way.
The Hazing is the great Tiffany Shepis success-story that never was. I say this because it’s easily the most entertaining movie she has ever made, which makes it doubly disappointing that it was both unfairly ignored upon its initial release and even today does not enjoy the appropriate level of cult following. A wickedly funny horror-comedy, The Hazing follows a group of college students on a Halloween scavenger hunt that break into the home of one of their professors in order to steal an ancient book of magic. Little do they know the professor is actually a practicing Satanist, and they are soon locked inside the home and forced to do battle with the evil forces he has recently unleashed. Only a mis-handled release has kept this one from finding the audience it deserves – namely, anyone who likes their horror on the fun and goofy side (I’m looking at you, Evil Dead fans). Bonus points for having Shepis clad in a skin-tight silver cat-suit through most of the movie…and even more bonus points for at times having her out of it (if you know what I’m saying! High-five!).
—- Trevor Snyder