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ScareFest: Actress's 'Living Dead' role has a long life

Linnea Quigley, inset, prides herself on being a horror-film scream queen. That's her at right, with red hair, in a scene from Return of the Living Dead.
Linnea Quigley, inset, prides herself on being a horror-film scream queen. That's her at right, with red hair, in a scene from Return of the Living Dead.

Linnea Quigley didn't know that Return of the Living Dead was still popular, and she probably wouldn't have known if it weren't for horror conventions like ScareFest IV, which is this weekend at The Lexington Center.

"That's where you really meet people who really watch those films and recite every kind of dialogue from it," Quigley says. "I probably wouldn't have known it was so popular, because for a lot of people, it was their dirty little secret that they liked a horror film."

Return of the Living Dead, which will be shown at 11:59 p.m. Friday at The Kentucky, was released in summer 1985. It attracted some people who normally wouldn't see horror because it was billed as a horror-comedy. Set in Louisville but filmed in Los Angeles, it's the story of two guys who accidentally release a chemical that brings the dead back to life. Quigley played Trash, one of the guys' punky friends, who was killed by zombies and, of course, came back as a zombie.

"I hated getting the makeup on," says Quigley, 53. "I had to be painted white, and the white doesn't come off because we had to go through rain machines. So I'd get home at 6 in the morning and be trying to get it off, and it wouldn't come off. It was a mess."

Quigley says director Dan O'Bannon didn't tell the cast he was going for comedy.

"Probably, Dan thought if we yucked it up, it would lose that charm," Quigley says. The movie was something of a precursor to more recent horror-comedy films, including Shaun of the Dead and Scary Movie.

Quigley says that was one of the hallmarks of 1980s horror, which is being celebrated at ScareFest with guests including Elvira, Mistress of the Dark; Lance Henriksen from Aliens; stars from the films Sleepaway Camp, Children of the Corn and Friday the 13th; and Return co-stars Don Calfa and Beverly Randolph.

"Horror films in the '80s didn't take themselves too seriously," said Quigley, who was considered a "scream queen." "There were so many different types. There were Friday the 13th slasher films, and then there was comedy horror."

With credits including the Christmas-themed Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984), Quigley has virtually made her career by acting in scary movies. But she says the horror films of the '80s were distinguished by, among other things, more humble settings.

"When you got into the Scream movies, everything got really slick," Quigley says. "They were in these really fancy houses, and you wondered, 'How do they afford to live there?' because nobody seemed to work."

Quigley's current projects include two pending documentaries, one about Return of the Living Dead and one about scream queens. She also has several films in post-production, including 1313: Cougar Cult and Girls Gone Dead, which puts horror in the context of a Girls Gone Wild-like video series.

Quigley says that unlike the 1980s, when she was often greeted with derision when she described herself as a horror-film actress, she now enjoys it and feels like something of a pioneer.

"Now, everyone wants to be a scream queen," says Quigley, who signs off saying, "Drop by my table. I'll give you a scream."

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