In Wes Craven’s 1977 cult classic THE HILLS HAVE EYES, the director introduced us to one of the most exciting names in horror. While Dee Wallace wasn’t the leading lady, she was certainly a breath of fresh air in this creepy little movie. This pretty blonde actress displayed mucho vulnerability as a new mother terrorized by cannibalistic hillbillies from hell. She certainly made an impression as a scream queen. However, for horror fans it would be a few years before Dee would return to scream again. As well she was destined to become one of cinema’s most famous "movie moms" ever thanks to Steven Spielberg.
Like many actresses looking to make a name, she booked a number of guest appearances in several shows after HILLS including “Taxi”, “Trapper John M.D.” and "Barnaby Jones" to name a few. Yet in 1981 she gave one hell of a terrific show as news anchor Karen White in Joe Dante’s seminal werewolf flick THE HOWLING. From the opening scenes where she is attacked by the super scary Robert Picardo, the actress gives a phenomenal performance as a woman faced with some ferocious monsters ready to tear her apart. As far as the final sequence is concerned… what about that ending!?! SPOILER ALERT -- Man has there ever been a more adorable werewolf on-screen? Dammit I love this flick. It’s no wonder given that this witty thriller is written by the great John Sayles who has gone on to find serious accolades as a screenwriter with LONE STAR, EIGHT MEN OUT and so much more.
Soon after, this delightfully pretty blonde continued to prove she had a fantastic motherly presence – talk about a MILF – in Steven Spielberg’s timeless 1982 classic film E.T. THE EXTRA TERRESTRIAL. While she was a supporting character with Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore and that little alien himself stealing the spotlight, she once again shined. Call me crazy, but one of the reasons I went to see E.T. was because she was in it. After THE HOWLING I had developed a serious crush on this perky and warm presence. I loved her in this film. As well I loved this amazing movie. Sure it’s not horror, but there is no way in hell you can talk about Dee Wallace and not talk about E.T.
Then there was CUJO in 1983. I’ve heard it said and I agree one-hundred percent. If Kathy Bates can win an Academy Award for MISERY – one which she deserved – Wallace should have at the very least been given a nomination for her work as a mother desperately trying to protect her son from a rabid dog. I love this movie and found her complicated character to be absolutely brilliantly played. Rarely do we see a female lead as flawed yet still shockingly heroic as she was here. This is a fantastic performance and as much as I felt bad for that poor dog I was seriously cheering for her to survive. This is a rare and under-appreciated Stephen King adaption that truly works. Watch this movie if you’d like to see one of the most impressive horror performances from an actress that you are likely to find.
Here is the biggest problem that I have discussing Dee Wallace for a column like this… the fact is her contribution to the genre is massive and varied, where do you begin? How do you begin to overstate such a career with such an understated talent? She starred in the goofy horror comedy CRITTERS in 1986, the TV movie “I’m Dangerous Tonight” with the yummy Madchen Amick in 1990 and the awesome little cult flick POPCORN in 1991. Again, to list all of her work would be liken to simply doing a copy and paste job with her IMDB page. However it always amazes me that she never became a major mainstream A-list actress because she certainly was right on the cusp of it. Thankfully however she was always working and in 1996 she once again stole the show with her over-the-top portrayal of Patricia Ann Bradley in Peter Jackson’s wildly wonderful THE FRIGHTENERS. Sure this wacky little flick didn’t appeal to all of Jackson’s fans, yet I found it to be an incredibly inventive and fun genre trip well worth taking.
Thankfully Dee Wallace continued to work after that crazy little film, even if she was generally popping up in the world of independent film or television. Yet every so often she would make a guest appearance in a horror film that stood out including Anthony Ferrante’s BOO in 2007 – you know, the director behind SHARKNADO - as well as Brett A. Hart’s 2007 thriller BONE DRY which starred Luke Goss and Lance Henriksen. That same year she appeared as Laurie Strode’s mother in Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN re-imagining as well. Two years later in 2009 you could find her work in Ti West’s THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL and another Rob Zombie flick, the animated THE HAUNTED WORLD OF EL SUPERBEASTO, all of which continued to provide the actress a number of tasty character roles to scare us all.
NOW: With a career spanning decades, Dee Wallace continues to work a whole bunch which is great news for us. This year she co-starred in Rob Zombie’s THE LORDS OF SALEM along with Judy Geeson, Patricia Quinn and Meg Foster. Clearly the actress enjoys working with familiar directors as she was the witch ‘Lilith’ in Ferrante’s “Hansel & Gretel” as well. From the looks of it on her IMDB page she has several films lined up over the course of the next couple of years. While they all appear to be independent features, I have no doubt that we will keep seeing this amazing talent pop up in horror here and there including the upcoming feature ZOMBIE KILLERS.
Now if you take a gander at her Facebook page, you can see that her life has taken a very spiritual turn. And if you head over to BlogTalkRadio, you can get a taste of what she is up to. In her Podcast Bright Light – also the title of a book she has written “Bright Light: Spiritual Lessons from a Life of Acting” - the actress puts a little positive energy out into the universe, and I say good on her. Dee Wallace is an actress, an author, and an inspirational speaker for all things affirmative. I am and always will be a fan of this lovely woman! You can also check out her official Twitter page as well as her Facebook for more on this legendary talent.