It’s hard to say when Nancy Allen first became a part of my childhood. One thing I knew is that I had special feelings every single time I saw the actress on screen, even when she was the bad girl. And what a bad girl she was! The question is where do I start when talking about one of the most influential ladies in horror? From her work with Brian De Palma or Paul Verhoeven, she was one of the hottest ladies around. In fact, you could easily put her name next to such genre greats as Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh or Adrienne Barbeau. Allen was the real deal, she offered up a ton of sexuality with a heaping helping of spunk.
Let’s start off with the role that gave her notice in the genre. In the 1976 Brian De Palma classic CARRIE – based on the Stephen King novel – Allen was excellent. As the bitch of a high school student Chris Hargensen, she made being bad really, really good. Partnered with another up and coming star named John Travolta, she portrayed Carrie White’s ill-fated rival perfectly. She was so very good as the villain in fact, that when she meets her fate you actually have to cheer. Many an actress has attempted to be the trouble making tough chick, but very few were as terrific at it as Ms. Allen was.
The next movie that really shines for genre fans is the 1980 psycho-sexual De Palma thriller DRESSED TO KILL. I happened upon this uber sexy movie at a drive-in where my friend and I were there to see something else with his family. This nudity laced feature quickly grabbed our young attention even if we were far too young to be watching. The elevator sequence when Liz Blake (Allen) stumbles onto a murder is one of the coolest horror movie moments ever put on film. Add to that an incredible performance from Michael Caine and you have one of my all-time favorite movies. Sure De Palma was clearly “inspired” by Alfred Hitchcock, but this stylish flick was the epitome of early 80’s cinema. The director knew how to work wonders with the lovely Allen in the “hooker with a heart of gold” role – the two were briefly wed from 1979 to 1984.
The following year she once again worked with De Palma in the 1981 feature film BLOW OUT – where she also reunited with Travolta. Not surprisingly she played an escort this time around who may be involved in an assassination attempt – she was pretty great with these types of characters. Allen continued to prove what the perfect combination of sex appeal and street smarts can offer, especially while working with De Palma. BLOW OUT was always a favorite of mine and while the filmmaker continued to use a little Hitchcock inspired suspense, he did it rather well. When Allen’s character is in jeopardy, we feel it and we don’t want to see anything bad happen to her. And about that ending…! This is a rare and shockingly ballsy treat that is worth checking out.
Now I’m not terribly thrilled about the upcoming ROBOCOP remake. One of the many reasons for that aside from the original being awesome is the chemistry between Allen and Robocop himself Peter Weller. The two are perfect and quite simply can’t be beat. This 1986 Paul Verhoeven classic is a perfect blend of bloodshed, action and social commentary. The casting was exceptional on every level. As Officer Anne Lewis, Allen appeared in all three films (ROBOCOP 2 in 1990 and ROBOCOP 3 in 1993) and while quality faded with each sequel, it was great to see her as part of the franchise. However, nothing beats the original and it was nice to see her step outside the bad girl role and continue to grow as an actress.
Speaking of a deteriorating franchise, Allen may not have started with the first two POLTERGEIST films, but in 1988 she took on the parental figure in POLTERGEIST III. My memory of this particular sequel is pretty vague, but I do remember looking forward to the actress taking on another genre flick. And this terror in a high-rise had a couple of really spooky moments which while not nearly as satisfying as the first it was a better flick than I had expected it to be. And seeing that it featured both Ms. Allen and another genre favorite Tom Skerritt, I was first in line to see what ghostly terrors were on display. Of course this flick was lacking nearly all the fun and fears that Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg brought to the table the first time around.
One thing that Nancy Allen does especially well is talk about her involvement in her many classic horror films. She started this trend way back in 1984 with the must see horror compilation feature TERROR IN THE AISLES. This little treat features the actress as host along with Donald Pleasence and it is a must for horror lovers to watch this collection and see the fun these two horror legends are having. This genre treasure is available on the HALLOWEEN 2 30th Anniversary Blu-ray as a special feature and frankly it’s worth owning just for that. Aside from that the actress has appeared in a number of other documentaries for her films. You can find an in-depth interview with her on the Criterion Collection release of BLOW OUT as well.
Nancy Allen has had an incredible career and is one of the most important names in the world of horror. According to her Wikipedia page, her last feature was the 1997 QUALITY TIME which was ultimately released in 2008 as MY APOCALYPSE. Yet it appears that the actress has a few more important things in the works. In December of 2010 she was named the Executive Director of weSPARK Cancer Support Center which was founded by her friend and I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND co-star Wendie Jo Sperber – the talented actress lost her battle with cancer on November 25, 2005.
This is generally where I would mention how much I’d love to see the talent back on the screen, and truthfully I would. Yet Nancy Allen seems to be taking on something far bigger than just appearing in a movie. Happily she is attempting to make this world a better place for a whole lot of people and I for one am inspired by that. Ms. Allen was an early crush and one that will never go away and thankfully I will always have DRESSED TO KILL, BLOW OUT, ROBOCOP and so much more. What an extraordinary woman! While she would always be a welcome name to any upcoming flick, what she is doing now is absolutely incredible. Good on you Ms. Allen, I always knew you were more than meets the eye... and still pretty damn gorgeous!