Women in Horror Month (WiHM) is an international, grassroots initiative, which encourages supporters to learn about and showcase the underrepresented work of women in the horror industries. Whether they are on the screen, behind the scenes, or contributing in their other various artistic ways, it is clear that women love, appreciate, and contribute to the horror genre. Psycho Drive-in is joining in by sharing articles – some classic, some new – celebrating the greatest women in the genre!
[Editor’s Note: A version of this article originally ran on October 11, 2016]
I start my love letter to Meg Foster by recalling the names of several of her characters over the years. Her first movie role was in 1970, and since then she’s been Robbin, Stella, Katrina, Gerta (twice!), and Evil-Lyn (more on that later). On TV she’s been more personable and neighborly, playing Sharon, Julie, Stella (again), Nora, Nancy, and Dora Mae. But even there she’s been a goddess (she played Hera on Xena and Hercules) and a Queen (Anne of France in the Man in the Iron Mask). She was a memorable Hester Prynne in PBS version of The Scarlet Letter. She’s gone from ingénue and girl next door to mentor, muse, witch and horror icon over the decades.
Now she’s a character actress brought in to supply instant history and gravitas in stories in need of more atmosphere. And all of it provided with those unearthly eyes so blue they blend with the whites on camera.
Perhaps it was the eyes that ensured she would become a horror queen. She was actually dubbed “The Eyes of 1979” by Mademoiselle magazine. There’s truly something unsettling and eerie (though also beautiful) about her gaze in most of her roles. She seems often to be seeing with strange powers not quite of this earth. If you google just her face, you also get images of Kirstie Alley, Elizabeth Taylor and Milla Jovovich, all of which are understandable mistakes.
She’s had frequent guest roles on horror TV, in old shows like Circle of Fear, the Twilight Zone (1980s version) and the Hitchhiker. She’s also done her share of cop shows, westerns, and detective stories. From that, I’m just going to highlight a select few that were more than enough to secure her place in my pantheon of scream queens.
She was the first Cagney on Cagney and Lacey. The show went much further with Sharon Gless and Tyne Daly in the title roles. Foster actually replaced Loretta Swift from the TV movie pilot, until Gless was asked to portray a more feminine, relatable version of Christine Cagney. Apparently Foster came off as too assertive and butch for the time. The last thing TV producers wanted in their feminist buddy cop show in 1982 was any hint of lesbianism for their lead team, and her dismissal made the entertainment news.
In John Carpenter’s classic They Live, she played Holly Foster, female lead and love interest for Rowdy Roddy Piper’s John Nada. She memorably pushes him out of a window in fear, redirecting the story narrative in one of many surprise plot moves, and she keeps you guessing about Holly’s loyalties to the very end. In a movie where creatures are revealed to wearers of special glasses, the girl with the alien eyes uses her ambiguities to great effect.
In Masters of the Universe, Evil-Lyn might have stepped out of a Flash Gordon serial, looking fabulous and walking and talking the talk of gleeful destruction in her high heels, cape and crown. Scenery chewing par excellance, in a film that definitely told its story in the shadow of Star Wars. Think of Evil-Lyn as if “Darth Vader” (Frank Langella as Skeletor) had a girlfriend and partner in crime.
She stayed evil, 1980s style, for Leviathan, an underwater Alien knock-off. Forster played Martin, an evil-CEO type that endangers the crew for profit and receives symbolic payback at the end from the survivors. The life of a femme fatale is never without bumps along the road, especially in the post-feminist 1980s.
More recently, she had memorable guest roles on two genre shows, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and The Originals and has become a Rob Zombie regular, appearing in both Lords of Salem and 31. On Deep Space Nine she played Onaya in the season four episode “The Muse.” Jake nearly falls victim to the alluring alien, initially mentoring him with his writing ambitions, but actually draining his life force vampirically as he works away. On The Originals she also represented a hidden subculture, this time as Regent (of several covens of New Orleans witches) Josephine LaRue. In a show predicated on arch pronouncements from melodramatic drama queens and kings (you know, vampires), Foster held her own as Josephine, proving to be an aristocratic and powerful irritant to the main characters until her inevitable untimely demise.