When I was a kid I had an embarrassing little crush on the girl with the mono-brow who lived next door. In fairness, her hair was so blonde you could barely notice her mono-brow unless you got incredibly close. I’d gotten incredibly close once, while we were playing Cowboys and Indians and I’d sat on her so that she couldn’t warn the rest of her tribe (her baby sister) that my tribe (me) was planning to attack. The fact my tribe couldn’t attack because it was already sitting on 50% of her tribe never occurred to me. And sitting on her took a lot of courage on my part, because I could have caught girl cooties. Maybe I did catch girl cooties. That’s the only way to explain what happened next.

At that time the BBC were playing a whole bunch of Fred Astaire movies on Saturday afternoons and I used to watch them so intently that if I’d been one of those Telepaths from David Cronenberg’s ‘Scanners’ Fred Astaire’s head would have exploded all over Ginger Rogers. I learnt the words to the songs, I took a squirm-inducing shot at memorising the dance routines, and then I’d yodel and soft-shoe-hobble under the girl-next-door’s bedroom window, hoping my geeky showmanship would win her heart.

Unbelievably it didn’t – no, I don’t understand that either – but I did succeed in freaking the girl, her parents, and especially my own parents out that entire summer. For the longest time, my dad was convinced that maybe one day I’d end up with the strange boy who lived across the street who was always re-hanging his bedroom curtains and liked to eat cat food. And my mum, who kept assuring me that she’d still love me however things panned out, bought me the cast album of ‘The King & I’ as a special “we hope you sort yourself out soon” present, no doubt also hoping that, if the worst came to the worst, at least my taste in musicals would improve.

And then we went to see ‘The Golden Voyage of Sinbad’ at the local Odeon. I took one look at Caroline Munro in her slave-girl tunic and something went boom inside my eight year old head.caroline-munro-princess

Inside my head. No booms anywhere else on my body, I promise.

Hey, I was a very innocent eight year old and it was the early-Seventies. Give me a break or get your imagination a room.

As soon as ‘Sinbad’ was over I hustled my mum into buying me the paperback novelisation of the film with the colour photos in the middle and then I went home and pulled the book apart and sellotaped the photos of Caroline Munro to the ceiling above my bed and when my dad came back and I was sure he’d go nuts because I’d just ruined the new book my mum had bought me he just nodded wisely and gave me one of the few instances of the ‘guy smile’ that I can ever remember sharing with my father. Guys know the guy smile. It’s the faint knowing smile guys give to each other even when they don’t know each other, a kind of sympathetic ‘I’m a guy, you’re a guy, I know what you’re thinking because my chromosomes mean I’ve been there too’ moment. It happens to me usually when my wife takes us clothes shopping and I pretend to look interested in humungous Sarah Jessica Parker-style roses stitched to tiny polka dotted cardigans and I catch the eye of a guy with his wife doing exactly the same thing on the other side of the store. (“What’s with the stupid Sarah Jessica Parker-style roses? I feel your pain,” our smiles say. And the conversation is over).

My dad’s smile meant that he got Caroline Munro. Briefly, we’d bonded. And maybe it’s a fake memory but he’d also seemed a little bit relieved, like some crisis I wasn’t aware of about me and the boy who ate cat food had just been averted.

All through my teenage years and into my twenties, my crush on Caroline Munro never quite went away and I discovered a lot of very good and not-very-good and some so-very-bad-they’re-actually-pretty-good and one I-never-need-to-see-that-again movies because of it: ‘Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter’ (brilliant, still wish they’d made another one) ‘At The Earth’s Core’ (cool, shame about the rubber dinosaurs) ‘Dracula A.D. 1972’ (shame about… well… most of it apart from Caroline Munro, especially the un-groovy groovy dialogue) and, my personal favourite, ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ when the devastatingly gorgeous Ms. Munro tried to take out Roger Moore’s Lotus Esprit with a machine gun-firing helicopter.

‘The Abominable Dr. Phibes’ and ‘Dr. Phibes Rises Again’ should also get an affectionate mention, even though she played dead in both of them. I particularly liked ‘Rises Again’ because as the story unfolded there seemed a brief possibility that Caroline Munro’s character might be revived at the end of it. And I like to think she was. But unfortunately, if she did it was after the credits rolled.

The one I never need to see again is ‘Starcrash’. And that’s entirely David Hasselhoff’s fault.3875_bond-caroline-munro

Have you ever played that ‘Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon’ game in the hope you might have known someone who had a dog that chased a cat that ran up a tree that overlooked a garden where a man who once tripped over the guy who played R2D2 used to live?  Me too. And one day I realised that one of my first writing gigs had been on a children’s TV show featuring an actor I don’t have fond memories of but who, in 1986, appeared in a film called ‘Slaughter High’ with Caroline Munro.

When I found that out I grinned stupidly for a whole twenty minutes. And when that actor I don’t have fond memories of gets murdered ridiculously-but-horribly midway through the film, I rewound that part and watched it again. Six or seven… dozen… more times. That’s how much we hadn’t gotten along on that TV show I mentioned.

But it’s always good to know that I’m one degree of Kevin Bacon from Caroline Munro.

Because, twirling this around in a truly ‘Kevin  Bacon’ way, thinking about scream queens and Ms. Munro’s place in their hierarchy is the reason I wrote this piece. Because today I watched ‘Screaming in High Heels: The Rise & Fall of the Scream Queen Era’, a hugely entertaining 2011 documentary written and directed by Jason Paul Collum and featuring (and focusing on the careers of) 80’s horror starlets Linnea Quigley, Brinke Stevens and Michelle Bauer. It’s a great piece of work, and not only did it underscore my belief that those who are involved with horror movies are some of the coolest, funniest, most interesting people in the business but I also learned that those three ladies were apparently the first actresses to ever be awarded the title ‘Scream Queen’.

That irritated me a bit because I was sure that Caroline Munro had been anointed a ‘scream queen’ as far back as the early seventies and, way before her, the glorious Barbara Steele (another big crush whose bedroom window I would have gladly sung bad show-tunes under) had been called a ‘scream queen’ as well. Perhaps I’m wrong. But, without taking anything away from Ms.’s Quigley, Stevens and Bauer, it made me sad that, in a film dedicated to the Scream Queen phenomena, their glamorous British predecessors didn’t at least get a mention.600full-caroline-munro

Let’s face it, even if Caroline Munro, Barbara Steele (and many of their fellow UK horror alumni – Ingrid Pitt, Valerie Leon, Stephanie Beacham, Barbara Shelley… the list goes on) weren’t the first recipients of the ‘scream queen’ moniker they were – even so – the original scream queens. Their presence was a huge asset (please, no jokes here) to the movies they appeared in, they were the reason that most boys of my generation had at least one horror movie poster featuring a terrified girl in a bikini on their wall, and they gave European horror film-making class and sex appeal without resorting to the more overt exploitation work of their 1980s American counterparts.

Don’t get me wrong – Linnea Quigley and Michelle Bauer rocked, although my favourite of their clan will always be Linda Blair for ‘Exorcist II’ and ‘Savage Streets’ (yes, her best film was ‘The Exorcist’ but she was too young to be a scream queen in that one) – but they were nowhere near as alluring and exotic and, let’s be honest, as bad-ass, as Caroline Munro in ‘Kronos’ or Valerie Leon in ‘Blood From The Mummy’s Tomb’ or Martine Beswick in ‘Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde’. What those actresses proved is that less is more, that sex isn’t just about nudity, that the beautiful woman doesn’t always have to be the victim and that the best scream queens don’t just make your ears ring they make your body temperature rise.

Looking at those Hammer and Amicus movies now, most of them are the genre equivalent of magic lantern slides. What seemed risqué forty years ago is passé in the new millennia. But those films, and their scream queens, are still more memorable and more watchable than most of the gorier, more skin-flick films and scream queens that came afterwards. British horror in the sixties and seventies was low budget but it was rarely low rent, and if a lot of those movies look quaint and dated now at least they had some charm and sensuality and, more often than not, a halfway decent idea that was usually never properly realised.

As far as I’m concerned, if there’s ever an ultimate scream queen… Caroline Munro is definitely her.

I wrote a script for Caroline Munro once. It was kind of a ‘Sunset Boulevard’ thing about a down-on-his-luck writer who holes up in an abandoned mansion only to discover that an insane scream queen-type ex-horror movie actress still lives there dreaming up her final nightmarish return. I sent it to her but I never heard anything back. Maybe it’s at the bottom of her swimming pool, next to the script for ‘Starcrash 2’.

But, just to tie up the ‘Kevin Bacon’ thing… a few years ago I was crossing a busy London street and realised Caroline Munro was coming towards me and I forgot who I was just long enough to almost be hit by a bus. I like to think that, when the bus driver hit the horn and very loudly passed doubt on my IQ and my parentage, Ms. Munro was distracted long enough to glance askance (sometimes I can’t resist a rhyming couplet) to see me staring at her like an adoring stunned mullet before I almost became roadkill. I’ll never be sure, but not knowing whether that happened means there’ll always be the possibility it could have done. What I do remember is there was a choir singing when I saw her.

No, really. It was Christmas-time. They were collecting money outside a tube station.

If I’d enlisted them in a Fred Astaire song and dance number I’m sure Caroline Munro and I would be good friends right now. Or I’d be the subject of a restraining order.

We’ll never know…

About The Author

Ian White is an author, screenwriter and journalist. His book ‘Witchcraft and Black Magic in British Cult Cinema’ was recently published by Hemlock and he is a regular contributor to ‘Paranormal Underground’ and ‘Starburst’ magazines. He’s currently writing a new book and screenplay and his embarrassingly out-of-date website can be found at http://ianwhitelondon.wix.com/ian-white