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Here’s Why Dee Wallace is the Undisputed Queen of Horror

Dee Wallace

What was your first Dee Wallace horror film? Was it when you hoped against hope that Lynne Wood could survive the murderous cannibals of The Hills Have Eyes (1977)? Or when you watched Karen White turn into a werewolf on national television in The Howling (1981)? Or perhaps when Donna Trenton found herself stuck between a Pinto and a rapid dog in Cujo (1983)?

Did You Know? Wicked Horror TV Has Classic and Independent Horror Films Available to Stream for Free!

Each of these early seminal works put Wallace on the horror map. That being said, Dee Wallace is hardly just a final girl. Neve Campbell, Jamie Lee Curtis, Heather Langenkamp… These names generally come up alongside Wallace when discussions of influential women in horror are had. But Wallace’s impact on the genre far exceeds that of her most famous contemporaries.

To put a finer point on it, Dee Wallace stands alone as the undisputed queen of horror and here’s why…

The Female Face of Horror – Not Just Halloween

Dee Wallace isn’t inextricably linked to a single role as are Campbell, Curtis, or Langenkamp. Campbell is Sidney Prescott. Langenkamp is Nancy Thompson. And when Halloween Ends (2022) rolls out this October, Curtis will have played the most final of the final girls, Laurie Strode, a grand total of seven times.

But interestingly, Wallace’s oeuvre within the horror space largely lacks a reprisal of roles. She comes close with a return to a horror franchise in Critters Attack! (2019). For a career that spans more than four decades in a genre that thrives on bringing back beloved characters, though, Wallace has succeeded despite not having multiple goes as Karen White or Donna Trenton.

Not to mention, Dee Wallace was on the precipice of her 30th birthday when her first major horror film, The Hills Have Eyes, came out. In it, she plays a wife and mother. In contrast, each of her peers mentioned above rose to fame from their iconic teenage characters. That makes Wallace’s success all the more captivating, given her professional longevity, volume of work, and ability to redefine her position in the genre to the delight of fans.

Dee Wallace: A Woman with Options

We’re here to discuss Wallace’s impressive career in horror, but let’s take a second to consider her acting work as a whole. For instance, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), anyone? Between her dramatic and family films like everyone’s favorite Reese’s Pieces-eating alien, Nevada (1997), and The Christmas Path (1998), Wallace has certainly not limited herself to horror.

And let’s be honest here… A lot of actors use horror as nothing more than their foot in the door into the movie industry. It’s fine. No shame. Johnny Depp has A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). Jennifer Aniston has Leprechaun (1993). For some, the genre is just a springboard to “better” opportunities. Once they’ve sprung, they don’t look back. Dee Wallace has never looked back either, but that’s only because she never left.

On the heels of starring in the top-grossing film of 1982, when arguably she had her pick of any script, what did Wallace do? She starred in Cujo a year later. A few years after that, she did Critters (1986). And films like Popcorn (1991) and Alligator II: The Mutation (1991) weren’t too far behind.

All that to say, Dee Wallace has hardly viewed horror as a pit stop on her way to acting success. Dare we say, she likes it? All signs point to yes.

Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop

When considering Dee Wallace’s work over the last 45-years, horror fan or not, a fascinating trend becomes obvious. Yes, Wallace has continued to work in the genre over the entire course of her career. But if you have a look at her IMDb page, you’ll see that her involvement in horror has only picked up momentum since the turn of the century.

What have you done since Y2K? Because Wallace has been an absolute beast when it comes to her horror performances. As of this writing, Wallace has been a part of more than 20 genre films. To boot, nearly 10 more projects are coming down the pipeline in various stages of production. 

Those stats, alone, are impressive. Multitudes of actors hope they’ll be cast in 20 films over the course of their careers. To have 20 movies in as many years is beyond remarkable for any performer – and that’s just her horror work! If you really want to get into the weeds, Dee Wallace’s total credits since 2000 are more than five times that of what she has done specifically in horror. The woman stays busy.

And to add – because this is important – we’re talking about a female actor who turned 52 in 2000. This isn’t an essay on the biased treatment of older female performers in the film industry. But for Wallace to have that volume of work over the second half of her life and career is both sadly rare and profoundly inspiring.

No Dee Wallace Didn’t!

Horror fans love Dee Wallace for her early roles as strong, relatable, female protagonists. These characters fight back against the evil forces attempting to take them out, whether it’s a cannibalistic family, pack of werewolves, a rabid dog, extraterrestrial monsters, or another form of malevolence. 

But nearly 20-years after she first came onto the horror scene as the everywoman fans want to survive, Wallace flipped the script as serial killer cohort and lover Patricia Bradley in The Frighteners (1996).

When it comes to shocking character reveals, it’s often films like The Usual Suspects (1995) or The Sixth Sense (1999) that get trotted out. Neither has anything, though, on The Frighteners and its revelation of who Bradley really is. It’s all thanks to the dynamic performance of Dee Wallace – and of course the inspired decision to cast her in that role. Thank you, Peter Jackson! 

With that role, Wallace made it abundantly clear that she can play any horror character – good or bad. And she has gone on to thrill fans with her similarly darker performances in titles like The Lords of Salem (2012) and Hansel & Gretel (2013).

Dee Wallace’s Wink to Horror Fans

It’s one thing to prove that, as an actor, you can play the spectrum from protagonist to villain. But what can possibly be more of a feather in one’s horror cap than being asked to play yourself because of your iconic status? That’s exactly what Wallace did in 2021’s 13 Fanboy.

Not to say that Wallace didn’t have roles before 13 Fanboy that gave a nod to fans who know just how important she’s been to the genre. She actually joined the Strode family in Rob Zombie’s Halloween (2007). That role then kicked off a fruitful multi-film collaboration between her and the musician-turned-director, resulting in the aforementioned The Lords of Salem and 3 from Hell (2019).

Zombie, a lifelong horror fan, knew exactly what he was doing in casting Wallace. With her firmly rooted notoriety within the genre, Wallace’s inclusion in his projects offers a meta-like quality that gets fans excited, regardless of what they may think of the movie itself. For instance, 13 Fanboy may not be a masterpiece of the genre, but Wallace’s presence legitimizes it.

Filmmakers know that. Fans know that. Hell, even Dee Wallace knows that. The fact that she keeps signing on for these projects points directly to her ongoing love of the genre, as well as her enduring impact on the horror film community that loves her for it.

All hail the Queen.

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Written by Anna Keizer
Anna Keizer originally hails from the Chicagoland area but now calls LA home. After receiving her B.A. in Film/Video from Columbia College Chicago, she moved to California and finished her M.A. in Film Studies from Chapman University. She has also graduated from UCLA’s Writing for Television Professional Program and just finished the festival circuit on her dark comedy short She Had It Coming, which she wrote and executive produced. The film was an Official Selection of 25 film festivals with several awards won for it among them. In her spare time, Anna cohosts the podcast ‘80s Movie Montage with her husband, Derek Dehanke.
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