Heidi Kozak: Undersung Scream Queen

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There’s a lot to be shocked about in February’s Movie of the Month, Brian Yuzna’s satirical class politics body horror Society, but long before the incestuous, gore-soaked surrealism of the film’s climactic shunting began I found one of my biggest shocks in a very minor casting choice. The protagonist’s Valley Girl brat girlfriend was a very much unexpected face, the same actress who played the drummer in one of my favorite discoveries last year: Slumber Party Massacre II. Heidi Kozak has a tidy little career as a television actor to her name, most notable from her arc on the long-defunct drama series Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. Her feature film career, however, is much more limited. After a single scene debut as a street tough in the Sharon Stone/Adam Ant cop thriller Cold Steel, Kozak enjoyed a brief run as an undersung scream queen in three 80s horror classics: Slumber Party Massacre II, Friday the 13th Part VII – The New Blood, and, of course, Society. Her respective roles as Sally, Sandra, and Shauna in these films were never big enough to snag top bill or make her anything close to a household name, but Kozak did find a way to leave a huge impression on horror schlock as an art form in just a few years’ time.

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Sally

I ran through the entirety of the Slumber Party Massacre trilogy twice last year, not because each entry in the series blew my mind, but because the second film in particular was a life changer. Slumber Party Massacre II is an MTV-inspired fever dream of slain teenagers & nightmarish hallucinations that completely reinterpreted its straightforward slasher predecessor as a kind of surreal live action cartoon. All four girls in the film’s central garage rock band (a surprisingly decent The Go-Go’s knockoff) who embark on the titular doomed slumber party road trip are exciting to watch as performers. Courtney’s got the Final Girl timidity, Amy’s got the Best Friend sincerity, Sheila’s got the Rock Star sex appeal: each are entertaining in their own right. Still, I’d argue that Heidi Kozak’s performance as the band’s drummer, Sally, is a definitive show stealer. She not only features prominently in the movie’s most stomach-churning practical effects showcase (just one of her two onscreen deaths in the film), but she also brings a distinct Valley Girl cheese to the character that would make the actor so easily recognizable in her later horror works.

We don’t know much about Sally as a character except that she’s boy-crazy and she’s a drummer. The drumming part is something Kozak sells hilariously unconvincingly, endlessly miming the same repetitive motions with her drumsticks while the soundtrack does its best to make her seem competent. She does sell the character’s boy-crazy delirium quite well, though, chiming in as often as she can with announcements like, “I met this outrageous guy! He was such a babe,” and “I know what Courtney’s getting for her birthday . . . a boyfriend!” Sally seems to be her social group’s air headed cut-up, prone to shouting half-formed thoughts like, “Someday we’re going to be in movies and rock videos and everything,” and “Do anything you want to! Good times!” It’s easily the most dialogue Kozak is afforded in any of her works as a minor scream queen and she makes Sally out to be such a fun, bubbly character that every moment she’s onscreen is a gift. This is especially true of the first of her two onscreen deaths in the film, when Courtney hallucinates that a pimple Sally’s been worried about all weekend grows to encompass the entirety of her face and explodes all over the bathroom. It’s hideous, highly effective gore work and a much more memorable moment than when she’s later impaled by the killer’s phallic guitar drill. Poor Sally.

Most Killer Outfit: In the pillow fight scene, Sally sports a yellow crop top with Daisy Duke cutoffs and an asymmetrical ponytail. It’s the perfect outfit for any summertime sleepover, but it’s especially sporty for when you might need to flee from a demonic sex monster and his giant, guitar-shaped drill.

Sandra

A year after her scream queen debut in Slumber Party Massacre II, Kozak hit it big time (as far as mainstream horror franchises go). Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood practically lifted the Sally character wholesale from her previous film, only leaving behind her beloved drum kit. I can’t say that I especially enjoy this late-in-the-game franchise entry, but I do appreciate that it occupies the sillier end of Jason Voorhees lore that makes movies like Jason X and Jason Takes Manhattan, some of my favorites of the series. In this loosely sketched out version of Crystal Lake mythology, Jason’s dead body is reanimated & freed from its watery grave when a troubled young teen accidentally exercises her Carrie-like telepathic abilities in his general vicinity. Unfortunately, the film finds a way to make this ludicrous premise punishingly dull, despite some promising ideas about Jason functioning as a supernatural curse. There’s only two worthwhile aspects to The New Blood once the plot gets stuck in its by the books slasher rut: an inventive kill in which Jason smashes a girl zipped up in a sleeping bag against a tree (a kill later satirized to even greater effect in Jason X) and the casting of Heidi Kozak as inevitable victim Sandra.

Again, there isn’t much difference between Sandra & Sally in terms of character work, except that Sandra actually gets to act on her boy-crazy teen horniness while Sally only got to gush about it. In her introductory scene, Sandra is shown sunbathing and ogling a nearby hunk. In her second scene, she’s screwing a different boy, her boyfriend, in the back of a van, essentially marking herself as ineligible for Final Girl status, a surefire victim for Jason’s swinging machete. It’s in this romantic pairing that we get to see a different side of Kozak that wasn’t already covered in Slumber Party Massacre II. Because her wealthy boyfriend is hosting a teen party at his uncle’s Crystal Lake cabin, Sally winds up playing party mom during a large portion of the film’s first act. She’s still operating within her usual ditzy Valley Girl caricature, but now with a flustered sense of responsibility that has to negotiate between her oversensitive boytoy and some rowdy teens who just want to get drunk & screw. She makes no show of hiding why she’s with the wealthy dipshit either, answering his question, “When did you fall in love with me?” with a teasing, “The first time I saw the enormous size of your beautiful . . . wallet. The bulge in your pants was calling my name. Sandra, Sandra!” Unfortunately, Sandra’s life on this Earth is cut short when she gets the idea to go skinny dipping in Crystal Lake, one of Jason’s biggest pet peeves. She watches in horror as her boyfriend is decapitated on the shore and her naked body double is subsequently drowned. It’s a shame too, because she was one of the few compelling characters in a film that desperately needed more of them, yet she was one of the first to go.

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Most Killer Outfit: In accordance with her status as a more horned-up replica of Sally, Sandra sports a skimpier version of the yellow crop top & short jorts outfit from the previously mentioned pillow fight in her big skinny dipping scene. This time, however, it’s paired with a nude body double instead of an asymmetrical ponytail.

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Shauna

Society is easily the strangest film in Kozak’s trio of horror outliers, depite each work being uniquely goofy in their own unique ways. Kozak reprises her Valley Girl routine for one final go-round in Brian Yuzna’s cult classic body horror, but not as a participant in the gore-soaked “shunting” climax, neither as a victim nor as a wealthy mutant “sucking off” the life force of the lower class. Instead, Shauna is a total outsider to the entirety of the plot. She’s just as clueless as the film’s protagonist as to what supernatural evils lie under the surface of the film’s well-to-do Society, but instead of investigating the Truth, she spends the entire film trying to join the ranks of a ruling class that has no use for her. Her character traits aren’t much different than Sally’s or Sandra’s, but Shauna’s ditzy, boy-obsessed teen routine is put to a much stranger use, likely because Society itself is much less structurally formulaic than the two straightforward slashers she worked on previously.

Shauna has exactly one goal in Society: to earn an invitation to rich cad Ted Ferguson’s party. She does not succeed. The high school cheerleader schemer pretends to be so into and in love with the protagonist, Bill, but her interest in him seems to be a political move based on his football star social status and potential election as senior class president. When Bill finds himself entangled with a potential love interest that actually wants to have sex, Shauna is incensed not because she’s jealous of the affair, but because she wasted so much emotional work with Bill and never earned that Ted Ferguson invite she wanted so badly. Once their romance is fully dissolved, Shauna’s storyline is left by the wayside and she disappears before the climactic shunting, forever an outsider, never to be heard from again.

As an actor, Heidi Kozak similarly disappeared. Her work as a minor scream queen dissipated within three glorious, but short years and it’s doubtful she’d be remembered for any other popular media contributions, except maybe by the most dedicated Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman fans. I’d say she fully deserves to be remembered now, though. All three of her horror projects have proven to be such strange genre outliers with unexpected cult status longevity and she makes a striking presence in each instance. She’ll never enjoy the status of a Neve Campbell or a Jamie Lee Curtis, but she’ll always be a cherished scream queen to me.

Most Killer Outfit: In the scene when Shauna confronts Bill for his cheating ways, she shows up at his house in a skin tight denim dress, paired with a candy red sports car. She looks incredibly powerful in that getup and Bill was a fool to let her go in his pursuit of the truth about the shunt, especially since his eventual fate was entirely unavoidable.

For more on February’s Movie of the Month, the satirical class politics body horror Society, check out our Swampchat discussion of the film and last week’s look at its highly questionable DVD-mate Spontaneous Combustion (1990).

-Brandon Ledet

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2 thoughts on “Heidi Kozak: Undersung Scream Queen

  1. Pingback: The Dentist (1996) and Brian Yuzna’s Search for His Very Own Horror Franchise | Swampflix

  2. Pingback: Cold Steel (1987) | Swampflix

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