By Susan Reed Craig Tomashoff
December 04, 1989 12:00 PM

Linnea Quigley, 31, admits that the requirements of the cinematic genre in which she specializes are somewhat peculiar. In The Return of the Living Dead, for instance, she had to dance naked on a tombstone, then segue smoothly to writhing as she was carved into sushi by famished zombies. When she played the class slut in Night of the Demons, she was called upon to impale her breast with a lipstick tube. In Witchtrap the same theme was struck—her neck was impaled by a demonic shower head—but in Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers she got a change of pace. Instead of being mangled, Linnea got to brandish a power saw as a prostitute who dismembered her pimp. From these experiences she has learned.

“In this business, you have to scream well, run well and die well,” says Quigley, who talks of her work in the way one might speak of a really cool summer job. “To die well, you have to open your eyes really wide and make gurgling noises. But it’s always degrading to have to take your clothes off. Everybody forms the opinion that you’re a slut. I’d probably think the same if it was someone else.”

“I try to give her input,” notes her boyfriend, special effects man Steve Johnson, “because in the past she has done some films I didn’t think were very tasteful.”

Linnea Quigley is the new queen of the low-low-budget B movies. Following in the blood-smeared steps of Jamie Lee (Terror Train) Curtis, in 2½ years she has churned out 19 films, some costing only $500,000 and taking one week to shoot. Yet while being devoured, punctured and dismembered in original ways, Quigley conveys an air of pixiness. “She’s sexy because she seems so innocent and sincere,” says Peter Orr, an editor of Fangoria, a horror film magazine. “Her appeal is her great personality. At a horror convention, she gets mobbed.”

Quigley’s tortures are not all onscreen. Consider The Return of the Living Dead, on which she spent three weeks covered in white paint while wallowing in mud. In Demons, frigid gelatin was applied to her bosom so that when the lipstick speared it, the real Quigley would be unharmed. That, however, led to romance with the man who applied the gelatin. “I just felt some connection with her I hadn’t felt with other actresses,” says Johnson, 29, whose credits include Ghostbusters. “She exuded honesty and openness.” Remembers Quigley: “I thought he was really cute, but it was really embarrassing—I was trying to be cool while he was putting this freezing cold stuff on my breasts.”

The Quigley wholesomeness was fashioned in Davenport, Iowa, where she was the only child of chiropractor William Heath Quigley and his wife, Dorothy. “I used to go to the drive-ins all the time to see movies like Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry,” says Linnea. “There were some I could even imagine myself in.” She was so shy, though, that when she tried out for school plays, she would turn speechless. All that changed in 1976 when the family moved to L.A. Linnea got a job weighing and measuring clients at a Jack LaLanne spa, did some modeling and played extras in films. Her break came when she was cast as a virgin in a small comedy called Fairy Tales. In her second film, Graduation Day, she died for the first time (by decapitation), and the tombstone dance in 1985’s Living Dead made her a cult star. That didn’t sit well with her parents for a while. “But we weathered the storm,” says her dad. “As long as what she does on the screen doesn’t spill over into her real life.” Quigley herself draws the line at realistic gore. “I won’t do slasher films,” she says. “And I won’t do movies where they do any harm to animals.”

The ones she does do bring Quigley up to $5,000 a day, and she now co-produces many. She also has a parody fitness video, Linnea Quigley’s Horror Workout, ready for release. And, perhaps refreshingly, she does not aspire to be taken more seriously. “I don’t want to get away from screaming and things like that,” Linnea says. “I’d just like to play the heroines a little more. When you know you’re going to live through a movie, you give a better performance.”

—Susan Reed, Craig Tomashoff in North Hollywood