I’ve got to pour one out for the great MARGOT KIDDER. In my book, she’s one of the coolest actresses that ever graced the screen. As photogenic as she was, there was always something so real about her and she seemed like somebody you could know in real life. Maybe it’s partially due to the time period of her most indelible performances but she reminded me of every babysitter or Aunt I ever looked up to in awe. Man, how I loved her scratchy voice and the little twist of her upper lip and her kooky unfeigned laugh. There was just nothing phony about her and she never altered herself to fit into Hollywood. In fact, in the way she was slowly nudged out of the SUPERMAN franchise you can observe everything that’s wrong with the movie industry. Somehow, those in power didn’t fathom that Lois’ strength was equally compelling as the man of steel’s. It’s gutsier to scale the Eiffel Tower when you can’t fly.
For many folks, KIDDER’s name will always be synonymous with her portrayal of Lois Lane in the SUPERMAN series and that’s fair and no surprise, she’s truly phenomenal in that iconic role. We should never forget though, her incalculable contribution to the horror genre. She has appeared in several seminal fright films and is known to proudly admit to being a fan of horror movies herself. What the SUPERMAN films and her horror output have in common is that she brought something grandly her own to the table that nobody else could (for further evidence of that, just check out any of the remakes of her films). She has said, “I’m a very good screamer, that’s for sure” and we are all so lucky that we got to scream along with her.
This flick is almost too good to be true. Does the world even deserve this? You sort of get two outstanding performances for the price of one thanks to KIDDER’s mystifying double-edged role and on top of that, SISTERS is pure, primo BRIAN De PALMA (complete with succulent split-screens). The worship worthy director is clearly tipping his hat to HITCHCOCK but there’s also a late in the game plunge into dreamy POLANSKI-ville that will make your head swim. You’re not going to find a better showcase for KIDDER’s remarkable versatility and it’s incredible to see her effortlessly shift from cooing to terrifying in the blink of an eye. She’s remarkable and in a just universe KIDDER would need a twin to help her pick up all of the laurels thrown at her feet for the talent she reveals here. Add a dash of JENNIFFER SALT, a dollop of CHARLES DURNING and a beyond brilliant BERNARD HERRMANN score and you got something impossible to duplicate.
BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of BOB CLARK’s holiday slasher. Without it, there would be no HALLOWEEN and without HALLOWEEN – oh geez, I don’t even want to think about it. BLACK CHRISTMAS’s tone and overall construction are impeccable but what really makes its bulbs shine are its vibrant characters. KIDDER’s ’s Barb is a sensational standout; she’s brassy, cynical, nasty but funny and ultimately surprisingly lovable. She might not survive the night but she’s equally as valid and essential as those that do. Anyone with the wrongheaded idea that victims in slasher films are disposable cannon fodder need no other proof than Barb that they’re horribly wrong. Sure, she’s flawed and abrasive but that just makes her relatable and it’s her humanity that makes her demise all the more tragic. I think we’re all a little conditioned to think only the survivors are of interest in horror films and nothing could be further from the truth. Focusing solely on the protagonist is sort of like scraping the center out of an Oreo and throwing the rest of the cookie away. It’s a great way to miss out (and something a townie might do).
THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (1979)
Based on a true story (sure, Jan) this haunted house extravaganza is a bit of a fixer-upper but that doesn’t stop it from being a stone cold classic. No matter the faults in its foundation, I don’t think there’s anyone who could complain about the two central performances provided by JAMES BROLIN (as believably bonkers-bound George Lutz) and MARGOT KIDDER (as harrowingly harried Kathy Lutz). KIDDER is spot-on heartbreaking as she slowly realizes that her Mr. Right is slowly morphing into Mr. Yikes. When push comes to shove and shove comes to axe-wielding murderous intentions, she displays just the right maternal momma bear strength but never lets go of her character’s rightful panic. And KIDDER (much like similarly put-upon SHELLEY DUVALL in the following year’s THE SHINING) is capable of the perfect dark-eyed howling wraith-face for expressing pure unadulterated horror. This joint might not be all it could be (needs more Jodi the pig) but boy, do the occupants (especially KIDDER) know how to sell it.
HALLOWEEN 2 (2009)
I’m still here sticking with my initial assessment that ROB ZOMBIE’s HALLOWEEN 2 is one of the best horror sequels ever made for unflinchingly staring directly at the down and dirty ugliness of dealing with the aftermath of trauma. KIDDER is cast as Laurie Strode’s consoling therapist Barbara (her name a nice wink to BLACK CHRISTMAS). It’s not a large role but it provides the film’s lone safe space in a whirlwind of emotional anguish. In my mind, it’s also a rather generous way to allow the actress to put a needle in the butterfly of her own triumphant confrontation with the monsters of the mind. Some folks like to accuse ZOMBIE of stunt casting but I just see that rare person who is gracious enough to give back to the people who inspired him.
To be honest, I’m still a little bit haunted by the details of KIDDER’s well-publicized manic episode in 1996, which left her confused, alone, injured by an attempted rape and utilizing a random backyard for shelter. It still sends a chill down my spine as this type of mental collapse can happen to anybody at anytime and should be treated like any illness and without stigma or public exploitation. I wouldn’t wish such a thing upon my worst enemy let alone an artist who has brought me great joy repeatedly throughout my life.
As much as it pains me to think about, I now believe there can be a beneficial takeaway from what my hero MARGOT KIDDER went through and that is the knowledge that a person’s darkest hour will never define them, that sometimes the bottom of the pool is the best place to propel yourself back to the surface. The bright side of the dark coin she was handed is that she was able to get the help she needed (vitamins/orthomolecular medicine rather than psychiatry/drugs worked best for her) and she was able to plow forward avoiding any future episodes. She returned to her craft, worked steadily (albeit mostly outside the mainstream) and when not on set enjoyed a peaceful existence in the Rocky Mountains with her beloved grandchildren and dogs. She passed away far too early at 69 but she died in her sleep, which has got to be one of the top ways to go considering the alternatives. I found it heartening to see upon her passing so many celebrities, co-workers and fans expressing how sweet and kind she was off screen and how dynamic and influential she was on screen. I’m going to back that up by telling you that when I was fortunate enough to fawn on her at a convention she was every bit as genuine as I’d hope she’d be. KIDDER has left behind many a favorite film for me but I’ll also like to remember her as the brave woman who treated her troubles with mental illness much like Lois Lane treated the criminal Kryptonian Ursa after she was cleverly bamboozled into losing her powers in SUPERMAN 2, by saying “You know what? You’re a real pain in the neck!” and punching the unwelcome menace into the abyss.
Of course mental illness is probably something you never fully conquer, I’m sure you always have to watch your back but MARGOT’s determined rebound and subsequent well-being is something that should be celebrated as much as her impressive career. I’m glad she found some peace in this life and hope her peace is now eternal. So long, Margot and thank you, you’ll always be cooler than Superman to me.