The Women of Horrotober: Belinda Balaski in The Howling
Oh, Terry. You were so full of spunk and wit and had such incredible hair.
Every time I watch Joe Dante's seminal 1981 werewolf film The Howling, I want to warn Terry of the dangers that lie ahead - namely Robert Picardo's unnervingly deranged serial killer-cum-werewolf Eddie Quist - and beg her to just drop the amateur sleuthing, turn around, and skedaddle out of the woods and back to L.A. Sadly, every time I watch, her fate remains the same.
Belinda Balaski turns in a remarkable performance in a supporting role as Terry, the best friend to star Dee Wallace's character, Karen White. Whenever she's on screen it's impossible to take your eyes off her. She's a dynamo, full of magnetic charisma. She breathes such tremendous life into the role and I doubt most actresses could've done any better with the part. Balaski imbues Terry with attractive qualities, like tenacity, pluckiness, and charm. Following her as she investigates the mysterious goings on at the Colony is like tagging along with a wise-cracking Nancy Drew. At one point, while under attack in a creepy cabin in the woods, she uses an ax to chop off her wolf-assailant's arm to break free. Badass. That Terry's dogged pursuit of the truth, in order to protect Karen, leads to her doom only further cements her appeal.
Horror films are littered with the dead bodies of forgotten victims, but sometimes we find one that we care deeply about. Balaski's Terry belongs in the latter category for me. During my first viewing of The Howling as a young boy, she left such an impression on me that her murder actually emotionally devastated me. "No!" I shouted out loud. I had to stop the VHS tape for a moment to collect myself. That's rare in the pantheon on horror movie victims. Belinda Balaski's Terri is one of the best of an oft-ignored group. She'll always hold a coveted spot on my list of personal favorite horror characters, for her bravery and loyalty to her friend, her cynical smart-ass quips, and of course her glorious head of effervescent hair.*
* Unintentionally, hair is becoming a theme when discussing horror film legends. See also: Heather Langenkamp. I suppose you don't have to have to great hair to be a scream queen, but it certainly doesn't hurt if you do.