The Women of Horrotober '17: Laurie Zimmer, Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)
Calling Laurie Zimmer's IMDb page "sparse" is an understatement. Only five credits, all between 1976 and 1979. Six, in fact, if you count one where she appears as herself, in the 2003 documentary that asks, Do You Remember Laurie Zimmer? I certainly do remember Laurie Zimmer. In fact, I've never forgotten her.
Whenever considering the finest performances in genre film, her work in John Carpenter's 1976 masterpiece, Assault on Precinct 13, always comes to mind. As Leigh, the unimpressed, sardonic, seen-it-all office manager of an abandoned precinct under siege, Zimmer is infinitely cool. Facing great danger, and almost-certain death, Leigh remains calm and collected. When she needs to arm herself, she does so, matter-of-factly and with great confidence. When she's grazed by a bullet to the arm, she barely flinches. In other words, Leigh is the proto-Carpenter woman: tough, intelligent, self-sufficient, and of course beautiful.
In an era when mainstream Hollywood was focusing more on male antiheroes than female empowerment, low-budget auteur films like Carpenter's picked up the slack by gifting us with several female characters that exhibited their own agency, while kicking copious amounts of ass. Zimmer sells it all with panache, a glimmer in her eye, and a subtle smirk of her lips. She's absolutely mesmerizing throughout, and her endless array of deadpan reaction shots are never less than entertaining. It's a wonderfully assured performance.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention that, like many of the women featured in this series - including Heather Langenkamp and Belinda Balaski - Zimmer's hair is so lush, so full of glorious life itself, that its practically a character of its own in the film. I keep asking the question, and I mean it sincerely: what is it with horror/genre film actresses and their marvelous, voluminous hair? I'm starting to see a corollary between gorgeous hair and great performances, honestly. Of course, these actresses and the characters they play don't derive their strength from their hair - although it certainly can't hurt matters - but instead from their tenacious drive to fight back against the various threats they face in their films.
For those of us that discovered Laurie Zimmer through Assault on Precinct 13, it's disheartening to realize she quit acting only a few years later. Yet with this one role, she made a lasting impression on genre lovers everywhere. More than forty years later, her work as Leigh is still rightly celebrated as one of the most cerebral and iconic female performances in genre film. I'll certainly never forget Zimmer or her outstanding work bringing Leigh to life. She'll always remain firmly ensconced in my personal genre film hall of fame. I like to think Zimmer would react to that honor with a curl of her lip, into an almost imperceptible smile, while looking mostly unimpressed with the entire thing.