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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

THE REEL REALS: Evelyn Ankers

Evelyn Ankers

Evelyn Ankers was not blessed with superstardom, but she did all right for herself. In a career that spanned less than 25 years, she was still able to rack up over 60 film and television appearances, her most notorious being-- of course-- in the realm of horror. A fish out of water by nature, Evelyn was born to English parents in Chile. After returning to England, she developed an incurable affliction for theatrics and pursued a career as an actress. While still a teenager, she was performing opposite Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh in Fire Over England, though her part was a mere featured role. However, her strange allure as a beautiful woman with intelligence (and tinge of cynicism) made her a natural for movies with a mysterious bent-- dark pictures for thinking viewers. When partnered opposite Lon Chaney, Jr. in The Wolf Man, her career in America would begin in earnest, though she'd managed a role in the Abbott and Costello haunted house spoof Hold That Ghost. After the furry monster cub of the monster club became her onscreen boyfriend, she suddenly became one of the Universal lot's "scream queens," her touching portrayal of the woman falling in love with the man falling under a curse earning her a permanent place in the scary movie rotation. In fact, she would partner with Lon Jr. in several more films, two of which were Ghost of Frankenstein and Son of Dracula.

While these roles may have been limiting talent wise, they provided steady work for Evelyn. Few women have such interesting titles on their resumes: The Mad Ghoul, Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror, The Pearl of Death, The Frozen Ghost, Captive Wild Woman, Weird Woman, Jungle Woman... (Perhaps that Whitney Houston song was written for her)??? Apparently, a schlocky horror film didn't seem legit during the hey day of the genre unless this heady damsel in distress was involved. That was part of Evelyn's charm, however. She was smart. She may have had some fainting spells, bit her fist, and screamed bloody murder, but when these token mannerisms were partnered with her direct acting style and genuinely down to earth persona, it made her fear seem more genuine. When the weak little girls in tight sweaters screamed, they evoked eye roles. When Evelyn screamed, it was like, "Oh sh*t... This is serious..." Sadly, her career lost momentum when horror temporarily lost its luster, and the thanklessness of the industry soon sent her into early retirement. After a small slew of pictures, Evelyn spent the majority of her remaining days with her soul mate, husband Richard Denning, before succumbing to ovarian cancer at the age of 67. Today's horror films miss strong, competent women like herself. Evelyn didn't need to run topless through the smog to keep an audience fixated on her. All she needed was her throat.

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