When we talk about women in horror, there are likely countless examples of women who influenced the genre that spring to mind. Maybe you think of some of the incredible performances from the likes of Lupita Nyong’o in Us (2019), Toni Collette in Hereditary (2018), Sissy Spacek in Carrie (1976), or some of the amazing women directors behind the camera like Jennifer Kent (The Babadook), Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou), or Ana Lily Amirpour (A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night) who does it all. However, I set my sights a little deeper into the horror cannon for today’s profile to talk about my Real Housewife of Horror, Denise Richards.
For those who are tragically unaware, you can see her starring in such horror and horror adjacent projects like Tammy and the T-Rex (1994), Wild Things (1998), Valentine (2001), and Scary Movie 3 (2003). Most recently however, you would find Denise Richards as a primary cast member on the last two seasons of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Although her participation on the show will not continue next season, in her relatively brief time with the other women, she undoubtedly made her mark. In this author’s opinion, I think that part of the reason why she was so successful on a reality TV program comes from her background in the horror genre. Don’t believe me? Read on!
Like many actors who break into the mainstream, Denise Richards’ early career is littered with horror related projects. Her performances in movies like Wild Things and Valentine often center on her being beautiful, wearing a bikini, and sometimes being afraid. One standout during this period was Tammy and the T-Rex, firstly because it’s an incredible movie that everyone should watch, but also because in addition to being young, beautiful, and afraid, Denise Richards’ Tammy is also allowed to be funny and weird in a way that would become atypical in some of her later work. Whether she is causing a scene in a hospital room, doing a strip tease for her boyfriend’s free floating brain, or riding off into the sunset on the back of a T-Rex, Tammy is an infinitely watchable character.
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“Denise Richards’ Tammy [of Tammy and the T-Rex] is also allowed to be funny and weird in a way that would become atypical in some of her later work.“
I would never pretend that Tammy and the T-Rex was the first or only horror movie to have a compelling female lead, but I do think it’s fair to say that in that era, it wasn’t necessarily the norm to highlight the scream queen’s complexities as a character. More often than not, traditional slasher movies (see Valentine) focused on the killer killing a myriad of young people, some of which happened to be beautiful, scantily clad women. During the 80’s and 90’s, it’s fair to say that horror was very much a “guys’ genre” so movies were made with straight dudes in mind, and Denise Richards excelled at the kind of things straight guys want to see. Even in Tammy and the T-Rex, she is for all intents and purposes the perfect woman. She’s funny, she’s sexy, and she will still love you even if you turn into a dinosaur. What more could a guy want?
As much as Denise Richards excels in a genre traditionally geared towards guys, she also excels in the world of reality television, a realm of entertainment that primarily targets women for its viewership. Reality TV may also be one of the only genres that is dismissed more easily and readily than horror, and I have to think that the “boys’ genre” vs “girls’ genre” at least plays some part in that. In a lot of wonderful ways, things have begun to change within the horror genre. There are so many more women voices in horror, and there are some horror movies that actually get respect and acclaim from those outside the community, making the genre harder to dismiss by the day. On the flip side of that though, reality television has not experienced that same kind of resurgence. Largely, it seems like reality TV is considered junk food or guilty pleasure entertainment; a silly thing for silly women. Much like the horror genre, it’s not for everyone, and that’s okay, but it still surprises me that the two forms of entertainment are not on par with each other yet.
When we spoke about traditional roles for female characters in horror, we left out perhaps the most prominent one which is the final girl. Beloved movies like Halloween (1978), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), Scream (1996), and A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) all share in common one young woman character who lives to see the end of the movie, and she’s the one to carry the audience through the story. This brings me to the question then of why it would ever be the case that girls and women are good enough to hold your attention for an entire feature but not good enough to have entertainment made just for them without it being ridiculed?
Now it’s not my business to convince anyone reading this that they need to watch and enjoy The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (although that would be a great unintentional outcome), but the participation of Denise Richards on the show with the context of her horror background really brings to light how similar the two genres can be. All of the Real Housewives properties hinge on the women fighting with one another, like Freddy vs Jason (2003) with the violence of their words. On the most recent season of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Denise Richards got in her fair share of spats, but none more explosive than what I like to call the “Rome dinner scene.” In the briefest terms possible, Brandi Glanville, a former Real Housewife confided in Teddi Mellencamp and Kyle Richards (no relation to Denise, but you can catch Kyle as a child actor in Halloween) that she and Denise had recently had an affair. The women were beside themselves with shock and the only way that Teddi could deal with this information was by waiting until all cast members were together on a trip to Rome, and announcing what she had heard on camera and in front of everyone.
“Much like the horror genre, [Reality TV is] not for everyone, and that’s okay, but it still surprises me that the two forms of entertainment are not on par with each other yet.“
In this moment, the look on Denise’s face is fear, and it’s a look that we’re familiar with. Dinner scenes are notorious in horror, from Eraserhead (1977) to Dead Alive (1992) to Hereditary, but this moment in particular brought to mind the dinner scene from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. In the film, we see Sally distraught and pleading for her life from the family of cannibals sat around her, and what we see happen here with Denise is not dissimilar. Denise goes so far as to completely shatter the fourth wall in a way the audience has never seen before on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, looking to the producers and begging them not to air this conversation. It’s honestly chilling to watch, but the sick reality is that this element of pure human terror, a horror movie staple, provided great fodder for the rest of the show’s season.
This dinner scene in particular was so juicy that it was teased for the entire season beforehand, starting with the very first episode. The audience is shown all the media coverage of the alleged affair between Denise and Brandi, overlaid with audio from the other women saying things like “we will never see Denise Richards again.” A sentiment that us horror fans recognize from the denouement of slasher films when the good guys finally seem to have triumphed. But we are smarter than those characters because we know that the killer always comes back to life for one last scare. And this is no different, as we see a truly incredible edit of Denise sitting down in front of her green screen with music pounding and a downright devious grin on her face. It’s something that has to be seen to be believed so please check it out if you’re interested in what is my favorite reality TV moment in recent memory:
One final horror movie trope that is represented in Denise Richards’ time on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills is the fact that her husband Aaron is a mad scientist. I would love to write an entire piece dedicated to him and his profession, but I will explain it to you all briefly here. Aaron is a frequency therapist in the quantum energy field and he and Denise met when she went to him for preventative DNA repair. Aaron has explained what he does for a living at least ten times on the show, and I still cannot tell you what any of it means. I am so afraid of this man, I’m scared to even get in depth about his mad scientist vibes because I am genuinely concerned that he will warp my DNA frequencies with his scary scary brain.
All that being said, do I think that Denise Richards intentionally utilized the horror movie staples she picked up on at the beginning of her career to create a successful turn on a reality TV show? No, probably not. But when you compare the two ventures side by side and consider her successes in both, it seems clear that the tools she picked up from her horror beginnings proved to be very useful in this current phase of her career. To oversimplify things, Denise Richards excels in both a “guys’ world” and in a “girls’ world” and I believe she would excel in anything inside and outside those made up parameters, and that’s what I want to celebrate this Women in Horror Month. While she will be sorely missed on the next season of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, I’m going to cross my fingers and hope that we will see her in our little world of horror again sometime not too far away.
What is your favorite Denise Richards performance, horror or otherwise? Are you keeping up with the Real Housewives? Reply with your number one horror movie and/or housewife dinner scene, or just let us know your thoughts on Nightmare on Film Street’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages!