Horror cinema has been around since the late 19th century. That gives us 130+ years of thousands of individuals who have laid some cement on the foundation of the genre that we have today. From the performers who were drenched in blood and screamed their way through countless films, to the writers and directors who created the causes for those screams, to the makeup artists and costume designers who brought the horrors to life.
It’s Monster Mash month at Nightmare on Film Street. Credit has to be given to those who create and portray monsters for there isn’t one that I could think of that fits the criteria of Where Sc[Are] They Now due to their constant work. That says something about those with the monster mash powers. So who could I focus on?
Then she came to mind. She’s a force within the genre. She’s faced monsters, inbred cannibals, ghosts, and some very real life monsters. She is … the other slayer. She is Eliza Dushku. The late 90s and aughts were a time when Eliza Dushku personified the bad girl with a heart within the horror genre.
The beginnings of the cinematic world of Dushku is wealthy with many offerings. In her early beginnings, she starred alongside cinema greats such as Juliette Lewis (That Night), Leonardo DiCaprio (This Boy’s Life), and Arnold Schwarzenneger (True Lies), but it wasn’t until her slayer status was activated in 1998 that she began to take the genre of horror by storm.
In Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s 8th episode of the 3rd season titled Faith, Hope, and Trick, Faith makes her presence known in Sunnydale as the slayer activated upon Kendra’s (Bianca Lawson) death.”It’s okay, I got it,” she tells the Scooby Gang first comes across her as she slays a vampire. And with that began a story line for Faith that would last until the final episode of Buffy in 2003 which also included appearances on the spinoff, Angel. From a cohort of the big bad to switching bodies with Buffy to landing a stint in jail on Angel to playing a part in the final battle in the Buffy series finale, Dushku created a character that belongs in the pantheon of tragic, empathetic yet badass women that has appeared on television.
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“The late 90s and aughts were a time when Eliza Dushku personified the bad girl with a heart within the horror genre.“
So beloved were fans that after Buffy ended in 2003, rumors swirled for years that a Faith spin-off could happen. Dushku was even brought in for her opinion on the show. After learning that the Buffyverse’s creator, Joss Whedon, wouldn’t be involved as heavily, Dushku decided that a Faith spinoff couldn’t happen. That didn’t keep her from headlining genre projects on our TV screens throughout the aughts, though. For two seasons, Dushku starred in Tru Calling (2003-2004), as Tru Davis, a woman who had the ability to Groundhog Day murder cases until they were solved. Then in 2009, she reunited with Whedon for Dollhouse (2009-2010), portraying Echo, one of a group of individuals who are implanted with false personalities in order to please wealthy clients.
In 2001, she co-starred in the trippy, mind melter that is Soul Survivors. Soul Survivors wasn’t quite the hit that it could have been, but did feature Dushku front and center among the film’s advertising. Dushku’s Annabel was almost an exact replica of Faith in that she was the side character who turned to the bad side and could dance really well. Soul Survivors as well as the Buffy episode, Bad Girls (season 3, episode 14) proves that Dushku can execute a pretty enchanting dance to a numetal song.
Dushku’s next horror outing provided a more grounded yet just as character in Jessie, part of the group of unlucky travelers in Wrong Turn (2003). Perhaps her most well received cinematic genre portrayal, Dushku’s Jessie was a headstrong and caring individual who didn’t take any shit from cannibal inbred mountain men. Wrong Turn has become a cult classic. Sadly, the five sequels that followed were sans Dushku.
The handful of horror films that followed Wrong Turn saw Dushku go against spirits, goddesses, and serial killers. 2008’s Alphabet Killer’s Meg was on the hunt for a serial murderer with the help of his victims appearing to her in spectral form. 2009’s Open Graves’ Erica aided a group of friends escape a goddess whose soul -tealing spree was activated after an ancient board game is played. 2014’s The Scribbler’s Jennifer Silk assisted a woman (Katie Cassidy) with dissociative identity disorder in finding out who’s behind supposed suicides of the tenants of a mental hospital. And in Eloise (2016), Dushku’s last genre outing, she portrays Pia who gets roped into breaking into the infamous Eloise asylum to help a man (Chase Crawford) find his aunt’s proof of death so that he can inherit his family’s wealth.
Throughout all of these genre offerings, Dushku became a fan favorite of the comic book realm for her voicework as She-Hulk on Disney’s XD’s Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. from 2013 to 2015 as well as Ultimate Spider-Man (2015). She’s a solid part of the world of Jay and Silent Bob having appeared in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001) and Jay and Silent Bob’s Super Groovy Cartoon Movie (2013). And let’s none of us forget her iconic performance as Missy Pantone in the 2001 cheerleading cult classic, Bring It On. She’s also produced a documentary along with her brother, Nate Dushku, about her journey to discover her family’s Albanian roots titled Dear Albania (2015).
On the surface, it seems Hollywood has treated her well, but underneath, she’s experienced the grimy underbelly. At the age of 12, she was molested by stunt coordinator, Joel Kramer, while filming True Lies (1994). She was inspired by the #MeToo movement to bring her story to light. Not long after telling that story, she experienced sexual harassment while filming the TV series, Bull (2017), from costar Michael Weatherly. Speaking out against what he was doing led to her being fired from the show even though she was set to become a series regular. A settlement was agreed upon for the losses she experienced, but nothing reprimandable came out of it against Weatherly.
Most think that because of this, Dushku has disappeared from the spotlight, yet it gave her a new perspective on her life. “Humans need a cohesive narrative for who they are,” Dushku told Time in 2019. “And we’re as sick as our secrets. So naming our secrets — that’s a part of healing.” Dushku’s choice to navigate away from Hollywood has been entirely her’s. “I need the distance to recalibrate and start a family, but I don’t want people to think coming forward means ending your career. I could be acting. I could be in L.A. I just need to be here right now.”
“On the surface, it seems Hollywood has treated [Dushku] well, but underneath, she’s experienced the grimy underbelly.“
As of 2019, Dushku was studying holistic psychology at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, mere moments away from her family. She recently gave birth to her and husband, Peter’s, son, and has a production company based out of Boston, Massachusetts titled Boston Diva Productions. Boston Diva Productions recently produced the film, Mapplethorpe (2018).
From bad Slayer to fighting inbreds to speaking her truths during the #MeToo movement, Eliza Dushku has set a path that is all her own. Is she missed within the horror genre? Absolutely. But with respect and admiration, we applaud her for what she’s doing, now.
Are you more of a Faith, Tru, or Echo fan? Which Dushku horror offering has been your favorite? And honestly, how often do you recite Missy’s infamous Bring It On cheer, “I transferred from Los Angeles. Your school has no gymnastics team. This is a last resort,” or use Faith’s “Five by five” as a means of telling others that you’re cool with it? Let us know on our Twitter, Instagram, reddit, or on The Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook.