20 badass ladies of cult cinema

Get to know ‘em.

1. Cheri Caffaro


During the heyday of 1970s grindhouse cinema, Cheri Caffaro nabbed the crown of its deliriously exploitative bondage sub-genre. In the drive-in classic “Ginger” trilogy (“Ginger,” “The Abductors,” “Girls Are For Loving”), she portrayed the titular secret agent unafraid to wrestle another bikini-clad thug babe on the beach — even if it meant the loser had to strip off every thread. The blonde-haired, raspy-voiced actress was married at the time to Don Schain, the director of those very films. What a team they made. In New Jersey. [IMDb]

2. Pam Grier


Pam Grier’s starring role in Quentin Tarantino’s “Jackie Brown” was a hat tip to her amazing body of work in the blaxsploitational ’70s. Her crowning acheivement? Probably Jack Hill’s “Coffy” (1973), when she had to fake a Kingston, Jamaica, accent and make cat fights look real. [IMDb]

3. Dyanne Thorne


Thorne portrayed the title character in “Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS,” a sadistic Nazi responsible for torturing young women and making sex slaves out of young men. Three sequels followed, all of ‘em pretty sick shit. [IMDb]

4. Zoë Lund, a.k.a. Zoë Tamerlis


Zoë Lund played the NYC vigilante in Abel Ferrara’s gritty “Ms. 45″ and later co-wrote the script for the director’s 1992 masterpiece “Bad Lieutenant.” She died in Paris at the age of 37 from heart failure and excessive cocaine use. [IMDb]

5. Divine


OK, so Divine’s personal physician may not consider the performance artist a “woman,” or a “lady” for that matter, but the doc would have also referred to the actor as “Harris Glenn Milstead.” The heavy-set ensemble player was featured in a slew of John Waters films, including the loudmouth mother in “Hairspray” (above). [IMDb]

6. Christina Lindberg


Swedish actress Christina Lindberg isn’t known for much, but her turn as the kidnapping victim-turned-homicidal avenger in “Thriller — A Cruel Picture” grabbed more attention than just that of the ’70s raincoat club. Quentin Tarantino’s The Bride (Uma Thurman) in his “Kill Bill” series was inspired by the eyepatch-clad Lindberg, who, after her acting career, took over as editor-in-chief of her late husband’s aviation magazine Flygrevyn in 2001. [IMDb]

7. Camille Keaton


The great niece of silent film star Buster Keaton, Camille is best known for her turn as the rape victim-turned-homicidal avenger (are we seeing a pattern here?) in 1978’s “I Spit on Your Grave,” an all-around awful, yet important, slasher that arguably planted the seed for academic studies of schlock in books such as Carol J. Clover’s “Men, Women, and Chainsaws.” [IMDb]

8. Susan George


British actress Susan George made her mark in the early ’70s as the cocktease off her rocker. Her biggest credit is probably as the antagonistic trophy wife of Dustin Hoffman’s nebbishe professor in “Straw Dogs” who plays too rough with their house’s construction crew; but don’t overlook her blonde bandit in 1974’s “Dirty Mary Crazy Larry,” a grindhouse roadster that clearly influenced Bridget Fonda’s surfer chick in “Jackie Brown” and Patricia Arquette’s Alabama in “True Romance.” [IMDb]

9. Mary Woronov

Rock 'n' Roll High School

Breaking through as a player in some of Andy Warhol’s experimental films, Mary Woronov paved herself a clear path into weirdo cinema — notably, as Calamity Jane in “Death Race 2000,” Miss Togar in “Rock N’ Roll High School” (above), Mary Bland in “Eating Raoul” and Abbie in Rob Zombie’s “The Devil’s Rejects.” [IMDb]

10. Zelda Rubinstein


The “Poltergeist” franchise hardly deserves an under-the-radar or cult label among spooky ’80s fare, but someone should cast a bust sculpture of Zelda Rubenstein’s medium Tangina for this scene alone. [IMDb]

11. Sally Kellerman


I don’t know why Sally Kellerman hasn’t been christened as Hollywood royalty by now. The husky-voiced California native was Oscar-nominated for her role in Robert Altman’s “M.A.S.H.” back in 1970, and has since contributed to some of the zaniest slapstick comedies of all time. Alan Metter’s “Back to School” anyone? (Yes, yes!) Or how about Neal Israel’s “Moving Violations” (above), starring Bill Murray’s little brother? It’s right here on YouTube if you wanna burn 90 minutes. [IMDb]

12. Jeramie Rain


Another member of Don Schain’s often-nude troupe (see Cheri Caffaro entry, above), Jeramie Rain (a.k.a. Jeramie Dreyfuss, Richard’s first wife) was unaware she was supposed to do a nude scene in Schain’s awfully pervy “The Abductors,” or so she told me in a 2005 interview. (“I hope my children will never even hear about [it].”) Her more iconic role hit the screen in the same year, as the sadistic Sadie (above) in Wes Craven’s classic “Last House on the Left.” [IMDb]

13. Susan Sarandon


Have you not seen “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” yet? What more is there to say? Susan Sarandon’s scantily clad Janet Weiss opened the door for campy midnight movies to compete with mainstream movies — at least on a fan base level. Because mainstream movies are boring, and sometimes something really bizarre has to remind you of that. [IMDb]

14. Grace Jones


If Mick Jagger represented the modern man’s transcendence into androgyny, then Grace Jones was the Brooklyn-born femme fatale who could pile-drive his candy ass. [IMDb]

15. Tura Satana


Director Russ Meyer’s cleavage-ey heroine of “Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” fame, Tura Satana, quietly pioneered for a seductive yet terrifying on-screen persona that went on to influence sexy-buff characters such as Xena, Warrior Princess and Aunty Entity from “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.” [IMDb]

16. Isela Vega


Jaws would drop constantly whenever Mexican sexpot would walk on the set of Sam Peckinpah’s “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia.” It was a $7,000 gig, according to a 2010 biography of her co-star Warren Oates, involving highly anticipated, gratuitous nude scenes that pretty much distracted the whole crew. Co-writer Gordon T. Dawson remembers how Vega fixed that problem:

She came out on the first day, and she was dressed in something a little low cut … Everyone was trying to get an angle to look down her cleavage.”All right boys, gather round,” she said. “Stop what you’re doing. C’mere.” She just stripped away and said, “Here, take a good look at ‘em. From now on, stop staring at them.” She had more balls than a lot of guys, I’ll tell ya. [IMDb]

17. Melanie Griffith


Long before the married the voice of an animated feline and rocked the shoulder pads in “Working Girl,” Melanie Griffith was some kind of precursor to Sharon Stone. She gave a dangerous and mysterious element to classics such as Brian DePalma’s Hitchcock Xerox “Body Double” and Arthur Penn’s “Night Moves.” [IMDb]

18. Claudia Cardinale


The Italian muse for Sergio Leone and Federico Fellini stole “Once Upon a Time in the West” in its entirety. I don’t care how amazing those nose hair close-ups were. [IMDb]

19. Deborah Kara Unger


That stunning mug has made men and women frightened and horny for nearly two decades with her roles as the severely unprotected sex practitioner in David Cronenberg’s “Crash,” the deceptive waitress in David Fincher’s “The Game” and that crazy-looking lady in the “Silent Hill” franchise. [IMDb]

20. Louisa Moritz


Come to me, my big burrito.” [IMDb]