Perhaps my favourite of all horror genres is the ‘slasher’. To me, it epitomises horror and its signifiers are among the most famous for the horror genre. There’s almost always a killer. A strange, abnormally tall man, usually disfigured or wearing a mask, a man who walks everywhere, yet you can’t outrun him, a man who hides in your wardrobe, in the shadows of your house, waiting for you to be alone, stalking teenagers and killing them off one by one. And there’s almost always one hero, one girl, one (usually) virginal teenager who, through blood, sweat and tears, screams her way to survival. She’s the last girl standing, the ‘Final Girl’ as described in film studies. So I’ve decided, in celebration of Halloween, to compile a list of the best scream queens to date.
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Lets start at the very beginning. Many would argue that Alfred Hitchcocks Psycho is the film that pioneered an iconic symbol of the slasher movie, the screaming, stunning, leading lady. Janet Leigh stars as Marion Crane, a woman who takes a fatal detour at the quaint and quiet Bates Motel whilst on the run after stealing $40,000 from her boss. She’s ballsy, yet polite, strong willed, yet racked with guilt and absolutely gorgeous. And, despite being killed off fairly early in the film, an undeniable scream queen. The famous ‘Shower Scene’ in which Marion meets her fate at the hands of young, shy Norman Bates, is the scene that has given Janet Leigh her title. The blood curdling scream has echoed throughout cinema history, and, coincidentally, through generations as her daughter has since carried the scream queen torch.
Jamie Lee Curtis
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During the 1970’s and 80’s the slasher genre really developed into what we know and love it to be today. With hundreds of slashers being made each year, hundreds of scream queens emerged but none had quite the same impact as Jamie Lee Curtis did. She debuted, in her most famous scream queen role, in John Carpenters 1978 hit Halloween. Curtis plays Laurie Strode, the innocent, virginal teenager who happens to be related to crazy, stalker killer Michael Myers. After a long stint in a mental institution, Myers escapes and decides to pay Laurie and some of her friends a visit on Halloween. Scream after scream, one gruesome death after another, Laurie is the last one standing and the only one lucky enough to appear in a number of sequels. Not only did Curtis become the face (besides the William Shatner mask) of the Halloween series, she also appeared in many other classic slashers including Prom Night and Terror Train. And, along with her mother Janet Leigh, will forever be an icon in the slasher genre.
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One of my favourite slasher films from the 70’s, one of the first of its kind, a film that influenced the likes of Halloween and Friday the 13th is Black Christmas from 1974. After terrorising a sorority of girls with obscene phone calls and threats the maniac begins his killing spree on Christmas Eve. Lurking in the attic of a sorority house he picks off each sorority sister one by one. Well, all but one. He can’t quite follow through with the death of scream queen Jess, played by Olivia Hussey. Although she didn’t reprise her role as a scream queen much after this film, her development from innocence and naive teenager to courageous and determined young woman is a path that most scream queens adopted. She’s been a huge influence on women in horror, and 30 years after its release Black Christmas has acquired ‘cult’ status.
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Proving scream queens survived after the 70’s and 80’s ended Wes Craven introduced us to Sidney Prescott, played by Neve Campbell in the 1996 film Scream. Taking blatant inspirations from its slasher ancestors, Scream tells the story of one town, particularly one girl, terrorized by a masked killer. Like the scream queens before her, Sidney is a fighter, not a victim and see’s through the killers façade. Unlike the scream queens before her, she is able to reveal to the world the face behind the mask, doing something authorities could not do. She’s not alone in her survival, however, as she is joined by Gale weathers, played by Courtney Cox. Both women, determined and cunning, manage to out smart the killers another three times in the next three films. Making both women, especially Neve, the face, and voice, of Scream.
Looking through the last decade of horror films the scream queen role seems to have evolved. Going from victim to survivor back in the beginning, the queens of today seem to start as the survivor, they’re the hero from the very start. Kate Beckinsale won ‘Best Scream Queen’ in 2006 for her role in Underworld, despite not being a human character. Sarah Michelle Geller from her roles in I Know what You did Last Summer, The Grudge and Buffy the Vampire Slayer has been described as a modern day scream queen, despite her obvious heroic status in the latter. But despite its changing role, the scream queen still exists today, because who could be more equipped at out smarting the masked, male killer if not a strong, independent woman.