Webster’s Online Dictionary defines screaming as “suddenly crying out in a loud and high voice because of pain, surprise, etc.” Hollywood defines screaming as the money maker. Try to think of a horror movie right now that does not feature a beautiful woman, possibly scantily clad, screaming as though (and because) her life depends on it. Well… Deliverance… but I wouldn’t suggest that particular feature for a low pressure date night.
From the hugely successful to the (barely) straight to DVD, women in duress seem to be a pre-requisite for the horror and thriller genre. The reason for this has been debated in every which direction, with very few definitive standpoints made. Yes, some people find it sexually pleasing to see a woman chased and tortured on screen, and that’s not necessarily wrong (as long it’s not acted upon), but in the same film others find it incredibly empowering to see these women fight back and defeat their attacker.
Films where women are blatantly used in humiliating and oppressed ways seem to be more in the category of straight to DVD, while films with Clarice Starlings are winning Oscars. It seems that the definitive answer to this debate rests in the eyes of the beholder; if the women involved in the filming process do not feel degraded, it’s not anyone’s place to tell them they should.
On that indecisive note, here is a list of 10 actresses who are best known for their work in horror. To earn the title of “Scream Queen” the actress only needs to be associated with the horror genre. It doesn’t matter how many films, or whether they were the cause or producer of the screams in question.
Some of the ladies on this list are from the era of woman tied up and screaming until a man finally comes to save them, and some are from the era of the “final girl;” a time when virginity was mandatory for surviving and finally defeating the villain who killed all your friends. Some are from the B horror, straight to DVD subculture, and some are from the genre of just being an awesome lady who had sex and still kicked everybody’s ass.
Every genre has its empowerment and flaws, but every woman on the countdown is simply the best. …And potentially screamed, scantily clad, at some point in their careers.
Debbie Rochon is by far the most prolific member in the horror genre on our list. She’s an incredibly famous Canadian actress in the B movie scene and has a filmography average of 5 movies a year since 1990.
Her most well-known credits include Le Theatre Bizarre, Tromeo and Juliet, and Santa Claws and her frequent appearances for Troma Productions gives her a steady stream of roles to choose from.
Troma is a low budget American film company that pays hommage to 1950’s horror in their numerous campy and many times, farcical films. Rochon’s early life consisted of running away from an endless cycle of foster homes to the streets of Vancouver, British Colombia.
In fact, she has a scar on her right arm from a knife attack from another homeless person when she was 14. She eventually moved to New York to study acting and since then has been inducted into the B-movie Hall of Fame, as well as the humorously named Hell of Fame. She has received numerous other awards for her work, and at 45 is still very present on the horror scene.
Sarah Michelle Gellar
Sarah Michelle Gellar received the role of Beverley Hills teenager turned Vampire Slayer, Buffy Summers in 1996, and instantly became one of the most empowered female characters on television.
Buffy was almost indestructible physically, but she was still a flawed, three dimensional character with feelings and inadequacies. Gellar appeared in numerous blockbusting horror films as well, including Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and The Grudge.
Gellar has recently taken a break from acting to focus on her family: her husband and Last Summer co-star Freddie Prinze Jr., and children Charlotte and Rocky.
Another Vancouverite on our list, Katharine Isabelle has a better relationship with the city, as she works and lives there currently.
Isabelle has appeared on almost every TV show filmed in Canada, including Supernatural, Being Human, and Hannibal. Her most notable horror film credits include the Ginger Snaps trilogy, Freddy vs Jason, and the ever disturbing American Mary.
Although she remains under the radar for the most part, she is a killer actress and stunning person inside and out. In fact, she defies the “scantily clad” portion of her job description, as she has a no nudity clause in her contract.
Chiaki Kuriyama is a Japanese actress, singer, and model, but has bridged the seas and become a beloved cult face in North American cinema. Best known for her portrayal of Gogo Yubari in Kill Bill Vol. I, Chiaki’s Japanese horror credits include Japanese films Battle Royale, Hair Extensions, and Ju-on: The Curse.
Actors in television are more famous in Japan than film actors, so Kuriyama’s name resonates there more as a pop singer than an actress, but she hopes to learn more English and continue working in North American cinema.
Sigourney Weaver is closer to the “queen” than the “scream” part of her Scream Queen title, but she is known for her horror credits nonetheless. Weaver landed the role of Ellen Ripley in Alien early in her career, and it is probably still her most beloved and famous role to date. She reprised the role in three of the sequels, Aliens, Alien 3, and Alien Resurrection, and her other horror credits include The Village, and Cabin in the Woods.
Weaver is one of very few actresses who has been nominated for an Oscar for a horror movie (Aliens), but she’s been nominated numerous times for many awards for her work outside of horror as well.
Shawnee Smith is terrified of horror movies and she doesn’t really like them all that much. However she has been a Scream Queen for most of her career. She was cult famous for her role in The Blob, and the director of the Saw franchise had a huge crush on her. He convinced her to play a small role in the first film, even though the script made her feel sick and she rejected the offer at first.
She reprised her role for several of the sequels and became a much more featured character, growing to love the whole experience. Shawnee fronted a metal band for a number of years, Fydollo Hoe, as well as a country band, Smith and Pyle, but she quit to focus on her children and acting career. Her other horror credits include The Stand, Carnival of Souls, and The Grudge 3.
Fay Wray is considered one of the first Scream Queens, and in this case it was because of her glass shattering scream. She is most famous for her role in the classic King Kong.
She got into acting in 1923 as a way to help her family pay the bills, and would take any role that came along. She has often been referred to as the “Queen B” because of her unselective nature and frequent appearance in B movies.
Horror movies she appeared in that have stood the test of time include Doctor X, The Mystery of the Wax Museum, and The Most Dangerous Game. She acted for most of her life to pay the bills, but she has always said her true love was writing.
Sheri Moon Zombie
Sheri Moon Zombie’s girlish laugh made her an adorably terrifying additive to Rob Zombie’s already upsetting film House of 1000 Corpses. She reprised her role as Baby Firefly in the sequel The Devil’s Rejects and has been a pivotal piece to all of Zombie’s films since, including Halloween I & II, and Lords of Salem.
Although all but one of her acting experiences was directed by her husband, Rob Zombie, she adds an incredible amount of sympathy to every character she touches and is one powerhouse of a muse.
Danielle Harris is widely recognised as the reigning Scream Queen. She began her career in horror at the age of 10 with a leading role in the fourth film in of the Halloween franchise. She led in the fifth film as well with the same role.
For years after, she had trouble being taken seriously, and only received offers from horror movies that barely made it to DVD. Eventually, she appeared in the Rob Zombie reboot of Halloween and the sequel that followed, playing the role of Laurie Strode’s best friend, a completely different character than her childhood role.
Since this breakthrough, her career has flourished in the horror genre and she has acted in many critically acclaimed films, including the Hatchet series, and Night of the Living Dead: Origins 3D. Harris dipped her toes into directing with Among Friends, but soon after decided to take a break for a while to start a family.
Jamie Lee Curtis
Jamie Lee Curtis is It. She was not the first Scream Queen, nor the last, and Halloween wasn’t even the first film showcasing the “final girl trope,” but Curtis tops all the Scream Queen lists, all the best horror character lists, and appears first in most people’s minds when Scream Queens in general are mentioned.
Although she hasn’t done much horror recently, after and during the Halloween franchise she appeared in numerous classic horror films, including Prom Night, Terror Train, and The Fog.
Curtis broke out of horror with Trading Places in 1983, and continued in drama and comedy, every now and again appearing in a Halloween sequel. A very didactic woman, Curtis has most recently been working with an illustrator to write children’s books, and in 2007 patented her first invention.