Ah, the beautiful women of horror. With their wide eyes, heaving bosoms, and glass shattering screams, these damsels in distress run down ill-lit hallways and through shadowy forests in skimpy underwear, fighting off knife-wielding psychopaths and bogeymen. Some are blond, some are brunette; some have virginal, girl-next-door looks, while others are vampy femme fatales or schlock goddesses. There are ice queens and sultry final girls. There are girls who finally get the axe after hitting the high notes for 90 minutes. Temptresses, vixens, vampires, sorority babes, Nightmare Sisters, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers –horror has seen them all. There are heroines who never achieved more than straight-to-video B-movie status, and who relish that sleazy low-budget status, and there are actresses whose gore-and-glamour roles led to bigger and better things.
Jamie Lee Curtis is the “Mother” of all scream queens (sorry, Janet Leigh), a girl-next-door hottie whose ear-piercing lungs in John Carpenter’s 1978 classic, Halloween, is matched only by her willingness to show some skin in Paul Lynch’s Prom Night. The slasher film rose to prominence in the 1980s, bringing with it a scream queen renaissance –Amy Steel, Linnea Quigley, Adrienne Barbeau, and a host of other ladies ran shrieking in their nightgowns from killers and madmen. The ‘90s saw a bevy of beauties fight over the scream queen tiara, from Neve Campbell (Sidney Prescott) in Wes Craven’s Scream franchise and Jennifer Love Hewitt in I Know What You Did Last Summer to Sarah Michelle Gellar in The Grudge. Here are 10 of the hottest horror heroines, the bloody best from the 80s to today.
10 Danielle Harris (Halloween 4 and 5, Urban Legends)
Danielle Harris has been a gore-and-glamour girl since she played Michael Myers in Halloween 4 and 5. That was in the late ‘80s when she was a child actress. But here’s a career arc as strange and implausible as the plot of a Fulci film. In 2007, Harris returned to the Halloween franchise, starring in Rob Zombie’s remake and its sequel, Halloween II. Zombie’s Halloween featured Harris’ first nude scene, which made men around the globe scream like Jamie Lee Curtis. Harris also starred as a goth girl in Urban Legends, a role where she got to show off her heavily tattooed body.
9 Neve Campbell (The Scream Franchise)
Neve Campbell or Jennifer Love Hewitt? Both were 90s “It Girls” who briefly dabbled in horror. Still, can a hot heroine make up for a horrible film, which is what I know What You Did Last Summer is. A Fisherman in a rubber hat wielding a killer hook, really? Jennifer Love Hewitt was eye candy, but keeping your eyes open through this film was a nightmare.
Neve Campbell, who began her career in the TV show Party of Five, got busy with Denise Richards and Matt Dillon in a party of three (Wild Things), starred in Wes Craven’s Scream franchise. As Sidney Prescott, she battled Ghostface for four installments. While the franchise eventually devolved, the first installment upended horror movie clichés with a self-referential, meta-narrative. “Scream is not about the plot,” Roger Ebert said. “It is about itself. It is about characters who know they are in a plot.”
8 Shawnee Smith (The Saw Franchise, The X-Files)
As Amanda Young, Shawnee Smith screamed her way through the horror franchise Saw, cleverly outwitted the diabolical killer Jigsaw, became the apprentice of Jigsaw, and eventually developed her own killing modus operandi. (This is what happens when there are seven installments in a horror franchise -the suspension of disbelief snaps.) Smith also starred in the remake of The Blob, an episode of The X-Files, and Stephen King’s The Stand. Despite being hailed as a modern scream queen, Shawnee Smith originally turned down the role of Amanda Young, finding Saw, and horror films in general, too upsetting.
7 Nancy Thompson (A Nightmare on Elm Street)
Nancy Thomson is the protagonist in Wes Craven’s 1984 supernatural slasher film A Nightmare on Elm Street. Craven wanted someone “non-Hollywood” to play the teen heroine, and Heather Lagenkamp beat out more than 200 actresses auditioning for the role. Nancy is sweet and innocent -a classic girl-next-door; she has brown hair and blue eyes, wears sweaters in varying shades of pink, and sleeps in a football jersey. If every town has an Elm Street, then every Elm Street has a Nancy Thomson.
Nancy Thomson embodies the idea of the "final girl," a filmic trope referring to the last female character left alive after a series of murders. While Nancy is dismissed as a girlish nutcase dozens of times throughout the film, she survives Freddy Kruger by thinking and strategizing; her only goal, after all her friends are murdered by the razor-fingered dream invader, is to “whack the f****r.”
6 Tiffany Shepis (The Toxic Avenger, Tromeo and Juliet)
The schlockmeisters at Troma Entertainment created hundreds of cult classics, their tasteless flicks inspiring everyone from Quentin Tarantino to Peter Jackson (Bad Taste and Brain Dead, not the Lord of the Rings trilogy). Tiffany Shepis is Troma’s leading lady, the queen of B-movie actresses who’s starred in over 70 sex-filled and sick and twisted horror films. Shepis is a fan favorite in the horror community. Mention her name at a convention and men get into fistfights trying to get a picture taken with her. And you thought that fan who went full “Walking Dead” and bit Norman Reedus (Daryl Dixon) was bad.
5 Adrienne Barbeau (The Fog, Swamp Thing)
Adrienne Barbeau is one of the premier horror heroines of all time. The Fog and Swamp Thing are classic '80s horror films, and every Fangoria subscriber knows that Barbeau provided the unaccredited voice of the computer in The Thing. She worked with horror legends John Carpenter, George A. Romero, and Wes Craven, achieving international sex symbol status for her Farah Fawcett good looks and large assets. In fact, IMDB.com lists big breasts as her “trademark.”
4 Cerina Vincent (Cabin Fever, Return to House on Haunted Hill)
Love him or hate him, Eli Roth ushered in a new genre of horror: torture porn. In the early aughts, Roth, along with Saw director James Wan, blended masochistic sadism with forensic fetishism, and undercut it with a sort of nihilistic moral displacement. Yes, Roth and Wan have a message… if you can get past the blood-soaked torture and slaughter. However, before Eli Roth was crowned the king of torture porn, he directed Cabin Fever (2003), a movie about vacationing college kids and a contagious, flesh eating disease. Cabin Fever stars Cerina Vincent, a ravishing Italian beauty with long dark hair and smoldering eyes. Cerina has two topless scenes in Cabin Fever, but it is the image of her shaving her legs that's forever burned into the brain.
3 Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, From Beyond)
While her name isn’t as well-known as 80s scream queens Dee Wallace or Adrienne King, Barbara Crampton has cult status amongst hardcore horror aficionados. Crampton collaborated with director Stuart Gordon in the films Re-Animator (1985) and From Beyond (1986), both of which are based on short stories by horror novelist H.P. Lovecraft. Whether dressed as a dominatrix or engaged in kinkily bizarre sex scenes with Lovecraftian monsters, Barbara Crampton pushed the boundaries (and good taste) of horror cinema, her scream queen roles falling dangerously close to soft-core adult entertainment. Crampton recently appeared in the slasher revival flick You’re Next.
2 Sheri Moon Zombie (The Devil’s Rejects, Lords of Salem)
Falling somewhere between hillbilly scuzz and classic rock sleaze is the inimitable Sheri Moon Zombie. Wife to musician and horror filmmaker Rob Zombie, Sheri Moon brings a 1970s pin-up glamour to her husband’s schlock and gore fests. Sheri might not be the greatest actress, but her groupie-gone-bad look is a perfect match for the grainy, gonzo scenes her heavy-metalist husband conjures up –the use of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” at the end The Devil’s Rejects is southern fried genius. Sheri Moon stars in Rob Zombie’s latest film, 31, which follows five carnival workers who are kidnapped and held hostage in a secret compound known as Murder World. The film is scheduled to be premier at Sundance 2016.
1 Asia Argento (Trauma, The Stendhal Syndrome)
Asia Argento is horror royalty, a natural born scream queen who was once rated the “Sexiest Woman in the World” by Maxim magazine. Asia’s father is the legendary Italian director Dario Argento, the auteur who helmed giallo classics such as The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Deep Red and Suspiria. Her mother is Daria Nicolodi, the Italian beauty who co-wrote Suspiria and starred in several of Dario’s classic horror films. Asia’s first major role was in her father’s 1993 film, Trauma. This was followed by a role in The Stendhal Syndrome, the best of Dario Argento’s post-Opera work. In 2000, Asia directed and starred in the film Scarlet Diva, which features a lesbian love scene with a famous Italian adult film actress.