A scream queen is an actress who has become associated with horror films, either through an appearance in a notable entry in the genre as a frequent victim or through constant appearances as the female protagonist. Jamie Lee Curtis is noted as a seminal example for her performance in the popular slasher films of the Halloween franchise.
The term "scream queen" is more specifically used to refer to the "attractive young damsels-in-distress" characters that have appeared in a number of films in the horror genre. Lloyd Kaufman, co-founder of Troma Entertainment, noted that being a scream queen is "more than just crying and having ketchup thrown on you. You not only have to be attractive, but you also have to have a big brain. You have to be frightened, you have to be sad, you have to be romantic."
Debbie Rochon, often described as a scream queen herself, wrote in an article originally published in GC Magazine that "a true Scream Queen isn't The Perfect Woman. She's sexy, seductive, but most importantly 'attainable' to the average guy. Or so it would seem." And although the earlier scream queens might be women that "just had to look pretty and shriek a lot until the hero of the film got around to save (them)", the later scream queens "showcase women worrying about something other than a guy...unless said guy is the one trying to kill them", with some of them "wreaking vengeance" by defeating the villain.
The use of women in horror films dates back to the silent film era, with films such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) and Nosferatu (1922). George Feltenstein, film historian and senior vice president of theatrical catalog marketing at Warner Home Video, states, "Women screaming in terror has been a Hollywood mainstay — even when films were silent". One of the first scream queens in the talkies was Fay Wray, as her character in King Kong (1933) spent a good part of her interactions with the ape shrieking in terror. In 1928 first sound horror film The Terror (1928). Barbara Steele, who is best remembered as Mario Bava’s muse in the Italian gothic horror masterpiece, Black Sunday (1960), can also be considered as one of the greatest scream queens in horror history due to her constant appearances as the female protagonist in Italian horror films. She was adept at playing the damsel in distress or the monster, and her exotic looks separated her from the stereotypical blonde starlets featured in countless horror films.
Daria Nicolodi, who used to be Dario Argento’s partner, himself master of Italian horror cinema, played the role of the scream queen in most of his films (Deep Red, Inferno, Phenomena, Terror at the Opera). Also Mario Bava called on Nicolodi for his Shock (1977). In 1982, Nicolodi played Anne in Argento’s Tenebrae. Daria’s hysterics at the end of the picture remain memorable. In Halloween, Jamie Lee Curtis, daughter of Psycho actress Janet Leigh, had her first film role. Portraying Laurie Strode in Halloween, Curtis established herself as the "ultimate 'scream queen'" and was even referenced as such in the horror film Scream (1996) by Randy Meeks. Curtis went on to star in several other horror films after that, two of them being The Fog and Halloween H20, in both of which she appears together with Janet Leigh.
The success of Halloween made slasher films known again, and so that type of film saw a revival during the late 1970s and entire 1980s. A few films worth mentioning include, but are not limited to, Terror Train and Prom Night, in which Jamie Lee Curtis would again essay this type of role, Friday the 13th, the first entry to have both a female antagonist (Betsy Palmer) and protagonist (Adrienne King), A Nightmare on Elm Street, now considered a slasher-classic, with the introduction of supernatural serial killer Freddy Krueger, had its leading actress, Heather Langenkamp, dubbed a scream queen. Langenkamp went on to become one of the most influential scream queens. Linnea Quigley also became a scream queen during the 1980s. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge (1985) star Mark Patton, has in recent years been touted at horror conventions as mainstream horror's first "male scream queen".
During the 1990s, Debbie Rochon starred in dozens of Troma Production horror films and was voted by Draculina magazine as its "Scream Queen of the Decade". Neve Campbell also began her career in horror with The Craft (1996), and later went on to star as Sidney Prescott in the Scream film series. Jennifer Love Hewitt was reckoned a scream queen after her I Know What You Did Last Summer films. The first film of that trilogy also had a starring role for Sarah Michelle Gellar, who started her career on television as the title character in the show Buffy the Vampire Slayer and went on to appear in other horror films made during the '90s and new millennium. These include the second part of the aforementioned Scream series and The Grudge franchise.
2006 saw Kate Beckinsale earn the award for "Best Scream Queen" at the Scream Awards for her role in Underworld: Evolution (2006). In 2007, USA Today published an article listing its opinion of who qualified as a modern scream queens; the list included Sheri Moon Zombie, Jaimie Alexander, Andrea Bogart, Mercedes McNab, Tiffany Shepis, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Cerina Vincent. Since 2007 and her appearance in Halloween, Danielle Harris has increased her genre work, being subsequently called "horror's reigning scream queen" by the NY Daily News.
Not only has Danielle Harris had most of her lengthy horror credits in the 2010s, but other young actresses such as Emma Roberts and Maika Monroe are also viewed as the new generation's scream queens. Roberts has performed in Scream 4 (2011 film), and had lead roles in television shows American Horror Story: Coven, American Horror Story: Freak Show, as well as the upcoming Scream Queens (2015 TV series). Monroe is best known for her starring role in the supernatural horror movie, It Follows (2014). Internationally, Bipasha Basu has been referred as "Bollywood's Scream Queen" due to her contributions towards horror in India.
- "The Top 11 Scream Queens - Jamie Lee Curtis". UGO. Retrieved 2010-05-20.
- Arnold, Thomas (2007-04-27). "Three screams for these stars". usatoday.com. Retrieved 2007-10-26.
- Rochon, Debbie. "The Legend of the Scream Queen". GC Magazine. Retrieved 2007-10-26.
- http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2009-09-18/revenge-of-the-scream-queens/ thedailybeast.com; interview with Karyn Kusama (director of "Jennifer's Body")
- http://www.postgazette.com/pg/08110/874685-42.stm postgazette.com
- http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/filmblog/2010/may/10/you-review-nightmare-elm-street%7CGuardian review
- A Nightmare in Hollywood Couldn't Kill Mark Patton
- http://www.ugo.com/channels/filmTv/features/screamqueens/jennifer.asp%7Cugo.com scream queens
- http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/movies/2010/10/02/2010-10-02_hatchet_2s_danielle_harris_is_horrors_reigning_scream_queen.html nydailynews.com