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The scream queens of Hollywood: a history

Oct. 19, 2017
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The horror genre would be nothing without its scream queens. The evolution of the scream queen has gone through some significant and needed changes: the label used to refer to a character defined primarily as a damsel in distress, or a pure, chaste, virginal young lady. Now the audience expects these ladies to fight for survival. These female protagonists have become stronger, faster, and more self-aware, no longer bound by repetitive tropes. Here are some of horror's top scream queens and the respective films that launched their careers.

Faye Wray - King Kong

Fay Wray is the OG scream queen. She was no stranger to acting and starred in a series of short and silent films before landing the role of a lifetime in 1933. She was chosen to star as blond damsel Ann Darrow in the Paramount Pictures film King Kong. She beat out a ton of actresses for the role, including Hollywood starlet Jean Harlow. Wray continued her relationship with the horror/suspense genre across her 57-year career in television and film. Faye Wray died in 2004 at the age of 96, leaving behind a legacy that would ripple throughout the industry for years to come. 

Jamie Lee Curtis - Halloween 

As Laurie Strode in the 1978 film Halloween, Jamie Lee Curtis set the standard for the modern scream queen. She was one of the rising stars of her generation—in no small part because of how well she sells the terrifying nature of her situation (i.e., escaping a maniac serial killer) in Halloween. What sets her character apart from others in the 1970s is that her character is self-aware and knows how to use space to her advantage. After appearing in the original Halloween, she also starred in the 2002 reboot film, Halloween: Resurrection. After that, Jamie Lee Curtis took a break from the horror genre—at least until 2015, when she landed a recurring role on the MTV show Scream Queens. (How appropriate!)

Heather Langenkamp - Nightmare On Elm Street

Actress Heather Langenkamp was chosen from a pool of 200 actresses to star in Nightmare On Elm Street, a Wes Craven film about a mythical serial killer who murders his victims in their dreams. Lagendkamp's character, Nancy Thompson, is a breath of fresh air: mousy, intellectual, and opinionated. Proving herself to be somewhat of an equal to the antagonist, Nancy turned the tables on the scream queen title by saving herself without a man's help. At age 52, Langenkamp still keeps close ties to the horror genre. She runs a top-tier AFX studio that has worked on such films as Dawn of the Dead, Cabin In The Woods, and Angels and Demons.

Neve Campbell - Scream

Wes Craven has a knack for creating scream queens. Neve Campbell already had an impressive resume as an actor before meeting Craven, but it wasn't until she starred in the 1996 movie Scream that her career truly took off. Starring as Sydney Prescott, the heroine protagonist, she survives across four films in the Scream franchise. Throughout the series, Sidney learns from her triumphs and mistakes, returning to each sequel a little brighter and a little braver than she was in the film before it. Since Scream 4, Campbell has left the genre behind to return to her first love, television. She currently has a recurring role on the Netflix television show House of Cards, which is currently in its fourth season.

Ali Larter - Final Destination

In her breakthrough role, model-turned-actress Ali Larter tries to cheat death in the film Final Destination. Three years later, Larter starred in the Final Destination sequel, this time as the lead. And let me tell you, Larter's character Clear Rivers is one badass scream queen: quick-witted, smart, and not afraid to throw a punch or two. Clear Rivers provided the template for all the independent, fearless scream queens. To this day, Larter tends to gravitate toward horror/suspense films—she starred in Obsessed as a deranged admirer and the Resident Evil film franchise as Claire Renfield.

Cover Image via ShutterStock, Dark Realm Fox, HelloGiggles, Gay Times, Mirror, Final Destination Wiki