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A scream queen (a wordplay on screen queen) is an actress who is prominent and influential in horror films, either through a notable appearance or recurring roles. A scream king is the male equivalent. Notable examples include Barbara Steele, Sandra Peabody, Linda Blair, Olivia Hussey, Marilyn Burns, Neve Campbell, Daria Nicolodi, Dee Wallace, Jamie Lee Curtis, Heather Langenkamp, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Linnea Quigley.
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 prominence 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". Fay Wray, an actress starring in King Kong (1933), is sometimes referred to as the "very first scream queen". Anne Gwynne, Chris Pine's grandmother, is known for scream queen roles in the 1930s and 1940s. Janet Leigh, playing Marion in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960), is regarded as the "one of the most iconic" scream queens in horror film history.
Four actresses in the 1970s became seminal examples of a "scream queen" for the decade: Sandra Peabody, who portrayed Mari Collingwood in The Last House on the Left (1972), Marilyn Burns, who portrayed Sally Hardesty in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), Olivia Hussey, who portrayed Jess Bradford in Black Christmas (1974), and Jamie Lee Curtis, who portrayed Laurie Strode in Halloween (1978).
After The Last House on the Left, Peabody went on to appear in the horror films Voices of Desire (1972), Massage Parlor Murders (1973), Case of the Full Moon Murders (1973), and Legacy of Satan (1974). Burns followed her performance in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre with roles in Helter Skelter (1976) and Eaten Alive (1977). In Halloween, Jamie Lee Curtis, daughter of Psycho actress Janet Leigh, had her first film role. Portraying Laurie Strode in Halloween, Curtis has been called the "ultimate 'scream queen'" and was even referenced as such in the horror film Scream (1996) by character Randy Meeks. Curtis went on to star in several other horror films after that, including The Fog, Prom Night, Terror Train, Halloween II, and Halloween H20: 20 Years Later.
Dee Wallace appeared in Wes Craven's 1977 horror film The Hills Have Eyes before going on to establish herself as a scream queen in the 1980s by appearing in The Howling (1981), Cujo (1983) and Critters (1986).
Daria Nicolodi played the role of the scream queen in most of her films (Deep Red, Inferno, Phenomena, Terror at the Opera). Director Mario Bava also called on Nicolodi for Shock (1977). In 1982, Nicolodi played Anne in Dario Argento's Tenebrae.
Veronica Cartwright was also a prominent scream queen of the 1970s, appearing in the 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers as well as Alien in 1979. She began her career as a scream queen in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.
The success of Halloween revived slasher films during the late 1970s and 1980s. Examples include Terror Train and Prom Night, in which Jamie Lee Curtis would again play the scream queen; Friday the 13th, the first entry to have both a female antagonist (Betsy Palmer) and protagonist (Adrienne King); and A Nightmare on Elm Street, now considered a slasher classic, which introduced supernatural serial killer Freddy Krueger, and whose leading actress, Heather Langenkamp, was dubbed a scream queen, and went on to become one of the most influential.
Linnea Quigley was a scream queen during the 1980s, appearing specifically in low-budget and cult-classic films such as Graduation Day, Silent Night, Deadly Night, Return of the Living Dead and Night of the Demons. Mark Patton, star of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge (1985), has in recent years been touted at horror conventions as mainstream horror's first "male scream queen". Bruce Campbell, lead actor of the Evil Dead franchise, has been branded as "the definitive scream king."
British actress Catriona MacColl became a scream queen after appearing in three Italian horror films directed by Lucio Fulci. City of the Living Dead (1980), The Beyond (1981) and House by the Cemetery (1981) have all gone on to gain a cult following.
Following her Saturn Award-nominated performance in Exorcist II: The Heretic, Oscar-nominee Linda Blair parlayed her classic 1973 The Exorcist role into a slew of 80s horror performances, including Hell Night, Witchery, Grotesque, and The Chilling. She would continue making horror films into the 1990s, with a cameo in Wes Craven's Scream and the lead role in the Australian thriller Dead Sleep. In 2008, at the Malaga Fantasy & Horror Film Festival, Blair received a lifetime achievement award for her work in the horror genre. After a long hiatus from horror films, Blair returned to the genre in Juliana Brafa's All Is Normal (2008) and the thriller Landfill (2021).
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". Sheryl Lee played murder victims Laura Palmer and Maddy Ferguson in the TV series Twin Peaks (1990–91) and spin-off film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992) and has been described as a "scream queen", in particular for scenes in the otherworldly Black Lodge.
Neve Campbell's first American feature film was the cult horror classic The Craft (1996). She later starred as Sidney Prescott in the Scream film series. Jennifer Love Hewitt was labeled 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 went on to appear in other horror films made during the 1990s and new millennium, including Scream 2 and The Grudge film series.
In 2005, Shauna Macdonald starred in The Descent, which established her as a scream queen and for which she was nominated for the Saturn Award for Best Actress. Elisha Cuthbert starred in the horror film House of Wax (2005) and Captivity (2007), gaining the status by from films. In 2007, USA Today published an article listing on modern scream queens interviewing actresses Sheri Moon Zombie, Jaimie Alexander, Andrea Bogart, Mercedes McNab, Tiffany Shepis 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.
Bipasha Basu has been referred as "Bollywood's Scream Queen" due to her contributions to horror in India with her blockbuster horror movies like Raaz (2002) and Raaz 3D (2012), as well as films like Aatma (2013), Creature 3D (2014), and Alone (2015).
In 2016, Screen Rant listed the "15 Greatest Scream Queens in Horror History", which includes Linda Blair, Danielle Harris, Lisa Wilcox, Vera Farmiga, Janet Leigh, Marilyn Burns, Veronica Cartwright, Neve Campbell, Naomi Watts, Heather Langenkamp, Eva Green, Chloë Grace Moretz, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Barbara Steele and Jamie Lee Curtis.
Indonesian actress Tara Basro has been described as a "scream queen" for her roles in Joko Anwar's films Satan's Slaves (2017) and Impetigore (2019).
Australian actress Samara Weaving began her contribution to the horror genre by starring in the first season of Ash vs Evil Dead (2015), before landing the lead role in the black comedy horror The Babysitter (2017). She returned to this role in 2020 with the sequel The Babysitter: Killer Queen. Weaving solidified her status as a scream queen with her performance in the commercially and critically successful Ready or Not (2019). In 2023, Weaving played the iconic role of opening kill in Scream VI (2023). Popularised by the Scream franchise, the opening kill is also a common trope for stars to play in Slashers films. The role has previously been played by actresses Drew Barrymore, Jada Pinkett Smith, Kelly Rutherford, Lucy Hale and Jenna Ortega in their respective Scream films.
Melissa Barrera having starred in the slasher Scream (2022) and the sequel Scream VI (2023) and the horror thriller Bed Rest (2022), establishing herself as a scream queen.Jenna Ortega starred in the slasher films X and Scream (both 2022), also known as a scream queen. Ortega reprised her Scream role for the sequel, Scream VI (2023).
Scream Queens Illustrated magazine featured pictorials, interviews, reviews, and other content concerning such Hollywood scream queens as Barbara Bauer, Becky Sunshine, Tina Krause, Julia Hayes, Julie Strain, Monique Gabrielle, Brinke Stevens, Linnea Quigley, Rhonda Shear, Xenia Gratsos ("Brioni Farrell"), Lorissa McComas, June Wilkinson, Debbie Rochon, Sherri Frazer, Melissa Wolf, and Cassandra Peterson ("Elvira").
More recently, the term "scream king" has been used to refer to male leading actors who have made their name through taking on leading roles in horror movies as a "final guy" character. Rachel Roth defines the rise of the "scream kings" as a result of moving away from formulas where men are typically cast as monsters for a female character to fight off and female actresses being cast less as victims and sometimes as the monster or villain themselves. Roth cites Bruce Campbell as an early example of a scream king for his role in the Evil Dead franchise.
Other notable scream kings include Devon Sawa, known for Idle Hands and Final Destination; Patrick Wilson, who appeared in Annabelle Comes Home, Insidious, and The Conjuring; Evan Peters, the only male actor to appear in nine of the eleven seasons of American Horror Story; Daniel Kaluuya, for his performances in Get Out and Nope; Finn Wolfhard, for his roles in It and the Netflix series Stranger Things; and Shawn Roberts, who has appeared in zombie films such as Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead, and the Resident Evil franchise.
|Years active||Actor||First horror film (or series)||Notes|
|1920–1980||Fay Wray||King Kong (1933)|
|1946–2004||Janet Leigh||Psycho (1960)||Mother of Jamie Lee Curtis|
|1958–present||Veronica Cartwright||The Birds|
|1958–present||Barbara Steele||Black Sunday|
|1962–present||Linda Blair||The Exorcist|
|1965–present||Olivia Hussey||Black Christmas (1974)|
|1965–present||Sandra Peabody||The Last House on the Left|
|1970–2014||Marilyn Burns||Texas Chainsaw Massacre|
|1970–2020||Daria Nicolodi||Deep Red|
|1974–present||Dee Wallace||The Hills Have Eyes (1977)||Best known for Cujo|
|1976–present||Bruce Campbell||Evil Dead|
|1977–present||Jamie Lee Curtis||Halloween (1978)||Daughter of Janet Leigh|
|1978–present||Caitriona MacColl||City of the Living Dead|
|1978–present||Linnea Quigley||Psycho from Texas||Best known for Return of the Living Dead|
|1968–present||Adrienne Barbeau||The Fog (1980)|
|1980–present||Connie Britton||The Last Winter||Best known for American Horror Story|
|1981–present||Sarah Michelle Gellar||I Know What You Did Last Summer|
|1982–present||Mark Patton||A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge|
|1983–present||Heather Langenkamp||A Nightmare on Elm Street|
|1983–present||Felissa Rose||Sleepaway Camp|
|1984–present||Barbara Crampton||Body Double|
|1985–present||Danielle Harris||Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers|
|1986–present||Sheryl Lee||Twin Peaks|
|1986–present||Asia Argento||Demons 2||Best known for Land of the Dead|
|1986–present||Miranda Otto||The 13th Floor||Best known for Annabelle: Creation|
|1986–present||Naomi Watts||Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering||Best known for The Ring (2002)|
|1988–present||Shawnee Smith||The Blob||Best known for Saw (2004)|
|1989–present||Jennifer Love Hewitt||I Know What You Did Last Summer|
|1989–present||Katharine Isabelle||Disturbing Behavior||Best known for Ginger Snaps|
|1990–present||Toni Collette||The Sixth Sense||Best known for Hereditary|
|1991–present||Neve Campbell||The Dark||Best known for the Scream franchise|
|1991–present||Kate Beckinsale||Haunted||Best known for the Underworld franchise|
|1991–present||Melissa McBride||The Mist||Best known for The Walking Dead|
|1994–present||Sarah Paulson||American Horror Story|
|1996–present||Rose McGowan||Scream (1996 film)|
|1996–present||Bipasha Basu||Raaz (2002)|
|1996–present||Elisha Cuthbert||Are You Afraid of the Dark?||Best known for House of Wax (2005)|
|1996–present||Vera Farmiga||Joshua||Older sister of Taissa Farmiga|
|1996–present||Tiffany Shepis||Terror Firmer|
|1996–present||Sheri Moon Zombie||House of 1000 Corpses|
|1997–present||Shawn Roberts||Goosebumps||Best known for the Resident Evil franchise|
|1997–present||Mary Elizabeth Winstead||Wolf Lake||Appeared in three separate horror movie franchises: The Ring, Final Destination, and Cloverfield|
|1999–present||Shauna Macdonald||The Descent|
|1999–present||Cerina Vincent||Fear Runs Silent||Best known for Cabin Fever (2002)|
|2001–present||Emma Roberts||Scream 4||Best known for American Horror Story and Scream Queens|
|2002–present||Abigail Breslin||Signs||Best known for Scream Queens|
|2002–present||Jodelle Ferland||Carrie (2002)||Best known for Case 39|
|2002–present||Finn Wittrock||American Horror Story|
|2004–present||Chloë Grace Moretz||The Amityville Horror (2005)||Best known for Carrie|
|2004–present||Riley Keough||Kiss of the Damned||Best known for The Lodge|
|2006–present||Kate Siegel||The Curse of the Black Dahlia||Best known for Hush and partnership with husband, Mike Flanagan|
|2008–present||Samara Weaving||Ash vs Evil Dead (2015 series)|
|2010–present||Jessica Rothe||Happy Death Day|
|2011–present||Jane Levy||Evil Dead|
|2011–present||Melissa Barrera||Scream (2022)|||
|2011–present||Taissa Farmiga||American Horror Story||Younger sister of Vera Farmiga|
|2012–present||Olivia Cooke||The Secret of Crickley Hall||Best known for Bates Motel|
|2012–present||Maika Monroe||It Follows|
|2012–present||Jenna Ortega||Insidious: Chapter 2||Best known for Wednesday (2022)|
|2012–present||Lulu Wilson||Ouija: Origin of Evil|
|2013–present||Mia Goth||A Cure For Wellness||Best known for the X film series|
|2014–present||Victoria Pedretti||The Haunting of Hill House||Best known for You (2018)|
|2015–present||Billie Lourd||Scream Queens||Best known for American Horror Story|