It’s Woman’s History Month, and I am beyond happy to be celebrating here on The Void of Celluloid. I am a proud woman and love me some women from the horror genre. Whether they’re the final girl or the antagonist in their films, the horror genre has always been a genre that predominantly casts women in their leading roles. The representation of their femininity and independence has only improved over the years as well.
What is the best way to celebrate the horror genre and the women that are involved in it? Talking about the scream queens, that is. It is an honor to be crowned a scream queen, and usually implies that a female actor has frequented the genre a few times to earn the crown. Therefore, let’s talk about our famous femme fatales and how they’ve adorned our screens throughout the years.
The First of Many: Fay Wray
As Tim Curry sings so angelically, “Whatever happened to Fay Wray, that delicate satin draped frame?” Well, she is the iconic star from the 1933 King Kong, making her our first official scream queen. She also starred in Son of Kong, The Most Dangerous Game, and Mystery of the Wax Museum, to name a few more early horror films with her as the starring role.
Wray really set an example of sultry meets the scream, as she always looked good while in distress. She practically is the poster child of what a woman looked like in early horror films.
King Kong was also incredibly successful for its timeframe, as the adjusted-for-inflation international box office for the film exceeds $350 million. It was a worldwide sensation that plastered Wray as its centerpiece (other than the giant ape itself). As the film closes, Wray was in fact that beauty who killed the beast, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Here comes the slashers: Janet Leigh
Yes, I am very aware that Janet Leigh is not a final girl when it comes to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. However, when thinking of the movie, her face immediately pops into my head. While Janet Leigh would not make another horror appearance again until the 80s with her daughter in The Fog, she is considered to be the first of the modern scream queens. Psycho is the birth of the slasher genre whose popularity snowballed in the 70s. Therefore, it can be pinpointed as the film that really kicked of the horror genre to what it is today.
That film would not have the gravitas that it does however without that shower scene. That shower was the last running shower Leigh would ever stand under, due to the mental strain filming that scene. With the masterful shots that teased nudity and gore, it was definitely a kill scene that made a splash. With it ending on Leigh’s eye transforming into that shower drain, there is no way that you don’t associate that movie with her.
Her Royal Highness: Jamie Lee Curtis
Did I mention that Janet Leigh had a daughter? Well, she happens to be the queen of all scream queens herself, Jamie Lee Curtis. With her first role being the other huge film that changed the horror genre, Halloween, she basically was adopted and indoctrinated into the horror genre. To put it frankly, she is the horror genre. She has gone on to reprise the role of Laurie Strode multiple times in multiple timelines and has starred in other horror flicks such as Prom Night, Terror Train, and The Fog.
She is very aware of her role in the horror genre and where she lies on the scream queen hierarchy. Curtis is an executive producer on the new Halloween trilogy and says that she doesn’t participate in projects that aren’t important to her. Therefore, we have to know her reprisal and producing of this new trilogy is out of love and care–and it has reflected that thus far. Another notable film is Halloween: H20, as she stars in that with her mother once more. While it’s not the best horror movie out there, their scenes together are extremely heartfelt and really act as a nod as to the mother of the Queen. Legends truly make more legends.
Heather Langenkamp and Neve Campbell: Hello, Sid and nancy
Wes Craven was one to usher in a few scream queens in his day. The first being Heather Langenkamp from the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. Langenkamp was notably in the best of the franchise, the OG, Dream Warriors, and New Nightmare. Therefore, you could say they were the best because of Nancy’s appearance. She is a horror icon through and through, and Nancy can’t not be mentioned when discussing the penultimate final girls.
However, the 80s came and went, and smack dab in the middle of the 90’s, we get a new scream queen–due to Wes Craven again. If you’re not new here, you know that I love me some Sidney Prescott. Neve Campbell graced the screens in both the Scream franchise and The Craft. Both of these films had the horror genre in a chokehold during the 90s. It was for good reason too, and a lot of it was due to Campbell’s natural charisma and edge that she gave to her characters. It made her that much more loveable and relatable. Campbell is also the scream queen with the most recent installment under her belt, with the latest Scream coming out earlier this year.
The MODERN-DAY Scream Queens
There are so many scream queens that haven’t been mentioned on this list that deserve acknowledgement, therefore I’m going to rapid fire a few here in a gallery to match names to faces to films. Let’s go.
If you can’t tell from this gallery, we could use a lot more diversity when it comes to crowning the next scream queens. However, we must appreciate the ones we have this women’s history month, as they have shaped the horror genre more than we could possibly say.
How you can celebrate Women’s History Month spookily
This month is the month to watch, support and share women led, directed and produced horror projects. While the scream queens grace our screens year after year, we are severely lacking in women horror filmmakers. While we should be supporting these films all the time, we know that people like to use these distinct months for performative activism. So go be performative and share some women led projects with the people you know.
Some of my favorite women-directed horror films are the original Pet Sematary (Mary Lambert), The Babadook (Jennifer Kent), the newest Candyman (Nia DaCosta), and The Invitation (Karyn Kusama). If I had to recommend one, The Invitation is one of the most slept on horror-thrillers of the last ten years, and everyone I’ve shown it to absolutely loves it. Give it a shot.
Anyways, thanks for spelunking this void with me. If you’re new to the Void of Celluloid, welcome. Feel free to spelunk some other voids while you’re here and follow me on other platforms by clicking the buttons below. We post twice a week and stay up to date about what’s going on in horror today, reflect on what went on yesterday, and plan for a better, horrific tomorrow. See ya next time.