Welcome to today’s installment of 31 Days of Halloween! This is our chance to set the mood for the spookiest and scariest month of the year as we focus our attention on horror and Halloween fun. For the month of October we’ll be talking to creators working in horror and share and recommend various pieces of underappreciated scary media-books, comics, movies, and television-to help keep you terrified and entertained all the way up to Halloween.
Who is the most important character in a horror movie? Is it the big bad that possibly goes on to become an icon? Is it the final girl that soldiers through until the end? Or is it the dedicated hero who manages to eventually “kill” the unstoppable villain? A difficult question to be sure, but one studios answered decades ago.
It may have been up to debate who was the most important character, but those who made horror movies had a good grasp of who the most important actresses were. Decades ago, scream queens became a fixture of scary movies. Whether it was mainstream, campy B horror, or straight to video, these popular actresses were more of a selling point then all but the most popular villains.
The term scream queen sounds like a derogatory remark describing an actress who is one dimensional. This could not be further from the truth. Jamie Lee Curtis has starred in everything from comedies to action. Her initial popularity was based on her role in horror movies. Neve Campbell has been in many different genres while Janet Leigh has gone to act on Broadway.
Though some actresses completely embraced the moniker (from her first appearance in David Cronenberg’s Shivers, Lynn Lowry has made a career by appearing almost exclusively in horror movies) there are others who feel it comes with an unfair stigma. Actresses like Barbara Crampton hate being referred to as a scream queen. They see the term as an insult that diminishes their acting ability.
And there is some truth to this. If an actor always plays the same type of role, audiences will have problems seeing them as anything else. No actor wants to be typecast, but is it really a bad thing to have your name tied to a genre? Tom Hanks is so known for appearing in movies that earn heavy awards consideration that even his worst movies earn Oscar nods. There are comedic actors, romantic leads, and action movie stars. Scream queen is more of a descriptor than anything else.
So what has happened to all of them?
For starters, there no longer seems to be actresses that are primarily associated with horror. Yes, Chloe Grace Moretz has appeared in her fair share of scary movies; still, she just doesn’t seem to fit the model of the scream queen. This is not an insult to Moretz who is a great actress. However, it would be wrong to put her in the same category with Linnea Quigley.
It is not because there is a taint attached to the genre. If anything, horror has progressed since its heyday of the 1980s. Back then, the movies were seen as trash that catered to the lowest common denominator. A person who liked those types of movies had to justify it. At best, the films were to be ignored; at worst, they were the product of Satan.
Today, it seems impossible to go more than a few months without someone stating a horror renaissance is upon us due to the high quality of the films. Big name stars like Robert Pattinson and Toni Collette have given memorable performances. The stories are deeper than a villain slashing horny teenagers. The themes they explore resonate more with the audience. These films are taken more seriously now than they ever were before.
That being said, this same elevated view of horror may have also be the reason the scream queen moniker is not heard. The once popular title may be seen as too confining. It is easier to make movies today and actors are more willing to branch out. Few titles are as potentially limiting as scream queen. It is as not the as much the death of the role as it is the label.
At the end of the day, proclaiming the death of scream queens may be akin to saying horror is back. It just may be a case of the nickname not being used as much as it once was. With the changing times have come a reluctance to use certain terms. Call them whatever you want, but in the true tradition of horror, scream queens will never die.