When people think of classic horror movie villains, they often cite characters like Dracula, Freddy Krueger and Dr. Hannibal Lecter. But what about the fierce females that send shivers up our spines?
A tormented girl seeks revenge through telekinesis; an obsessed fan does anything necessary to keep her secrets safe; a hotel manager’s personality splits in two; a mental patient locked up at a young age breaks out fifteen years later and goes on a mindless killing spree; a witch of legends haunts and kills people in the woods; a writer gets cabin fever in a haunted hotel and attempts to kill his wife and son; a mysterious man comes back to exact revenge on a group of friends for something they did a year ago.
There is one vital element in all of these plots: An unyielding actress to make audiences feel the terror.
Whether they’re running for their lives, bravely defending themselves or scaring us senseless, these women have all played indispensable roles in the horror genre. Join MovieMaker as we recap the five scream queens who helped put a face to the genre and the five performances that still give us nightmares.
Top Five Scream Queens
Jamie Lee Curtis
Daughter of original scream queen Janet Leigh (Psycho), Jamie Lee Curtis made a name for herself in the horror world with her role as Laurie Strode, the terrified, unsuspecting babysitter of Halloween. The actress also starred in such chilling 1980s classics as Prom Night, The Fog and Terror Train. In 1998 she reprised her role as Strode in Halloween H2O: 20 Years Later and proved to audiences that she’s still got a strong pair of lungs.
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Mention The Blair Witch Project and people instantly envision a crying Heather Donahue with a camera up her nose. After almost 10 years, horror fans still can’t forget Donahue’s portrayal of… herself. She was so convincing as a student documentary moviemaker that audiences were left wondering if the footage was as real as the story, and press, suggested. Donahue’s chilling screams and fits of crying in her scramble to save her life had moviegoers on the edge of their seats—and frightened well past the credit roll.
The Shining (1980)
Shelly Duvall is the perfect horror movie heroine as Wendy Torrance in The Shining, with a performance matching Jack Nicholson’s frighteningly memorable portrayal of Jack. Torrance defends herself from an axe-wielding husband and escapes a haunted hotel, all while protecting her young son. Duvall’s spine-tingling shrieks had audiences biting their nails, wondering if she would be able to make it out of The Overlook Hotel alive.
Janet Leigh cemented her place in movie history as Marion Crane, a woman whose fateful stay at the Bates Motel helped make Psycho one of the most storied horror movies in history. Throughout her impressive career, Leigh has appeared in such movies as The Fog and Halloween H2O: 20 Years Later alongside her fellow scream queen and daughter, Jamie Lee Curtis. Even today, amid the glut of digitalized graphic and gory movies, Leigh’s screams are terrifying enough to leave people petrified of showering.
Sarah Michelle Gellar
I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997), Scream 2 (1997), The Grudge 1 & 2 (2004 & 2006), The Return (2006)
As her filmography suggests, Sarah Michelle Gellar is no stranger to the horror genre or the artful mastery of a blood-curdling scream. Whether she’s a beauty queen running from a hook-handed killer (I Know What You Did Last Summer) or a high school girl jabbing stakes into vampires’ hearts (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”), she is one fierce female. With her new thriller Possession slated for release in 2009, she’s bound to have audiences covering their ears and fearing for her life all over again.
Top Five Scariest Women
Carrie White in Carrie (1976)
When people hear the name “Carrie,” if they’re not thinking of everyone’s favorite columnist in Manolo Blahniks, they can’t help but picture Sissy Spacek drenched in blood at the high school prom. Tormented and timid, Carrie discovers she has telekinetic powers and uses them to murder her peers, teachers, mother and even herself. Spacek’s performance was so well done that she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress, a rare honor for a horror movie.
Regan MacNeil in The Exorcist (1973)
Starring in one of the most notorious and horrifying movies of all time, Linda Blair shocked audiences with her portrayal of Regan MacNeil, a young girl who falls prey to demonic possession. Her performance in The Exorcist birthed iconic movie scenes, including her spinning head and an eerie crawl down stairs. Blair’s disturbing depiction left audiences terrified, and resulted in an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. The infamously troubled actress followed The Exorcist with its sequel and continues to take roles in many frightening flicks.
Annie Wilkes in Misery (1990)
Who can forget a sledgehammer-wielding Kathy Bates smashing the ankles of her favorite novelist and captive? She was positively chilling as mentally unhinged Annie Wilkes, a would-be stalker lucky enough to have the object of her affection practically fall into her lap. After “rescuing” the author (James Caan), she holds him hostage, threatening death if he doesn’t resurrect her favorite character from his series of popular novels. Bates had the murderous fanatic role down pat; it’s no wonder she won the Oscar and Golden Globe for Best Actress.
Mrs. Bates in Psycho (1960)
Anthony Perkins gave a whole new meaning to the term “mama’s boy” when he portrayed Norman Bates, a disturbed man who shifts between his personality and that of his mother whom he killed years before. Dressed as the elderly woman, he brutally murders motel guest Marion with a kitchen knife, later discovering her (this time as Norman) and hiding her body and car in a swamp. Norman and Mrs. Bates have continued to petrify audiences since the movie’s release 40 years ago.
Mrs. Pamela Voorhees in Friday the 13th (1980)
Before Jason terrorized audiences in a plethora of horror films, it was his mother Pamela Voorhees who slayed innocent victims in Friday the 13th. Betsy Palmer’s Pamela was a woman driven mad by grief and the lust for revenge. On a murderous rampage she killed the counselors of Camp Crystal Lake one by one, a long 23 years after her young son Jason drowned. And even though her character literally loses her head at the end of the movie, she still makes for one creepy campfire tale.