What is a ‘scream queen?’ According to Wikipedia, a scream queen is “an actress who has become associated with horror films, either through an appearance in a notable entry in the genre as a frequent victim or through constant appearances as the female protagonist.” Lloyd Kaufman, the co-founder of Troma Entertainment adds 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, and you have to be romantic.”
Scream queens have evolved as audiences have changed. While there is usually at least one helpless female in the story, women in horror are no longer just witless victims with very little apparel. The leading woman can be smart, sexy and just as conniving as the killer. Strong, beautiful women have almost always held a certain fascination with the audiences in the horror genre.
Actresses like Fay Wray and Barbara Steele paved the way for others such as Sandra Cassel, Marilyn Burns, Adrienne Barbeau and Daria Nicolodi to take on mantel of scream queen in the 1970s. Jamie Lee Curtis reigned supreme from the late 70s through the 1980s, leading to the rise of scream queens Heather Langenkamp and Linnea Quigley. As the damsel in distress waned in favor of a stronger female lead in the 90s, actresses like Debbie Rochon, Neve Campbell, Jennifer Love Hewitt and Sarah Michelle Geller succeeded the throne. The title now rightly applies to actresses such as Danielle Harris, Choe Grace Moretz, Abigail Breslin, Vera Farmiga and Emma Roberts, all of whom consistently work on notable entries in the horror genre.
Notable entries in the horror genre are films, which have garnered mainstream attention through studio production values, high-value distribution deals with a theatrical release, or a fast-growing cult following. So many burgeoning actresses lay claim to the scream queen title after working in a number of low-budget, independently distributed films. They have IMDb pages with long lists of credits for projects of which no one has ever heard or seen; many available only on DVD, which are being copied one at at time an old desktop with LightScribe and a ‘limited edition’ cover they printed in their home office.
These self-proclaimed scream queens take risqué photos and pay for booths at horror fan conventions, and hope someone is interested enough to pay for a signed photograph or at least ask to take a selfie. Unfortunately, this ‘self titled’ attitude is diluting what should be a benchmark for a performer. Scream queen is a title to be earned.
There is no respect for the title of scream queen. Actresses who have earned the right to be called a scream queen no longer want it. They don’t want to be lumped in with the likes of those who’ve taken the title without merit. Our horror genre royalty have left the kingdom to the fools, and the results are sad.
Take for instance two self-proclaimed scream queens, who shall remain nameless. Known for their bad behavior at fan conventions, these actresses posture themselves as minor celebrities, but between the two have no notable credits – either as victims or protagonists. Their attitudes and unsavory social media content has gotten them banned from other conventions, lost them job offers, and has affected their reputations in the industry. They are obviously not scream queens, and they are doing nothing to elevate the title for others who deserve it.
This is a disheartening trend among actresses in the horror genre. Rather than claiming a title upon a whim, where is the drive to perform, to earn the right to be a scream queen? A strong performance can save a shoddy script. A strong performance can win over audiences and gain attention. If an actress were worthy of the title of scream queen, the projects in which they were asked to participate would be more likely to be notable entries in the horror genre.
And perhaps if the company were better, our rightful scream queens would come back to the horror genre, and school this new crop of actors how to the leading women they should be.