Ginger Pop: Queens of Scream

Happy Halloween! The term Scream Queen usually refers to a woman who has appeared in multiple horror films usually in a similar role. Instead of presenting a list of Scream Queens, I’m presenting my list of Queens of Scream, women who may only appear in one or two horror roles, but whom I consider so epic, they are indeed queens.

5. Neve Cambell, Scream (+).  I saw the first Scream film as a Freshman on my college’s syndicated movie channel. It was knowing and snarky, witty, but still scary. The first scene with Drew Berrymore–fantastic. Of course I adored it. Cambell’s role of last girl standing is a staple in horror films, yet I find her Sidney to be one of my favorites. She has those things we need in a heroine–the troubled backstory, the vulnerability–but she still gives Sidney some spunk and brains, even as we see the cost of being the Sidney Prescott in later films. And her screaming? Pitch perfect.

4. Ellen Burstyn, The Exorcist. When people talk the scream queen of this 1973 horror classic, they go to Linda Blaire as possessed Regan and with good reason–she’s chilling. However, my vote goes to Burstyn as Chris, Regan’s mother. In any movie with troubled children (The Omen, The Good Son, Insidious, The Sixth Sense) there is usually a mother standing by, horrified at what is happening. Burstyn’s portrayal of such a mother is grounded in logic and practicality (Regan must just be hitting puberty), so that when she does realize the gravity of the situation, she sells it to the audience. It would have been easy for Burstyn to go camp, but she maintains an emotional connection that grounds the film. I must not be the only one who thought so–Burstyn was nominated for Best Actress by the Academy, a rare fete for a horror actress, especially in the lead category. (I would argue that Toni Collette’s performance in The Sixth Sense is just as strong–again, her realistic emotional state grounds the film.)

3. Sissy Spacek, Carrie. Admit it: the last scene in Carrie scared the crap out of you. Part of what is so freaking creepy about Carrie is that Spacek is so average. Her soft accent, long hair, and awkward freckles don’t classify her as a beauty, at least not by Hollywood standards. She’s not ugly or even unattractive. Instead she is a normal-looking, painfully shy girl. As her mother, Piper Laurie provides a wild foil to Spacek’s understated performance. What is perhaps most chilling is when the audience sees the switch flip. Soft, quiet Carrie is pushed too far, by everyone, and her sweet eyes widen, glazed with wrath. Spacek’s terrifying image during the film’s end should not be written off as merely a product of lighting and music. Watch her eyes as they dart back and forth. Watch the tension in her body. Hall hath to fury. (Attempts to remake the 1976 original falter, in my opinion, because no actress can match Spacek’s performance.)

2. Jamie Lee Curtis, Halloween (+). Curtis is without contest, THE Scream Queen, due to her multiple appearances as Laurie Strode and additional horror roles, such as in The Fog, Prom Night, and Terror Train. She should give up selling Activa and instead teach master classes in being the last girl standing. Paving the way for characters like Sidney Prescott, Curtis gives Laurie brains and guts, as well as a keen survival instinct. She’s not just some babe waiting to get gutted. She’s a female character who doesn’t have you screaming at her for being so stupid and vain that her death is inevitable. Certainly there is screaming (wowza can she scream), but we root for Laurie. She, unlike some other poorly written (and acted) horror ladies, isn’t expendable.

1. Sigourney Weaver, Alien (+). Good gravy I love Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley. And what’s not to love? She’s an action hero, she’s a sci-fi hero. Her first Academy Award nomination was for Aliens, that’s how fantastic she is as Ripley: she got an Oscar nod for Sci Fi sequel. Yes, Alien is technically a sci fi film–are you going to tell me it didn’t scare the snot out of you? John Hurt and stomach. (Pause for cringing.) That’s what I thought. As with all good performances in genre films, Weaver gives the film emotional depth while still rocking as the leading lady. While there are certainly female driven action movies, I have yet to see a series repeat the perfect storm of a fantastic character paired with a stellar actress. I’m also a huge fan of her in Ghostbusters and the underrated Galaxy Quest.

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