The term ‘Scream Queen’ refers to actresses who are associated with the horror genre, either through recurring roles or one significant performance. Jamie Lee Curtis is regularly regarded as the ultimate Scream Queen and is usually who people first think of when they hear the term. Known mostly for her role as Laurie Strode in the Halloween franchise, Curtis has appeared in countless horror films since the 70s and has more than earned her title her reigning Scream Queen.
Having been around during the transition from silent film to ‘talkies’, Fay Wray is often credited with being the first ever Scream Queen. Her character in King Kong in 1933 spent a good portion of the film shrieking in terror, which has become a staple of the trope (but isn’t a requirement). Barbara Steele is also another example of an earlier Scream Queen, known for starring in many giallo films during the 60s and 70s, including Mario Bava’s classic, Black Sunday.
The 70s through to the early 80s saw the rise of the slasher sub-genre, which is a key period for Scream Queens. Olivia Hussey became one through her portrayal of Jess Bradford in Black Christmas, which is one of the films credited with the creation of the genre alongside Halloween. After Halloween, Curtis continued into the 80s starring in films like The Fog, Prom Night and Terror Train (all from 1980). Not to mention Heather Langenkamp as Nancy Thompson in A Nightmare on Elm Street, which launched her career as a Scream Queen.
The resurrection of the slasher film came with Wes Craven’s Scream in 1996, which was self-aware of horror film tropes (much like his Elm Street series). This gave Neve Campbell the title of Scream Queen with her notable performance as Sidney Prescott. But what about today? Whilst slasher films aren’t as popular, the horror genre is still thriving across both film and television. Let’s take a look at the most noteworthy Scream Queens of the current decade.
Although she began acting in the mid-90s, Sarah Paulson didn’t become a Scream Queen until she started appearing in Ryan Murphy’s highly successful anthology series, American Horror Story. Paulson began as a guest star in the first season, but was bumped up to series regular from season two onward. With eight seasons so far, Paulson is known for shrieking loudly in every single one, along with portraying some of the series’ most iconic characters.
Fan favourites include Lana Winters (AHS: Asylum), a journalist who was committed to an asylum in the 60s for being a lesbian, and Cordelia Foxx (AHS: Coven), a powerful witch who runs an academy for other witches. Paulson has also started branching out into film, having appeared in Netflix’s horror Bird Box alongside Sandra Bullock.
CHLOË GRACE MORETZ
Chloë Grace Moretz was only 11-years-old when she appeared in her first horror film, the 2005 remake of The Amityville Horror. She has continued to star in popular horror remakes such as Let Me In, Carrie, and Suspiria. She has also appeared in other horrors in-between, all of which have given her a strong association with the genre.
Whilst not the lead, Moretz portrayed Patricia Hinge in the Suspiria remake, and her role has been well received. Her latest film, Greta, is a psychological thriller which sees Isabelle Huppert’s character become obsessed with hers. Moretz is also voicing Wednesday Addams in an upcoming animated film based on the Addams Family comics. The Addams Family is set to be released in October 2019.
Katharine Isabelle first gained popularity as the titular character in Ginger Snaps, which has a steady cult following. She went on to star in more horror films such as Carrie, Freddy vs. Jason and 30 Days of Night: Dark Days. Isabelle has also made many guest appearances in television, such as Hannibal and Supernatural over the years.
Aside from Ginger Snaps, Isabelle’s most striking role is as Mary Mason in American Mary, which was written and directed by the Soska Sisters. Mary is a medical school student who dreams of becoming a surgeon. She struggles financially and starts performing extreme body modification surgeries to make ends meet. Isabelle currently stars in Netflix’s horror series The Order.
Vera Farmiga has been acting for over twenty years, but has only gained prominence in the horror genre within the last six years or so. Whilst appearing in Joshua and Orphan, Farmiga is more known for her portrayals of Norma Bates in the series Bates Motel and Lorraine Warren in The Conjuring film franchise, both of which began in 2013.
Farmiga will reprise her role as Lorraine Warren, alongside Patrick Wilson as her husband Ed, in Annabelle Comes Home, which will be released this summer. Their characters are based on the real life paranormal investigators of the same name, and the role has led to Farmiga becoming a beloved modern Scream Queen.
Having been in four seasons of American Horror Story, Taissa Farmiga is also becoming associated with the horror genre. She has gone on to star in The Final Girls and The Nun, a film within The Conjuring film universe which stars her older sister, Vera Farmiga.
Farmiga currently has a role in the 2018 film We Have Always Lived in the Castle, based on the novel of the same name by Shirley Jackson. She will also appear in an episode of upcoming series, The Twilight Zone, hosted by Jordan Peele. It would be great to see her excel further as an actress and follow in her sister’s footsteps as a Scream Queen, but in her own right.
Whilst Olivia Cooke said she doesn’t want to be typecast as a Scream Queen (“You do one horror movie and you’re the scream queen and you’re like ‘No I’m not’”), it’s hard to not include her as she’s done a great job in the horror genre. She has appeared in The Quiet Ones, Ouija and The Limehouse Golem.
However, Cooke’s most notable roles are as Emma Decody in Bates Motel from 2013 – 2017, and Amanda in Thoroughbreds, a dark comedy horror which has been well received. Cooke’s upcoming roles are not of the horror genre, but it would be great to see her return in the future and not be put off by her aversion to type-casting.
Having starred alongside Olivia Cooke in Thoroughbreds, Anya Taylor-Joy also doesn’t want to be typecast (“It’s difficult to avoid the box, because even if you’re doing alternative, kooky things you’re still in the alternative quirky box”). However, she has quite the impressive filmography, especially having received praise as Thomasin in The Witch.
Taylor-Joy has also appeared in Morgan and portrayed Casey Cooke in both Split and Glass. With quite a lot of projects coming up, her next horror is The New Mutants, which belongs to the X-Men franchise. Taylor-Joy portrays Illyana, a Russian mutant with sorcery powers. As a promising young actress, she’s also down to star in an upcoming remake of Nosferatu.
Emma Roberts has been acting since she was around 10-years-old and is attached to many coming-of-age projects. However, she eventually branched out into the horror genre starting with her role in Scream 4 alongside Neve Campbell. In 2013, Roberts began appearing in American Horror Story as bitchy witch Madison Montgomery, as well as starring in The Blackcoat’s Daughter’s (also known as February) in 2015.
Roberts further proved herself as a Scream Queen when she was cast in a comedy horror series, aptly titled Scream Queens, and starred in it from 2015 – 2016. The series was a satirical celebration of the slasher genre and Scream Queen trope, with Roberts portraying Chanel, head girl in a sorority house that is targeted by a serial killer. Jamie Lee Curtis also starred as the university’s Dean.
Lulu Wilson is a very notable child actress who is known for her roles in well received horrors. She has appeared in Deliver Us from Evil, Ouija: Origin of Evil and Annabelle: Creation. Wilson also appeared as Young Shirley in Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House, which has led to even more well deserved recognition.
Being a very talented actress has given Wilson the Scream Queen title at only 12-years-old. Hopefully she will continue to progress well with her career and still choose to appear in various roles across the horror genre. She definitely has a promising future ahead of her.
Jessica Rothe hasn’t appeared in many horror films, but she has gained attention with her outstanding performance as Theresa “Tree” Gelbman in Happy Death Day. Luckily, we got to see more of her in a sequel to the film earlier this year. Rothe’s performance is entertaining and she fully earns the title of a Screen Queen.
Happy Death Day follows the life of Tree who gets murdered on her birthday and finds herself trapped in a Groundhog Day time-loop. She’s destined to relive the same day over and over again until she finds out who her killer is and ultimately puts a stop to her death. The black comedy slasher is a lot of fun and is not to be taken too seriously. Let’s hope she continues to star in more horror films!