The definition of Scream Queen states that any 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 is a scream queen. While the definition is inclusive to a number of our favorite actresses in the genre, it doesn’t offer any criteria to select our favorites.
Is it just the quantity of horror films that denotes a scream queen? What about the scream itself? Do the sound and pitch of the scream itself play a factor? Can an actresses’ role in one film justify their consideration as a scream queen, even if that scream is an iconic portrayal of the trope? We’ll take a look at that today as we continue to celebrate the Countdown to Halloween with our 15 Favorite Scream Queens.
Some of the following clips may be NSFW, or graphic in nature.
15) Evelyn Ankers
Originally known as the “Queen of the Screamers”, no list would be complete without Evelyn Ankers. Ankers starred in a number of the Universal monster movies of the ’40s and ’50s, most often alongside horror legend Lon Chaney Jr. in such films as The Wolf Man, The Ghost of Frankenstein, Son of Dracula, and The Invisible Man’s Revenge. Her career saw a number of non horror movies as well, but we will always remember her from her time with the Universal monsters.
Evelyn Ankers was one of the earliest scream queens and more than deserves to be celebrated as such. Horror today owes so much to the Universal monster movies we grew up with, as do the other scream queens on this list. Evelyn Ankers helped define the role of scream queen for generations to come, and we thank her for it.
14) Fay Wray
Generally considered the original Scream Queen, Fay Wray is most famous for her role in RKO Pictures’ King Kong in 1933, where she played the legendary character Ann Darrow. Yes, that’s the King Kong. Wray was the Beauty who tamed the Beast, except of course when Kong grabbed her and carried her up the Empire State Building to be shot at by planes. Love is a crazy thing.
Wray is one of those actresses who may not have starred in as many horror pictures as some of the other Queens here, but has such an iconic cinematic scream that we would be foolish to leave her off the list. Her terrified screams have lived on for decades, often imitated, but never duplicated.
13) Adrienne Barbeau
Originally appearing on Broadway, Adrienne Barbeau began working in TV before marrying director John Carpenter. Carpenter cast Barbeau for her first theatrical role in 1980 for his horror flick The Fog, which began Barbeau’s eventual rise to one of the most intoxicating Scream Queens of the ’80s. The Fog also featured two other Scream Queen’s on our list, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Barbeau also starred in Wes Craven’s Swamp Thing (based on DC’s comic book character) and the George A. Romero and Stephen King’s anthology piece Creepshow, which only further cements her place on this list. Creepshow remains a cult favorite to this day, and Barbeau continued to shine in other roles like Escape from New York, and of course her voice work as Catwoman in Batman: The Animated Series.
12) Ingrid Pitt
British Scream Queen, Ingrid Pitt became a genre favorite following her roles in a couple of Hammer Film Productions that remain staples of the genre to this day. Her role as Camilla/Mircalla in the sexy gore-fest The Vampire Lovers was followed up by another cult favorite character with Countess Dracula, which was based on the real life serial killer Elizabeth Báthory, who was alleged to bathe in the blood of her victims to retain her youthful appearance.
Other notable films include 1971’s The House That Dripped Blood, as well as a small role in the The Wicker Man – the original, not the embarrassing remake with Nicolas Cage. But it’s without a doubt her role in the Hammer pictures that earned her the status of Scream Queen in our eyes, even though she doesn’t quite fit in with the official definition.
11) Barbara Steele
Barbara Steel was Britain’s “First Lady of Horror” who found fame appearing in a number of Italian Gothic horror films. She starred in Mario Bava’s Mask of Satan/Black Sunday in 1960, which catapulted her horror career. She would go on to such films as The Pit and the Pendulum and Caged Heat with Roger Corman, 8 1/2 with Federico Fellini, Shiver with David Cronenberg, and Caged Heat (again), this time with Johnathon Demme. That’s just gives you an idea of some of the talent she was used to working with.
As for her Scream Queen credentials? Barbara was well-known for not being the typical blonde movie starlet and having a mysterious beauty that translated well on to the big screen, despite a number of films not including her voice, due to the language of the films or other concerns from the producers. Her career saw such other horror titles as The Ghost, Castle of Blood, Terror-Creatures From the Grave, and a number of lesser known horror films that make her a genuine Scream Queen for the ages.
10) Debbie Rochon
The First Lady of Fear, the B-Movie Scream Queen, Debbie Rochon has over 240 film credits, most of which are horror films. She is probably best known for her work with Troma Pictures, most notably in films like Tromeo and Juliet, Terror Firmer, and Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV. Her work with Troma turned into a career working in independent horror film, which she continues to this day. One of her most recently celebrated films is the Italian horror film Colour of the Dark, based off of legendary horror visionary H.P. Lovecraft’s The Colour Out of Space.
Rochon has also contributed to a number of horror and film themed magazines, showcasing her love for the genre and independent filmmaking. Some of her written work can be found in magazines like Femme Fatales, Chiller Theater Magazine and Fangoria. In addition, she hosted a radio show with Twisted Sister‘s Dee Snyder on Sirius Radio. Rochon has a diehard fanbase, a number of which even offered to pay for pieces of her brain tumor following her operation to remove it. Now that’s a Scream Queen.
9) Daria Nicolodi
Further proving just how influential Italian horror was, the next Scream Queen on our list could be considered horror royalty, and that’s without even considering her own phenomenal horror career. Nicoldi was married to one of the biggest names in horror, Dario Argento. They met on the set of Italian giallo film Profondo Rosso/Deep Red, which is arguably one of Argento’s best films, and Nicolodi would go on to star in five films with Argento.
Unfortunately, what could have been one of her biggest roles – the character Suzy in Argento’s Suspiria – was lost to her when the distributors of the film decided they wanted an American actress in the lead. This left her with a secondary role that she later bowed out of, but remained credited as a co-writer of the film. Some of her other famous films include Mario Bava’s Shock/Beyond the Door II, Inferno, and Tenebre. Nicolodi remains a favorite Scream Queen because of her love for the genre, which shows through in many of her films, earning her a place on our list of Scream Queens.
8) Barbara Crampton
Easily one of the most cringe-inducing scenes in horror history has to be the infamous “head giving head’ scene from Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator, which starred the next Scream Queen on our list, Barbara Crampton. Crampton starred in a number of horror movies over the last 20 years, and caused more than one adolescent boy to spit take at the screen when she appeared.
Roles in films like Chopping Mall and Puppet Master, not to mention more Lovecraftian horror like From Beyond and Castle Freak all added to her role as a Scream Queen, but it’s really her continued presence in these films that places her so high up on the list. With roles in the recent survivalist slasher You’re Next, Rob Zombie’s The Lords of Salem (which brought together a few Scream Queens), and a starring role in the supernatural thriller We Are Still Here, Crampton remains an important part of the horror genre.
7) Katharine Isabelle
The “Canadian Scream Queen” Katharine Isabelle first came to our attention in 2000 when she starred in Ginger Snaps, a teen angst fueled werewolf story that introduced her to horror fans, and we never let her go. Isabelle has appeared in a few iconic franchises, including three Ginger Snaps films and the long anticipated Freddy vs Jason crossover, with fellow Scream Queen contender Monica Keena (who unfortunately didn’t make the list).
While working steadily in other genres, Isabelle seems to keep returning to the world of horror. More recently she impressed in the lead role in the indie body horror American Mary from the Soska Sisters, and her stint on NBC’s Hannibal as Margot Verger added to the show immensely. Her latest horror outing reteamed her with the Soska Sisters for See No Evil 2, alongside another Scream Queen we’ll discuss shortly. As a fellow Canadian I may be a little biased, but that doesn’t affect her position on this list as one of our favorite Scream Queens.
6) Asia Argento
We spoke earlier of horror royalty when we discussed Daria Nicoldi and her marriage to horror legend Dario Argento. Well, if you can read, you may have recognized our next entry’s name. Asia Argento is the daughter of Dario Argento and Daria Nicoldi, so she was pretty much fated to be one of our favorite scream queens. Asia began her career at the age of 9 in Sogni e Bisogni, and starred in a few movies as a child actor.
It was with Michele Placido’s Close Friends that her career really started to develop and she began to receive more adult roles. She worked with her father for the first time with Trauma in 1993, and a number of films across the genre and in numerous languages, both as actor and director. Her more western roles include xXx, The Keeper, and George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead, yet another horror legend which further enforces her role as scream queen.
5) Dee Wallace
If you’ve watched a horror movie at some point in the last 25 years, chances are you’ve seen Dee Wallace multiple times. Wallace isn’t exclusive to horror, having played roles like Mary in Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, but she seems to keep finding her way back to our favorite horror films. Starting out with 1975’s The Stepford Wives, Wallace soon found her niche with films like The Howling, Cujo, and The Hills Have Eyes, which are all iconic masterpieces in the horror genre. She was also in Critters and The Frighteners, but I couldn’t bring myself to put those in the same sentence as the rest of those horror classics.
Wallace continued acting over the years while also becoming an author and a weekly radio show host – Conscious Creation on the VoiceAmerica Talk Radio network – but her role as a Scream Queen continues to bring her back to the genre. She has appeared in Rob Zombies remake of Halloween, and joined fellow Scream Queen’s Adrienne Barbeau, Barbara Crampton, and Sherri Moon Zombie (who just missed the cut) for Rob Zombie’s The Lords of Salem. This is one Scream Queen who continues to embody the title and rounds out our top five.
4) Linnea Quigley
No self-proclaimed horror fan knows anything about anything if Linnea Quigley is not one of their all time favorite scream queens. Period. Next Entry.
Okay, let’s go in to a bit more detail. Her most famous horror role is probably as Trash in Dan O’Bannon’s The Return of the Living Dead, where she danced nude atop a tombstone in the rain, much to the delight of every adolescent boy who is lucky enough to have experienced RotLD in their formative years. Some of her follow-up horrors include Creepozoids, Nightmare Sisters (for which Quigley was paid only $400!), and one of my personal favorites – Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers. Which basically says everything you need to know about the movie. And of course who could forget the iconic ‘nipstick’ from Night of the Demons? If it wasn’t for the following iconic performances Linnea Quigley would easily have sat at the top of my list.
3) Janet Leigh
Undoubtedly one of the most famous Scream Queens of all time, Janet Leigh is well-known for one very iconic film, of which she wasn’t even the main protagonist. Yes, I can only be talking about Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, which showcased Janet Leigh’s amazing scream and forever burned her name into Scream Queen lists across the decades.
Now Janet Leigh made quite a career for herself outside of horror roles, but who cares about those when it’s almost Halloween. Psycho also wasn’t her only horror role, as she memorably appeared in John Carpenter’s The Fog with Adrienne Barbeau and another entry on our list, who shares a familial connection to this iconic Scream Queen.
2) Danielle Harris
Some mistakenly think of Danielle Harris as a newcomer to the Scream Queen lifestyle, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Harris has made quite a name for herself in horror, especially with all things Halloween. One of the pioneers of slasher horror, Halloween has spent decades molding Scream Queens. Harris first appeared in Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers as the niece of Myers, and reprised her role in Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers.
She effectively moved from child actor to horror icon with a number of roles in the genre, even starring in Rob Zombie’s Halloween and Halloween II, remakes of the original series Harris helped develop. Most recently she has found cult fame with the Hatchet series, taking over the role of Marybeth Dunston in Hatchet II to kick copious amounts of ass in Adam Green’s cult favorite slasher series. Harris continues to evolve how Scream Queens (and by extension Final Girls, which we’ll talk about in another piece later in the site’s Countdown to Halloween) are presented in these horror films, and has more than earned her high rank on our list.
1) Jamie Lee Curtis
Finally, after a long nail splitting, blood curdling climb through the ranks of our favorite Scream Queens we have arrived at the top. Proving horror really does run in the family, Jamie Lee Curtis is the daughter of fellow Scream Queen Janet Leigh, and her most famous role was as Laurie Strode in Halloween, Halloween II and Halloween H20, which also featured her mother Janet Leigh. She also briefly appeared in Halloween: Resurrection.
She would also join Leigh in John Carpenter’s The Fog, and follow that up with other classic horrors like Prom Night, Terror Train, and most recently, Ryan Murphy’s Scream Queens on Fox. Her role on the series is incredibly fitting considering her ongoing status as one of, if not the greatest Scream Queen we’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. Her multiple horror roles combined with her iconic SQ status over the years cements her top spot on this list, your list, and almost any other list we’ve ever seen.
That does it for our 15 favorite Scream Queens, but our Countdown to Halloween is just getting started! Join us daily as we continue to examine our favorite parts of Halloween all month!
Images: Universal Studios, Avco Embassy Pictures,
Hammer Films, Republic Pictures, Miramax,
Warner Bros, Dark Sky Films, RKO Pictures,
NBC, MGM, American International Pictures,
& Empire International Pictures