The “Scream Queen.” How often does this shopworn term get arbitrarily thrown around? For a while it seemed that any actress with two or three genre credits was tagging themselves with the moniker (for transparency’s sake, when I got my third genre credit, I started referring to myself as “Scream King,” but I was taking the piss…wasn’t I?). Most Top 10 lists of anything can be pretty static from person to person, but “Scream Queens” especially, can elicit venomous arguments from horror fans. So, far from being comprehensive, I compiled a list of 10 actresses whom I feel perfectly embody the term “Scream Queen.” I’ve excluded some from the more “modern” era intentionally, for instance someone like Neve Campbell, while certainly a capable actress, has the body of her genre work in a single franchise. Others, like Mia Goth or Jenna Ortega, have definitely made an impact, but lack the sustained genre work of a true “Scream Queen.” I’m sure that nearly everyone who reads this piece will disagree with at least one, but in the interest of making this a diverse and multi-faceted tribute, I’ve enlisted the help, through quotes and anecdotes, of a wide array of fans, authorities, filmmakers, writers, and artists. Luminaries, if you will, in the horror community.
Dave Felter – super fan, collector, and de-facto authority on genre, and particularly Italian, cinema.
Thomas Berdinski – author, filmmaker (The Italian Zombie Movie; The Giant Rubber Monster Movie Part 1), and lover of eccentric film.
Nathan Thomas Milliner – writer/director (On a Dark and Bloody Ground; The Confession of Fred Krueger), artist (NECA; Scream Factory; Fright Rags; HorrorHound)
JimmyO Burril – writer/director (The Chainsaw Sally Show; The Good Sisters), actor, graphic artist, musician.
Brandon Slagle – writer/director/producer (The Flood; Battle for Saipan; Breakout; House of Manson) Read our interview with him HERE.
So, with a nod to the wanna-bes, and a tip of the hat to the up-and-comers, lets open the proverbial can of worms of the “Scream Queen“ title.
10. Ingrid Pitt
My first horror actress crush. Who can forget her “Hammer glamor” in The Vampire Lovers, and her cool, sultry, seductiveness in Countess Dracula? Even when she was sucking the life (literally) out of hapless men, you couldn’t help but envy them. She brought an aristocratic air to every scene she was in and commanded your attention with her mere presence. Despite having only a handful of horror credits to her resume, she made an indelible impact on fans, and championed the genre even into her twilight years. Ingrid is still beloved and sorely missed by fans the world over.
Dave Felter – “A powerhouse. Euro-hot, with brains, strength, and fire. Makes every role memorable.”
JimmyO Burril – “A goddess.”
9. Daria Nicolodi
In addition to being the maestro Dario Argento’s muse, lover and creative partner, she also managed to conjure up some unforgettable performances in her role as “actress.” Bringing a vibrant, intelligent aura to her turns in films like Deep Red, Phenomena, and Mario Bava’s swan song Shock, Daria also somehow found time to give birth to actress/filmmaker Asia Argento (whom she also worked with). A true legend of Euro horror, her often overlooked contributions to cinema deserve more attention with her unfortunate passing in 2020.
Dave Felter – “Smart, sassy, and attractive without it being distracting.”
Thomas Berdinski – “Scream Queen is definitely on her resume, but she was also a creative force behind great genre films including Suspiria, Inferno and many more, often in collaboration with Dario Argento. She is my Most Creative Scream Queen.”
8. Linnea Quigley
Can you truly be a fan of VHS boom 80’s horror without also being a Linnea Quigley fan? A force of nature who made virtually every film she was in fun, fresh and sexy-as-Hell, Linnea holds a special place in my heart. The girl everyone wished was their girlfriend chewed up the scenery in films like Silent Night, Deadly Night, Nightmare Sisters, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers and her head turning role as “Trash” in Return of the Living Dead among many others. Beautiful, talented, and never taking herself too seriously, Linnea is still very active in film today, and still a knockout. Living proof that there’s often a lot more behind a pretty face and a killer body!
JimmyO Burril – “The party girl!”
Thomas Berdinski – “Legendary performances in Return of the Living Dead and Night of Demons. The Sexiest Scream Queen, in my opinion, and a great supporter of indie filmmakers.”
7. Dee Wallace
Whether fighting off a killer dog (Cujo – read our retro review HERE), or sort of turning into one (The Howling) Dee Wallace’s body of genre work speaks for itself. A prolific career panning decades – The Hills Have Eyes to The Lords of Salem – Elliot’s mom always brings a warm, friendly, vulnerability to set, even when she plays a sadistic prison warden (3 From Hell). Fans often forget the fact that she’s been in a lot, like a LOT, of horror films, but take a look at the 8x10s she has laid out to sign at one of her very entertaining convention appearances, and you’ll be reminded. Class, talent, and a warm, familiar beauty, Dee (read our interview with here HERE) is a national treasure.
Nathan Thomas Milliner – “Dee Wallace arguably gave the best performance a Stephen King film ever received in Cujo. Even when playing a woman committing adultery, she still seems so pure and vulnerable and the kind of human we just want to love and hold and make sure she is okay.”
6. Danielle Harris
Tiny, gorgeous, and formidable as fuck, genre fans literally watched the amazing Ms. Harris grow up. Starting with her performances in Halloween 4 & 5, through her (my personal favorite) emotional work in Stake Land, to her return to the Halloween franchise with the Rob Zombie films, Danielle always delivers. Popping up in (and arguably propping up) sequels to the Hatchet and See No Evil franchises only adds to her slasher cred. Showing no signs of slowing down, with her podcast work with Scout Taylor-Compton, and frequent film projects, she remains a enthusiastic voice in the horror realm.
Brandon Slagle – “A great example for anyone who wants to get into entertainment young should aspire to become. Nothing but respect for her – and she also has an incredibly sharp sense of business.”
Thomas Berdinski – “The first of the next generation of Scream Queens. Loads of talent. I wish she was in more films! Great, friendly horror convention guest too. The Most Underrated Scream Queen? Possibly.”
Nathan Thomas Milliner – “She gave us one of the finest performances in a horror film at eleven and once called back to the franchise that made her, gave a daring performance in the remake that rose to the top of that film and was reborn into this genre which she embraced completely.”
5. Debbie Rochon
The comment most often associated with the comely Debbie Rochon is: “she’s been in some bad films, but she’s never been bad IN a film.” With a staggering resume, Debbie always lends a legitimacy to any project she appears in. Tough as nails and hot as lava, Rochon can effortlessly transition from comedy to serious dark violence in the blink of an eye. Versatility like that is why she remains such a sought-after score for so many indie filmmakers. Her goofy turn in The Toxic Avenger 4: Citizen Toxie perfectly juxtaposed with her moody, violent portrayals in films like The Good Sisters and Wrath of the Crows are what make Debbie such a rare gem of an actress. And her tirelessly championing of indie cinema earns her even more real estate in the hearts of horror fans.
JimmyO Burril – “One of my best friends. I would walk though fire for her.”
Thomas Berdinski – “THE Indie Scream Queen. She supports and works with indie filmmakers more than anyone, and she’s always the best part of the films she’s in. I’ve only ever heard praise for her from filmmakers and costars. TROMA’s greatest Scream Queen!”
Brandon Slagle – “I did one movie with her 13 or so years ago and she was a joy to play off of on set. Someday I’d love to see an autobiography – whether it’s a book or movie or tv series – anything.”
4. Tiffany Shepis
I’ve said it many, many times. Name an actress with more smoldering charisma than Tiffany Shepis. Yes, it’s impossible. Starting with Troma, the incredible Tiffany has amassed an impressive list of horror credits. She is also the very first celebrity I’ve ever met at a horror convention, and she remains a very popular convention guest to this day. I first fell in love with Tiffany with Nightmare Man, and immediately searched out every film I could find with her in it. Super fan? Maybe. Who can resist her impressive chops in films like Nympha, Wrath of the Crows, The Frankenstein Syndrome, and Victor Crowley? A quintessential bad ass after a real-life tragedy, she became a tireless gun control activist, and still manages to find time to jump genres and land in television’s Star Trek: Picard. Like a fine wine, Tiffany just keeps getting better and reaching loftier goals in her colorful career.
Dave Felter – “A spunky spirit, and sexy confidence.”
Brandon Slagle – “I don’t want to get into specific detail, but she and her husband sent us an incredible, symbolic gift that truly came from the heart. And now you see that heart in the way she and her daughter are working to change the world, literally.”
JimmyO Burril – “The Fearless Fighter”
3. Barbara Steele
Those eyes, peering out menacingly (or seductively?) from the artwork for Mario Bava’s Black Sunday. Chilling. With a list of films – and directors – that reads like a “Hall of Fame” brochure, Steele’s contribution to horror is the stuff of legend. In addition to the aforementioned Bava, there’s Fellini (8 ½), Cronenberg (Shivers), Dante (Piranha), and Corman (The Pit and the Pendulum) among many others, she’s shared the screen with horror icons like Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, and Christopher Lee, and was featured prominently in the ill-fated, but very well done, Dark Shadows television revival. They could never make a biography film about the still amazing Steele, as no actress alive could effectively play her. Slender, with gothic beauty combined with an omnipresent, knowing smirk and a haughty sexiness, they don’t make ‘em like Barbara Steele anymore. They broke the mold with the original.
Dave Felter – “An otherworldly eeriness blended with earthy sex appeal.”
Thomas Berdinski – “The darkest of the Scream Queens. Did she invent goth? If not, she was a very early adopter. Classy and sexy. The Original Drive-In Scream Queen!”
Nathan Thomas Milliner – “The female Vincent Price, demands our eyes and ears belong to her whenever she moves onto that screen.”
2. Barbara Crampton
There’s just something about Barbara (read our interview with her HERE). The late, and sorely missed, Stuart Gordon once offered to introduce me to the incredible Ms. Crampton at a convention. After I explained to him that while I’ve met virtually everyone on my bucket list, I was still too intimidated by the mere presence of her to walk over to her table (she was right next door). He got a genuine laugh out of this and said “You’re scared of Barbara? She’s great, nothing to be scared of at all…” then winked and said, “but she IS Barbara Crampton” and laughed some more. Needless to say, I still haven’t made the move, maybe soon… With her vulnerable, girl-next-door charm, cheerleader good looks, and superior acting skills, Barbara Crampton is a timeless classic (not to make her sound too much like a car or something). Just based on her work in Gordon’s fantastical Lovecraft adaptations (Re-Animator, From Beyond, Castle Freak) with her frequent on-screen foil Jeffrey Combs, she is neck deep in horror cred. Add to that her triumphant return to genre work with the more recent We Are Still Here, You’re Next, Beyond the Gates, Jakob’s Wife, and the just completed Joe Lynch film Suitable Flesh, Barbara hasn’t missed a beat since her soap opera days, and she still looks absolutely amazing doing it. I’ve never had a more visceral reaction to an actress in onscreen peril than I do with her, I have to stop myself from screaming “Holy shit! Would somebody protect her for fuck’s sake!” at the screen.
Thomas Berdinski – “A seemingly ageless beauty. It’s hard to believe ReAnimator came out in 1985! Is she the Immortal Scream Queen? She’s always been a genre great and I’m glad her career has seen a recent resurgence.”
Dave Felter – “A fresh-faced girl-next-door with simmering subterranean sexiness.”
JimmyO Burril – “Such a sweetheart.”
1. Jamie Lee Curtis
With an unassailable Hollywood pedigree, deep roots in the genre (her mother’s legendary turn in Psycho), and talent for miles, Jaimie Lee Curtis managed to have a storied career outside of horror while still embracing, and frequently returning to, the role that made her famous, America’s babysitter Laurie Strode in the Halloween franchise. Starting as a spunky, smart teen, and morphing into the strong, tough, slightly paranoid survivalist in the recent films, Curtis is the definitive “Scream Queen.” Her decades long battle with The Shape, through films canon, and non-canon, have cemented her spot in the annals of horror fandom. And, lest we forget, she also single-handedly molded the “final girl” model even more in The Fog, Terror Train, and Prom Night. Curtis, while never turning her back on the genre that gave her a start in film, branched out and excelled in comedies, dramas, and even action films over her colorful career. Never one to be pigeonholed, she deftly shifted from her return to horror (Halloween, Ends, Kills), back into more “mainstream” fare and absolutely killed it (pun intended) in every project she took on. With her recent Oscar win, Hollywood finally seems to realize what we horror fans have known all along – she’s a once-in-a-generation thespian! THE OG “Scream Queen.” Game Over.
Nathan Thomas Milliner – “Jamie Lee Curtis is THE Scream Queen. A Hollywood Princess who began her career playing the young girl everyone in the audience wanted to save until she saved herself as Laurie Strode. Who then went on to become an Oscar winning household name unlike most of her Scream Queen sisters. Yet despite becoming a household name, she returned to the role that made her our queen again and again and never cheated her audience by dialing it in. Seven times she played Laurie and gave us a totally committed performance each and every time.”
Brandon Slagle – “I was in line next to her checking into a charity event a few years ago and you could literally feel her presence approaching. It may be her lineage, but she definitely carries that larger-than-life quality with her.”
JimmyO Burril – “I would say she’s our queen.”
Thomas Berdinski – “The most reluctant and, arguably, the most successful Scream Queen. Her career spanned decades and genres. She was THE Hollywood Scream Queen; her films having much bigger budgets and polish than most of her contemporary’s films. Extremely talented; she never disappointed.”
Dave Felter – “A brainy, no-nonsense final girl. Laurie Strode is a wise-beyond-her-years teacher’s pet, and Michael’s fiercest opponent.”
And that, in a nutshell, is the list. It takes a certain “it” factor to succeed in horror filmdom and fandom as evidenced by the diverse group of talented ladies noted here. As with anything as objective as this, you’re certainly going to have your favorites. Who belongs on this list? Who doesn’t? And, of course WHY?