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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Scream Queens

Scream Queen. It’s a title that is thrown around a lot and is often given to those who don’t deserve it. Contrary to the report, you need more then a powerful set of lungs in order to become a “Scream Queen.” You need looks, brains and some upper body strength can’t hurt either.

Jamie Lee Curtis, Linda Blair, Neve Campbell, Dee Wallace, Shawnee Smith, Danielle Harris, Sarah Michelle Gellar….. These ladies know what it takes to be the last one standing. Whether they’re being chased by a psychopath hell bent on revenge, or being stalked by something supernatural, or even being possessed, they fight to the end, coming out the other side stronger then ever.

The horror genre is renown for giving ladies the “hero” role. We associate scary movies with – to quote Scream - “Some stupid killer stalking some big breasted girl who can’t act who’s always running up the stairs when she should be going out the front door.” So why is it so desirable to witness this? Because it gives us ladies the empowerment that we crave. We want our ‘gal pal’ to win, and cheer her on. We find ourselves yelling at the screen “Kick him in the nuts! He’s male! He’ll go down!” We find ourselves willing her to get up to carry on. We even shed a tear or two when the unthinkable happens: the villain wins.

So what makes a Scream Queen? Obviously appearing in a horror movie is a start, but appearing in multiple horror films will help get that title. Being the leading lady will also add points as will being the survivor. Which brings me to my list. At the start of this article I mentioned seven names. Seven women who all fit this category one way or another. One by one, I will look at what makes these fine actresses “Scream Queens.”

Jamie Lee Curtis is the ultimate Scream Queen. Hell, she’s even been nicknamed ‘Scream Queen.’ Not only was her first film a horror but she would go on to say that she wears her Halloween pin with pride and up until True Lies, was by far the best role she had ever been offered. Jamie was cast as Laurie Strode and would continue to play the character for twenty-three years before finally being killed by her loathsome brother, Michael Myers. But Halloween isn’t the only horror movie Jamie has done. She also appeared in Prom Night, The Fog, Terror Train (which was basically Halloween filmed shot for shot on a train) and Roadgames.

Jamie was the quint essential girl next door. Young and fresh, she was chosen for the role of Laurie at the tender age of 19 (Halloween was filmed in the spring of ’78 – Curtis wouldn’t be 20 until November). It also helped that her mother, Janet Leigh, was a Scream Queen in her own right. Jamie would go on to work with her mother in both The Fog and Halloween: H20 (Fun Fact: In H20 Janet Leigh’s character was the receptionist named Norma – Norma was the name of Norman Bates’ mother. Janet also references “the drains in the girl’s shower room are clogged again” as well as driving away in the same car that she was buried in – all referencing back to her role in Psycho, 1960)

But what made her a Scream Queen was her strength. Not just physical, but mental. She never gave in, even at the end. She was a warrior who fought tooth and nail for what was good. You want to see this for yourself? Then watch the original Halloween then follow it up with H20. Not only did Jamie get older, but so did Laurie. She was no longer afraid but rather she was determined to end Michael’s reign of terror. It is this guts and determination that lands Jamie on this list. Jamie has also stated, ironically, that she never watches horror movies because they terrify her. It’s good to know that even the ultimate Scream Queen can get scared.

Linda Blair was a cute young thing until horror got a hold of her. Starring in the 1973 film, The Exorcist, Linda, aged 14, took the world by storm, even having the Academy eating out of the palm of her hand as she received a nomination for Best Supporting Actress. It looked like she would take home the grand prize, she was short favourite to win, however, when rumours leaked of how little of the possessed child she actually had been, that dream broke, and with that disappointment probably came the first blow to what should have been a sure road to stardom. She did, however, reprise her role of Regan in the 1977 sequel to The Exorcist; The Exorcist II: The Heretic.

As the ’70′s closed and the ’80′s began, Linda stepped into the fast lane. She encountered trouble as she was arrested and charged with drug possession and conspiracy to sell drugs: after trial, she was found not guilty of possession, but guilty of conspiracy to sell, leading her to get a reduced sentence of three years probation. Blair found it hard to restart her big screen career and landed low grade films in the ’80s and beyond. She even said herself in an interview, her career ‘went down faster than the Titanic’.

When the 1990′s rolled around, Blair found herself back in horror, having a small guest appearance in the cult classic, Scream. (She is the reporter who asks Sidney “How does it feel to be almost brutally butchered? People want to know, they have a right to know. How does it feel?”)

Nowadays, Blair is an icon when it comes to horror. Everyone remembers her portrayal as Regan. Everyone remembers how scary that film is and how powerful Linda’s role was. Linda shares Jamie Lee Curtis’ strength, exceeding her in the mental stakes. Let’s face it, being 14 and being asked to portray the devil exceeds being 19 and running from evil. In 2010 it was announced that Linda would return to the genre she’s felt at home in since the early ’70′s.

Neve Campbell is one of the more recent Scream Queens. We all associate her with her role as Sidney Prescott in the 1996 film, Scream. She also starred in movies like The Craft, Predators From Beyond Neptune and The Dark.

But it is the role of Sidney Prescott that lands her on this list. So what do we know about Sidney? She’s an all American girl, living in a small country town where the unthinkable has happened. Her mother was brutally killed and Sid saw who did it. Or who she thinks did it. Turns out, her own “Bubble-butt boyfriend” Billy Loomis is to blame, not only for her mother’s death, but for the deaths of five other people.

Neve would reprise her role another two times providing the horror genre with something most uncommon: A trilogy. It does happen, but it is very rare. And it wasn’t to last. In 2011, Wes Craven teamed up with Kevin Williamson and bought back the Ghostface killer along with the survivors, Sidney, Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) and Dewey (David Arquette) for a final showdown. Add a few bodies, watch a few movies, take a few notes and presto – Scream 4 was born.

Neve has been Sidney for 15 years. In those 15 years we watched her grow from victim, to ass kicking heroine, staking her claim as the Scream Queen of the ’90′s. Neve gave us a character with attitude. Sidney was smart, she was pretty and she did actually kick her stalker in the nuts. Sidney is a fighter which makes her a survivor which gives Neve the title of Scream Queen.

Dee Wallace is one woman with a horror resume like no other. She’s worked with some of the biggest directors in the genre – from Wes Craven and Joe Dante to Peter Jackson and Rob Zombie – and she’s starred in some of the most heralded horror films in modern history, including The Howling, The Hills Have Eyes, and The Stepford Wives. She’s worked in her share of lower key “popcorn movies” as well, such as Critters and Stephen King’s Cujo. Her consistent devotion to the horror genre has earned her a cult following and status as one of the ultimate “Scream Queens.”

But, unlike other Scream Queens, Dee tends to play the more mature, nurturing roles. Often it’s the role of the more maternal figure. Don’t believe me then watch her performance in Cujo or even Halloween (the 2007 remake). It is because of her steady and classy performances, as the maternal figure that lands Dee on this list. Let’s face it, sometimes it’s the maternal figure that makes a movie and in Dee’s case her presence adding a level of authenticity to any role, and any film, of which she is a part of. Who wouldn’t want a mother that would go above and beyond to keep you safe from harms way?

Shawnee Smith is the odd duck on this list. You see, she’s a Scream Queen for a whole different reason. Some people may remember her as Meg Penny in The Blob but that’s not the reason she makes this list. Starring as Amanda Young in the Saw series, Shawnee started out as a hapless victim before turning to brutal killer. Literally. In Jigsaw’s game, there was always a way out. But in Amanda’s game….Your rib cage would come flying at the screen. I guess her having to kill her room mate in the first Saw installment really did a number on her psyche. She got a taste for killing and appeared in the first three films before having an appearance in part six.

Originally, Shawnee turned down the role of Amanda because she found the script to be rather upsetting. She was offered the role again and only accepted after seeing the original short film from the creators of Saw, James Wan and Leigh Whannell. It was then she learned that the reason they had wanted her for the role so desperately is because both men had a bit of a crush on her.

Shawnee shows a lot of strength in the Saw films. Playing the hapless victim first up comes pretty easy. Let’s face it, how would you react if you found yourself in a reverse bear trap? But to fake being the victim the second time around, then turn into the nut job behind it all, it’s got to take a toll. Shawnee is a lot like Jamie Lee Curtis: She doesn’t like horror films and refuses to watch them, including her own work.

But it’s not just her role as Amanda that gives Shawnee this title. She also hosted a VH1 show called ‘Scream Queens’ in 2008, which would take an unknown actress and give her a shot at fame by appearing in the next Saw installment. This allowed viewers to see a nurturing side to Shawnee as she helped these unknowns work on their craft before eliminating them one by one until announcing the winner. This just proves that the bad guys really do have all the fun.

Danielle Harris is a favorite among horror fans. Not only is she incredibly sexy but Danielle is a lot like Jamie Lee Curtis in that she got her horror start with Halloween – although in Danielle’s case it was Halloween 4: The Return Of Michael Myers and following that up quickly with Halloween 5: The Revenge Of Michael Myers, playing young Jamie Lloyd, Laurie Strode’s apparent daughter and niece of the infamous psychopath. (Fun fact: Danielle was just 11 years old when she first took on Michael)

Since her time in Haddonfield, Danielle has bounced around the genres but eventually returned to horror. Playing a tough Goth chick in 1998′s Urban Legends, Danielle had the pleasure of working along side the undisputed King Of Horror: Robert Englund.

But for Danielle, horror hit a little too close to home when she became the victim of an obsessed fan turned stalker. Fortunately, Harris was granted a restraining order after the man was arrested at her home in possession of a shot gun and a teddy bear.

In 2007, Danielle not only returned to her horror roots, but she headed back to Haddonfield, much to the delight of Halloween fans the world over, in Rob Zombie’s remake of the 1978 classic. Playing Annie Brackett, Harris was one of the only shinning lights in the remake. She backed up her performance of Annie by appearing in Zombie’s second installment of the Halloween franchise. Although, this time, “Uncle” Michael would finally get the better of her. Just like Curtis before her, Danielle appeared in four Halloween films, and didn’t live to tell the tale.

Since her return to Haddonfield, Danielle has appeared in a number of horror productions from Hatchet 2 to Blood Night. Just proving that it’s going to take more then the ultimate evil to stop this Scream Queen.

Sarah Michelle Gellar may seem like an odd choice to make this list. After all, she did die in both Scream 2 and I Know What You Did Last Summer. But that’s not the extent of Sarah’s horror attributes. For seven seasons she stared in a horror/sci-fi series and then proceeded to bring a Japanese film across the Pacific to the Western world.

Sarah Michelle Gellar is the ideal Scream Queen. She’s tough, she can fight, she’s witty and she’s stunning. Playing Buffy Summers from 1996-2003 proved that she wasn’t one to be messed with. In 1997 Sarah teamed up with fellow TV star Jennifer Love Hewitt as well as ’90′s heartthrobs, Ryan Phillippe and Freddie Prinze Jr. to star in I Know What You Did Last Summer. In this film, Sarah plays Helen Shivers, a beauty who wants to “entertain the world through artist expression.” What she didn’t count on was hitting a man then covering up the crime. What she also didn’t count on was a great big hook and dying in an alley way.

In the same year, Sarah signed on for Scream 2. She did this without reading the script or seeing a treatment of any kind. It was the first and last time that she ever did that. Playing Casey ‘Cici’ Cooper, Gellar made her mark in a film class discussing sequels. It is because of her disagreement with the killer that she dies. She is thrown from her sorority house (Omega Beta Zeta) after being stabbed in the back.

Unlike some of her fellow Scream Queens, Gellar doesn’t fear horror. She embraces it. She had said multiple times that she loves to watch scary movies. “Horror films are where women can shine and have a chance to lead. They always save the day in these films,” Gellar said. And save the day she did in the 2004 film, The Grudge.

The Grudge is about an American nurse living and working in Tokyo who is exposed to a mysterious supernatural curse, one that locks a person in a powerful rage before claiming their life and spreading to another victim. Gellar plays Karen, the leading lady is desperately trying to break the curse. Good news for SMG fans, she lives and goes on to the sequel which came out in 2006.

Sarah proves that you don’t have to live in order to be a Scream Queen. As mentioned earlier, Jamie Lee Curtis was killed by Michael Myers upon her fourth return to the Halloween franchise while Shawnee Smith’s Amanda was shot and killed in Saw 3.

Nowadays, it seems as though every actress who is offered a role in a horror movie is automatically labelled a Scream Queen. But as discussed, there is a criteria one must follow before gaining that title. And while there are other actress that have done more horror films then the above mentioned seven, there is a reason why these ladies make the list. Their independence, their strength, their willingness to overcome great obstacles and their likableness all contribute to the factor. (Also the fact that these woman can act add an extra level to their characters)

Without these strong women, horror would never been the same. Without their charisma, inner depth and the ability to fight back against unspeakable evil there would be no Scream Queen.

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