When it comes to horror movies, sometimes the leading heroine, dubbed a “scream queen,” is just as memorable — and popular — as her maniacal counterpart. The genre has had its share of terrific female leads. Some are crowned due to a particularly notable performance in a single film; others return to horror again and again throughout the course of their careers. Here are four talented women who made a name for themselves by screaming bloody murder.
1. Janet Leigh
Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller Psycho, about a deranged young man who preys on patrons of his run-down motel, features some of the most memorable moments in horror movie history. But none is more famous than the scene, in which Anthony Perkins’ Norman Bates stabs the unsuspecting Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) while she’s taking a shower. Her piercing screams, coupled with the unsettling string score have terrified Psycho viewers for more than 50 years. To many, Janet Leigh is one of the original scream queens, because she paved the way for so many other complex and captivating heroines who followed. Leigh built a successful career post-Psycho, but didn’t return to the horror genre until she appeared alongside her daughter in 1980’s The Fog.
2. Jamie Lee Curtis
Following in her mother’s frightened footsteps, Jamie Lee Curtis dominated the horror genre in the ’70s and ’80s. She got her big break in John Carpenter’s Halloween as Laurie Strode, the unwitting older sister of mass murderer Michael Myers. The enormously successful film brought her worldwide fame, and she followed it up with appearances in several horror movies including The Fog, Prom Night and Terror Games. Curtis proved to be a versatile actress, winning accolades and worldwide acclaim for turns in comedies and dramas. Curtis stayed true to her horror roots in 1998, though, when she reprised her role as Laurie in the Halloween-franchise reboot Halloween H20, proving that once you’re a scream queen, you’re always a scream queen.
3. Heather Langenkamp
One of the most memorable horror film franchises of all time also boasts one of the most beloved heroines — Nancy Thompson. Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street introduced horror fans to Heather Langenkamp, a young teenager who somehow managed to be both vulnerable and intensely strong. Langenkamp starred in three of the franchise’s films — most recently in 1994’s New Nightmare – where she played herself. While she found small successes outside the genre, she will always be best known for her performance opposite Freddy Kruger. Langenkamp has made the best of her scream queen status, producing a documentary about the series, appearing at fan conventions, and releasing an autobiography about her experience in horror.
4. Neve Campbell
She went from being a misunderstood teen witch to one of the strongest and most memorable survivors in horror. Neve Campbell co-starred in The Craft before winning the role of Sidney Prescott, a teenager thrust in the middle of a serial killer’s sadistic spree in Scream (1996). The Canadian actress has proved she has real staying power in the genre, starring in the film’s three successful sequels. While she’s dabbled on stage, screen and television, movie buffs will always remember her as one of the first scream queens for the Millennial generation.