Welcome to IndieWire’s Seven Days of Scream Queens! October is flying by faster than Mary Sanderson on a vacuum cleaner, so we’re taking a batty beat to honor the impact women and queer people have had on the horror genre since its inception.
“Scream queen” is a maddeningly nebulous term with simple enough origins. The phrase was popularized among casting directors after the iconic performance of Fay Wray in 1933’s “King Kong” and would be used for decades to describe genre actresses from Janet Leigh in 1960’s “Psycho” to her daughter Jamie Lee Curtis in 1978’s “Halloween” and beyond. These days it’s tossed around with some frequency, used interchangeably — and incorrectly — with the term “final girl”: the last character (most often played by women but they can be of any gender expression!) alive in a slasher movie.
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Scream queens, it seems to us, are more than that.
Womanhood and expressions of femininity have left an indelible impact on the horror genre: the helpless domesticity of “Rosemary’s Baby” as razor-sharp and painful as Pinhead’s sadomasochistic instruments of torture in “Hellraiser.” The horrors women face can be uniquely cinematic, and the temptation to mix beauty and blood too tempting for most filmmakers to resist. In 2022 — a time when the future of horror has never seemed more brightly fearsome while the future for women is historically and harrowingly unstable — motherhood, sexual safety, autonomy, freedom, and femaleness appear as prophesied next steps in the ever-mutating film space.
Over the next week, we’ll wax poetic by candlelight about the true meaning of the trope; unearth feminist favorites like “Teeth” from their nostalgic crypts; pick the brains of scream queens on screens big and small; hear the horror favorites from more than a dozen woman filmmakers and horror actresses who emailed us in the lead up to Halloween; celebrate the triumphant last (???) chapter in David Gordon Green’s “Halloween” trilogy; and more.
Happy haunting, ghoulfriend.
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