Heather Langenkamp didn’t go gently as Nancy Thompson in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, fulfilling an arc that spanned a decade after the first film in 1984. Stalked and terrorised in her dreams by the deformed Freddy Krueger, Nancy Thompson goes from the girl-next-door high schooler to a psychiatric intern helping children in need. It’s one the better character progressions in slasher history. Langenkamp reprised her role A Night on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. She met her husband, a makeup artist, at the wrap party for Wes Craven’s The Serpent and the Rainbow in 1988. They have two kids.
What distinguishes Sidney Prescott from other final girls is that her boogeyman never suffers from the pitfalls of aging. Ghostface is constantly reincarnated and forever-young. They are savvy to the zeitgeist, as much at home with a landline as they are a smartphone. Along with Courtney Cox and David Arquette, Campbell is the only actor to appear in all five Scream films, though she recently made headlines for refusing to appear in the planned Scream 6 over poor pay, saying she “couldn’t walk on set feeling undervalued.” This franchise isn’t her only horror foray, having starred in 1996’s The Craft.
One of the best known scream queens just so happens to be the most short-lived. Drew Barrymore’s performance as Casey in the opening scene of Scream was enough to get her on the poster for the film, though throwing audiences off the scent was probably a bigger driving force behind that. Watching Casey go from flirting with a stranger on the phone to hanging from a tree in under ten minutes remains shocking to this day. Barrymore went on to star in Cat’s Eye, Firestarter and the comedy-horror Netflix series, Santa Clarita Diet.
In this 1980 adaptation of Stephen King’s acclaimed The Shining, Shelley Duvall plays the wife of author Jack Torrance, prone not only to a bout of writer’s block but a complete schizophrenic collapse. Spellbound by the sentient hotel, and a former occupant who ended up axing his wife and kids, Jack turns on his wife and their traumatised son. She retired from acting in 2002. Recently, Duvall has raised concerns over her mental health. Dr Phil was slated for “exploiting” the actress in a 2016 interview. Many critics believe the mistreatment she experienced from Stanley Kubrick may have contributed to her alleged troubles.
While not the first woman to ever scream on film, Janet Leigh’s piercing effort, and the accompanying image, was definitely to first to enter pop culture. Psycho influenced a generation of horror directors, creating a blueprint for what would become the slasher film. Janet Leigh popped up in a few more horrors over the course of her life, including The Fog and H2O: Halloween, alongside her daughter Jamie Lee Curtis. She died in October 2004.
Born in 1926, Hazel Court was one of horror’s first great heroines. Starting off with her turns in Hammer films The Curse of Frankenstein and The Man Who Could Cheat Death in the late 1950s, Court later starred in three Roger Corman adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe stories, The Premature Burial, The Raven and The Masque of the Red Death. After 1964, she took a break, not just from horror, but more or less all acting. She did return to film, however, with a brief appearance in 1981’s Omen III: The Final Conflict. She died in 2008.
Barbara Steele was born in England but made a name for herself in a slew of Italian gothic horrors, earning the title the “Queen of all Scream Queens”. Across the 1960s, she starred in such films as The Pit and the Pendulum, The Ghost, Castle of Blood, Nightmare Castle and Terror Creatures from the Grave. Amazingly, her film credits continue up to the 2010s. In 2014, she played the grandmother in Ryan Gosling’s Lost River.
Veronica Cartwright has been starring in horror films since she was a child, making her debut in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds in 1963. She later featured in the iconic likes of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Alien, in which she played Lambert. Her last horror appearance was in the 2014 slasher flick The Town That Dreaded Sundown.
Sir James Carreras, chairman of Hammer Productions, signed Caroline Munro to a 1-year contract after seeing her on the poster for a popular rum. Within months she was starring in the likes of Dracula AD and Dr Phibes Rises Again. Throughout the 1970s, she mostly stuck to the campy offerings of British horror. When the genre shifted in the early 1980s, so did Munro, appearing in the less humour likes of Maniac, Don’t Open Till Christmas ad Slaughter High. As of 2021, Munro has been hosting Talking Picture’s The Cellar Club, where she introduces obscure horror films.
Ingrid Pitt blossomed during the pomp of Hammer Films, playing the title role in 1971’s Countess Dracula. Other credits include The House That Dripped Blood, The Vampire Lovers, and even a small part in The Wicker Man. Pitt turned her efforts to writing after her film career cooled down. She died in 2010 of heart failure.
Sally Hardesty is subject to more outright violence than perhaps any other final girl in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. She not only survives and in some cases witnesses the brutal, ham-fisted murder of all her friends, but then has to watch a family of cannibals break bread over a table of their flesh. The role was played to a tee by Marilyn Burns who also starred in horrors Eaten Alive, Kiss Daddy Goodbye, Future-Kill, as well as a cameo in Texas Chainsaw 3D. She died in 2014 aged 65.
Olivia Hussey may not embrace the idea of being a horror heroine as much her contemporaries, but her performance as Jess Bradford in 1974’s criminally underrated Black Christmas is something many fans of the genre treasure. Hussey plays one of many sorority sisters holed up in a house that has been secretly infiltrated by a killer whose terrifying phone calls from the attic soon give way to a murder spree. Today, Hussey has over 30 film credits to her name, and countless more television credits.
In the adaptation of Stephen King’s first novel Carrie, Sissy Spacek brought to life the bookish teenager who gets bullied to breaking point. The bloodied prom queen using telekinesis to punish her fellow students is imagine synonymous with the horror genre. After its 1976 release, Spacek steered clear of horror for almost thirty years, when she made The Ring 2 and An American Haunting back-to-back.
Jessica Harper helped put Italian horror films on the map when she starred in Dario Argento’s seminal Suspiria. In the 1977 film Harper plays a dancer trying to settle in to a prestigious German ballet school plagued with murder and conspiracy. Harper went on to feature in the slashers The Evictor in 1979 and Shock Treatment in 1981. Her most recent horror credit is this year’s Bones & All.
Jamie Lee Curtis
While not the first ‘final girl,’ Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode is certainly the most famous. It’s also the most confusing. Laurie Strode has been killed off, resurrected, retconned as Michael Myers’ sibling and then detached. The only constant being her valiant efforts to fend off the vengeful brunt of the Shape. Jamie Lee Curtis managed to avoid being typecast thanks to a string of successful roles but has never fully walked away from the role that made her famous. In 2018, she returned for a reboot trilogy, the last of which, Halloween Ends, was released in October 2022.
Unlike most final girls, happy-go-lucky teenagers forced to confront a very adult danger, Lt. Ellen Ripley is already hard as nails. She isn’t here to joke around, much less play into the hands of whatever evil descends onto her. In 1979’s Alien, Ridley Scott took the current trope of female survivors and stuck it in outer space with phenomenal results. As for Sigourney Weaver, she starred in both sequels of Alien and even served as a co-producer on the third and fourth film installments of the series. She has enjoyed a hugely successful career and is set to star in the tardy sequel to 2009’s Avatar, The Way of the Water, later this year.
Brinke Stevens was originally pursuing a career in marine biology when she began acting. Her most famous role is perhaps as Linda in 1982’s The Slumber Party Massacre. But there are a smattering of horror credits to Stevens’ CV, including Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama, Nightmare Sisters, Grandmother’s House and Mommy.
Yes, Dee Wallace, like the girl in the video store in Scream, may only be known by some as “E.T’s mom”, but she’s done a great service to the world of horror. Her roles in The Howling and Critters alone are enough to secure a spot in horror’s hall of fame. And then you remember Cujo, where she contributes a realistic dread to a slightly silly story.
Adrienne Barbeau’s first effort at horror acting came as the evening DJ in John Carpenter’s The Fog in 1980. Her voice was so impressive, Carpenter gave her an uncredited cameo as the computer in his 1982 remake of The Thing. As for credited roles, Barbeau also starred in Escape from New York, Swamp Thing and Creepshow.
Alice Hardy might have beheaded Mrs Voorhees, but Ginny Field, on the other hand, was the first girl to take on Jason Voorhees (even if he was wearing a burlap sack and not his now-signature hockey mask) and for that she deserves more respect. Amy Steel, the actor behind this final girl, more or less retired from acting in 2004, though she reprised the role of Ginny in the 2021 fan film Jason Rising.
As if camping retreats hadn’t suffered enough with Friday the 13th, along came 1983’s Sleepaway Camp, in which Felissa Rose plays a girl sent to a summer camp that becomes the setting for a series or murders. Famous for its twist ending, Sleepaway Camp put Felissa on the slasher map. She went on to other horrors such as Satan’s Playground, Aliens vs. A-Holes and Silent Night, Zombie Night. More recently, believe it or not, she has been known for producing music videos for Slayer.
A queen of indie cinema, Debbie Rochon began her career in the 1980s and had made over 200 films, most of which are horrors. Some of her best known roles are in the likes of Santa Claws, Terror Firmer, American Nightmare, Bleed, Final Examination and Corpses are Forever. In 2002, she voted the Scream Queen of the Decade by Draculina magazine.
Lisa Wilcox had been exclusively making comedies when she accepted the role of Alice in A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. Signing on to a fourth installment of a slasher series might not seem the wisest career move but Lisa couldn’t have picked a better one. She is the only girl in the franchise to survive two whole films, also appearing in A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child. In 2019, she featured on the documentary In Search of Darkness which covers the impact of the 1980s horror boom.
Hellraiser isn’t really a slasher in the purest sense, nor is Kirsty Cotton really a final girl. But she is a girl, and she makes it to the finale of a horror film, so it counts. Across four of the several Hellraiser films, Kirsty Cotton unknowingly summons the wrath of the Cenobites, notably the don, “Pinhead”. Away from the world of body horror, Ashley Laurence went on to star in the Hercules TV series and Beverly Hills, 90210. Last year, she made a return to her acting roots in the second season of Shudder’s Creepshow.
If there’s anyone who’s followed in the mighty footsteps of Linnea Quigley when it comes to B-movie slashers, it’s Michelle Bauer. Starting out as a model for the likes of Penthouse magazine, Bauer moved onto X-rated sci-fi and horror films. Cafe Flesh, The Tomb, Terror Night, Virgin High and Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers are just some of the titles to her name. Bauer’s latest credit is this year’s Mark of the Evil 777: The Moralist, Part 2.
With Linnea Quigley, it’s hard to pick just one role. A titan of scream queens, she began her career with Death Sport and Don’t Go Near the Park in the 1970s. In the 1980s she stayed on track with such titles as Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, Dead Heat, and Robot Ninja. In the 1990s she starred in Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings and Innocent Blood. “It’s really boring to play the good, nice girl,” Quigley once said. As for how busy she is today, let’s put it like this: her Wikipedia filmography has its own page.
Barbara Crampton’s horror career spans her whole career thus far. She initially wowed audiences with her performance in the camp likes of Re-Animator and Chopping Mall, a send-up of Reagan’s America and the rise of consumer culture. In 2011, she featured in the cult modern slasher You’re Next. Such is her love for the genre, Crampton has made a move into producing with 2021’s Jakob’s Wife.
Jennifer Love Hewitt got herself a slice of the 90s slasher revival pie in 1997’s I Know What You Did Last Summer in which an attempt to cover up a fatal car accident comes back to haunt four friends. Hewitt plays final girl Julie James, most famous perhaps for screaming to the heavens, “What are you waiting for?!” Despite this moment of weakness, she’s a clear-headed and successful final girl who also appeared in the sequel, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer. Hewitt’s film career took a bit of a backseat after 2012’s Jewtopia. She has however, starred in the television shows Criminal Minds and 9–1–1.
Dana Polk faces more than the idea of personal oblivion in this 2012’s The Cabin in the Woods. As the story unfolds, we learn that the future of humankind is in her hands. What bigger burden could you lump on a final girl? Kristen Connolly, who played Dana, wasn’t done with horror, going on to feature in The Bay and Stephen King adaptation, A Good Marriage, about a union that breaks down in the aftermath of sinister revelation.
Cult slasher You’re Next caught audiences off guard with its novel approach to a tried and tested genre. Sharni Vinson plays Erin Harson, a young woman accompanying her boyfriend on a trip to see family, only to be stalked and harassed by a group of masked killers. Unlucky for them, Erin was raised in a survivalist compound and knows exactly what to do. Think Home Alone but with death. Vinson continues to act, and you can catch her latest film The Guardians of Justice on Netflix now.
Veronica Carlson was a star of several late 60s and early 70s Hammer Horror films, starting with Dracula Has Risen from the Grave. She followed this with two more Hammer productions, Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell and The Horror of Frankenstein. In later years, Carlson appeared in House of the Gorgon and The Rectory before passing away in 2022 aged 77.
In the 1970s, Edwige Fenech gained traction through her roles in Italy’s signature horror subgenre, the giallo. She can be found in such films including The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh, All the Colors of the Dark and Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key. Between giallo and another Italian film genre, commedia sexy all’italiana, Fenech became of one the big sex symbols of the 70s in Italy. She still connects with horror cinema, and back in 2007 she even had a supporting role in Hostel: Part II.
While she is sometimes known as the Bond girl of Live and Let Die, Madeline Smith had her real place as a queen of camp 70s horror. She can be found in films like Theatre of Blood, Taste the Blood of Dracula, and Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell. Perhaps her best-known role is in The Vampire Lovers, where she is seduced by Ingrid Pitt’s lesbian vampire Carmilla, which proved controversial back in 1971. More recently, Smith appeared in the 2021 fantasy TV film The Amazing Mr. Blunden.
The 1971 Hammer horror Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb would not have been what it was without leading lady Valerie Leon. In the film Leon plays a long-dead malevolent Egyptian queen as well as the daughter of the Professor who opens the queen’s tomb. Both characters having the same face plays a role in the ambiguity and horror of the film. Leon has continued to appear in cameo roles in horror films such as Pitfire of Hell in 2016.
Though the original Halloween sequels and its remakes were both criticized by fans due to their weak plots, they were still loved for the nostalgia factor they brought. Danielle Harris’ roles in both the sequels as Jamie Lloyd and the Rob Zombie remake as Annie Brackett are remembered fondly. Halloween was not Harris’ only franchise, as she has also appeared in the Hatchet series, as well as scores of other horror movies, her more recent credits including Redwood Massacre: Annihilation, and Shudder TV series Creepshow.
Any horror fan will be familiar with possessed child Regan MacNeil of The Exorcist. The young Linda Blair’s performance helped make Regan one of the most memorable horror characters of all time, and as well as reprising the role in Exorcist II: The Heretic, Blair also appeared in more horror roles in adulthood, including Hell Night and Witchboard. She is still acting, and also runs a dog rescue charity, the Linda Blair Worldheart Foundation.
Tiffany Shepis started acting when she was 16 and is recognised as a scream queen of the noughties. She starred in slashers like Nightmare Man, Scarecrow, and Bloody Murder 2. She has starred in well over 100 horror titles at this point with no plans of stopping anytime soon. Her titles have gained more critical acclaim over the years, with her best-known film now being the 2017 film Victor Crowley.
Not only did Katharine Isabelle bring us the killer 2000 film Ginger Snaps and its sequels, but she also starred in other horrors including Freddy vs. Jason and 2012’s cult favourite American Mary. Isabelle could be described as a stoic scream queen, with her roles exuding a toughness often not found in other actors of the scream queen title. She has also appeared in TV’s Hannibal and The Order.
Horror star Angela Bettis is yet another scream queen of the 2000s. She plays the leading lady in the 2002 Carrie remake, The Toolbox Murders and May, as well as taking a supporting role in 2011’s controversial shocker The Woman. These roles among countless other horrors she is in truly earn her the title of scream queen. Bettis is still appearing in horror, playing a lead in 2020’s medical horror film 12 Hour Shift.
Keena starred in the film Freddy vs. Jason where iconic slasher killers Freddy Kruger of Nightmare on Elm Street and Jason Voorhees of Friday the 13th came together in a crossover film for the first time. Her other horror roles including the 2009 remake of Night of tyhe Demons. Though she appears in horror infrequently now, she was in a thriller called The Ghost and the Whale in 2017.
British actress Emily Booth has been starring in horror films since the late 90s. You might have spotted her in Sacred Flesh, Cradle of Fear or The Reverend. A fair few of the horrors she has starred in have been spoofs, such as Evil Aliens, and the film set to release later in 2022 called Werewolf Santa. Booth has always focused on starring in British films, keeping her close to home.
MacColl started film and television acting in the late 70s, and a good portion of her work has been in the horror genre. Some of her most memorable and iconic films were City of the Living Dead and The Beyond, with controversial Italian director Lucio Fulci. She still stars in horror from time to time, being in Horsehead in 2014, but can be found in action films like Borrowed Time III more recently.
A darling of the giallo genre, Daria Nicolodi was married to director Dario Argento and appears in many of his pieces. Two of her most famous roles were in Tenebrae and Deep Red, both directed by Argento, and she played the lead roles in both. Nicolodi tragically died in 2020, though her cause of death is unknown.
Asia Argento is the daughter of horror star Daria Nicolodi and giallo director Dario Argento. She gained notoriety through starring in her father’s horror films such as Dracula 3D and his 1998 version of Phantom of the Opera. Though she is successful globally, she continues to star in her father’s horror films today such as the 2022 film Black Glasses.
The majority of Adrienne King’s work is not in horror, but the role she will always be remembered for is. She played Alice in Friday the 13th and has been involved in related horror projects ever since as a result. King even reprised her role in 2021 in a Friday the 13th fan film titled Jason Rising.
Garland’s career spanned genres, but she is best known for the works she starred in in the late 50s. This included sci-fi horror It Conquered the World and The Alligator People. Garland put the scream in scream queen in this era of horror, often playing unruly women or damsels in distress. Garland died in 2008 after a long, successful career.
While she is most known for her role as Morticia Addams in the macabre family sitcom The Addams Family, Carolyn Jones acted in plenty of other works. She is otherwise known in the horror genre as Cathy Gray in the original 1953 film House of Wax. In it she plays the wife of a man who runs a wax museum. She is murdered pretty soon in the film but is eerily disguised as a wax figure herself. Jones tragically died in 1983 after battling cancer for several years.
Wes Craven’s film The Last House on the Left has become a horror classic since it was released in 1972. Sandra Peabody’s performance in it as Mari Collingwood is part of what makes the film so memorable. In the film, Mari and her friend Phyllis are seeking out a fun night when they are apprehended by a group of convicts and subjected to a night of torture and rape before being killed. Peabody no longer acts and is now a talent agent. Her last film was Teenage Hitchhikers in 1974.
P.J. Soles is known for her role as the self-involved rule-breaking teen in some of the 70s’ most famous horror films. She’s easy to spot as Lynda in John Carpenter’s Halloween and plays mean girl Norma in Carrie. Though she meets a sticky end in both, Soles helped establish this staple archetype of the horror genre. She is still acting in horror now and can be seen in 2019 film Candy Corn.
You might know her from the Superman films, but around that, Margot Kidder has always been a horror actress and scream queen. From playing wife Kathy Lutz in the 1979 Amityville Horror to the strange twins in Brian De Palma’s psychological horror Sisters, Kidder found a solid pace in the horror genre. She sadly committed suicide in 2018 through a drug and alcohol overdose.