Once the 70′s rolled around, the horror genre took a severe 180. Gone were the days of the classic Universal monsters, gone were the science fiction panic films, and gone were the classy and pristine thrillers that we have been used to seeing. Ever since the Vietnam War populated people’s television sets with graphic depictions of death, cinema had undergone a transformation to a grittier form of storytelling. No genre spoke louder volumes in this new direction more so than the horror genre. Instead of focusing on the supernatural, the focus moved to real life horrors in human beings or the supernatural got a kick into some seriously terrifying and disturbed territory. Along the way, the classic ladies in the genre have also begun to change moving from the screaming and hands held to face poses of yesteryear to a more realistic, grittier, and stronger depiction of the scream queen. Of course, the screaming is still here in spades.
Jamie Lee Curtis
Jamie Lee Curtis was an unknown actress during this period. However, being the daughter of renowned scream queen Janet Leigh, horror had to run in her veins. So in 1978, she was cast as the lead Laurie Strode in the seminal Halloween classic Halloween directed by a then debuting John Carpenter. Being her first film and the pedigree of her mother in the background, she becomes the first true prototypical modern scream queen as well as being the template for every “final girl” for every slasher film to come in the 80′s and 90′s. The character of Laurie Strode was a virginal, smart, and quiet girl who was not so much into the partying and sex crazed habits of her friends. Curtis gives Laurie a down to Earth feel that helps lend credibility in the role and we can easily sympathize with her when The Shape starts terrorizing her on that fateful Halloween night. We also get a glimpse at how future scream queens will behave as she actually fights back with Michael Myers in order to survive. A true classic horror leading role and not the last coming from her within the coming years.
Speaking of Halloween, Curtis’s promiscuous and totally cool friend Lynda in the film is portrayed by another famed scream queen of the time P.J. Soles. Soles would not be known as the nice virginal lead, but rather her starring roles in numerous horror films during this era. She might not have the horror pedigree of Danielle Harris, but she certainly made an impression in the genre mainly as Lynda in Halloween. Much like how Curtis help mold the template for the final girl, Lynda help mold the template for the wild promiscuous girl of any slasher movie victim group. Her inhibitions towards sex that emphasized the counterculture movement regarding sex is another turn from the mostly sex free films of the past decades. Her “Totally” catchphrase became one of the film’s numerous quotable lines and her scene with Myers has to be one of the most iconic kill scenes in horror. Lest not also forget her role as one of the bitchy bullies in the 1976 movie adaptation of Carrie. These film roles alone have earned her a spot in the pantheon of scream queens.
Who said scream queens had to be young adults and play the victims? Why not a thirteen year old possessed by a demon? Linda Blair is undoubtedly one of the most recognizable faces in the horror genre. Her rotting, smiling face of evil has been imprinted in our minds for the rest of our days and her performance is the stuff of nightmares. One of the main factors that make The Exorcist such a perfect horror film is Linda Blair’s ability of playing a young and innocent girl to a foul-mouthed and downright frightening vessel for pure evil. She would follow The Exorcist with the sequel The Exorcist II: The Heretic which is a far cry from the original obviously, but proved that she has an affection for the horror genre. Despite the lack of horror roles in her filmography, her role as Regan will forever cement her as a true iconic scream queen.
Although she’s mostly known for her role as Lois Lane in the Christopher Reeve Superman films, Kidder has made quite a footprint in the horror genre during the 70′s. The first playing twin sisters Danielle and Dominique in the Brian De Palma directed horror thriller Sisters. An underrated horror film that sports a great performance from Kidder playing dual roles as the twins, one nice and the other a psychopath. She would follow this movie in a role in the underrated slasher classic Black Christmas as the crude sorority sister Barb. A different role for her as she’s just a foul mouthed sailor with a penchant for talking about the mating patterns of turtles as she delivers lots of great lines. Lastly, her role as Kathy Lutz in The Amityville Horror providing a sympathetic motherly role as things get really spooky in this tale reportedly based on true events. I say if you haven’t checked out her horror work, give it a try. One of the unsung scream queens in the genre.
Lastly, we save another iconic scream queen role for last with actress Marilyn Burns as Sally in the 1974 classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Burns gives another note-worthy role as another template for what future scream queens would model after. She is also one of the best screamers in the horror business along with having a great chase scene with Leatherface in the film. However, don’t be fooled thinking Texas Chainsaw was the only thing of note horror wise in her career. You can also catch her in the obscure Tobe Hooper film Eaten Alive (also starring a then unknown Robert Englund) and the far better than it should be TV movie about the Manson Family murders called Helter Skelter. I also had the fortunate chance to meet her at this year’s Texas Frightmare event in Dallas and she was very sweet. Another classic scream queen.
There you have it. Some of the most prominent names in the genre in the 70′s that helped pave the way for other actresses gain popularity in this beloved genre of ours.