Ready Or Not, here she comes: Horror heroines go from props to protagonists
It wasn’t always like this. The earliest scream queens were little more than props, slathered in ketchup as they waited to be mauled by murderous men - picture Janet Leigh being attacked in the shower in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 masterpiece, Psycho. Over the years, starting in the ’70s, these damsels in distress began to take control of their destinies.
The feminist movement of the latter half of the 20th century influenced the portrayal of women across genres in cinema, including in horror pictures. In fact, it was Janet Leigh’s daughter, Jamie Lee Curtis, who took on the mantle in 1978. Her big debut as the teenage Laurie Strode in the first Halloween film is still considered by many to be the defining scream queen performance of our times. Just compare the two clips below.
The idea of a masked stalker looking to cause physical harm to a woman can never be irrelevant, and that’s what made the first Halloween film so scary - the murderous Michael Myers lacked any discernible motivation other than a hunger to hunt, and kill. Such was the influence of the film, and Curtis’s character, that the Halloween franchise was revived (with Curtis playing an older, wiser, but significantly traumatised Laurie Strode), 40 years after the original, in 2018. Two more films are lined up.