Meet the scream queens: Horror's leading ladies

Executive-produced by Guillermo Del Toro, supernatural thriller MAMA opens in UK cinemas this Friday 22nd February.  MAMA (trailer HERE!) stars Jessica Chastain, tipped by many for Oscar glory this weekend, and to celebrate the release, we take a look at some of cinema’s most memorable performances from leading ladies in frightening films.

Jessica Chastain – Mama (2013)

Oscar-nominated twice over a career spanning a mere 3 years, Jessica Chastain turns her eyes to becoming a horror leading lady. Produced by maestro Guillermo Del Toro, Mama focuses on the resurgence of two young girls who move in with their uncle after a 5-year disappearance. Chastain stars as their uncle’s girlfriend Annabel, left alone with the young girls as it becomes clearer that they may not have been alone during their absence. Chastain successfully delivers a memorable performance in a chilling horror that’ll leave you sleepless.

Tippi Hedren – The Birds (1963)

Much has been spoken about Tippi Hedren’s on-set experiences with her director on The Birds, Alfred Hitchcock. What people may forget however is that Hedren turns in an incredibly nuanced performance as a woman embroiled unsuspectingly in horror when birds begin attacking bystanders without reason. Her status as leading lady is enhanced by Hitchcock’s skill of fooling the audience into believing that they are watching a drama, not a horror, shaping the actresses presence as a beacon of bravery by the film’s end.



Mia Farrow – Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Mia Farrow plays Rosemary Woodhouse, the woman who fears that her husband has made a pact with their occultist neighbours to sacrifice their unborn baby upon its birth. Farrow, with her petite appearance serving well to depict her increasing frailty as the film goes on, conveys her hysteria perfectly; as the lines between dream and reality blur for Rosemary, they do for the watching viewer also, fearing not only for Farrow’s Rosemary – but her unborn baby too.

Sissy Spacek – Carrie (1976)

Adapted from the Stephen King novel, Sissy Spacek is a differing leading lady in the sense that Carrie White is the vulnerable, attacked innocent – who by the end has evolved into the one to be feared. Brian De Palma skilfully tracks her evolution by showing the horror through the way in which Carrie is bullied and humiliated by her school friends, to her climactic telekinetic payback at the school prom. Spacek tows the line between victim and tormentor to an Oscar-nominated degree.   



Jamie Lee Curtis – Halloween (1978)

Michael Myers is the deranged killer who returns to Haddonfield, Illinois on the 31st October following his escape from a mental institution; targeting babysitters, a then-unknown Jamie Lee Curtis played Laurie Strode, a schoolgirl who is relentlessly pursued by the masked killer, culminating in a classic climax in which she shows why she is the quintessential ‘Scream Queen’ (no surprises – she’s the daughter of Psycho’s Janet Leigh.)

Sigourney Weaver – Alien (1979)

In what was Sigourney Weaver’s first screen role, Ellen Ripley has endured as one of the most memorable leading ladies, not only in horror, but in film. When an alien begins dispatching of crew members onboard spaceship Nostromo, Ripley transforms from damsel in distress to action heroine who happens to be stuck in a horror film by the climax. A pioneering role as much for the genre as it was for the actress.  



Jodie Foster – The Silence of the Lambs (1990)

Clarice Starling is Jodie Foster’s defining role, an FBI trainee agent who seeks the advice of cannibal Dr. Hannibal Lecter to assist in the hunt of a serial killer on the loose. Her innocence translates well in order to become a leading lady audiences can root for, fear for and like all in one – it is debatable whether another actress in Foster’s shoes could have achieved the same feat.

Neve Campbell – Scream (1996)

Although there have been four Scream films, the most memorable scene takes place right at the very start, in the 1996 original where Drew Barrymore meets her maker in the form of a horror-movie obsessed Ghostface masked slasher. Sidney Prescott is the franchise’s female hero though, played by Neve Campbell. Evading death over four films, Campbell plays Sidney with the perfect amount of innocence, ensuring the audience fear for her safety but trust in her ability to get away. She’s pretty good on her horror movie trivia aswell.  



Nicole Kidman – The Others (2001)

Originally supposed to be played by Jodie Foster, Nicole Kidman’s appearance as Grace Stewart in The Others is an effective one, successfully toeing the line between scepticism and suspension of disbelief when she grows convinced her house is being haunted. Grace is our viewpoint as the film transpires – we follow suit to her reactions, meaning the film’s success lies on Kidman’s skills as an actress. As it stands, The Others is a brilliantly-crafted chiller.

Katie Featherston – Paranormal Activity (2009)

Leading lady in the original, cameo in every entry since (and counting,) Katie Featherston plays, er... Katie Featherston in 2009’s Paranormal Activity. Believing she is haunted by a paranormal entity, her sceptic boyfriend Micah buys a video camera, leaving it to run throughout the night -unveiling some horrifyingly strange goings-on. Relentlessly taunted like many others on this list, Katie conveys the fear of someone who isn’t safe in their own home with serious conviction.

MAMA is in UK cinemas from Friday February 22. Check out the trailer HERE.


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