Ready Or Not, here she comes: Horror heroines go from props to protagonists
Samara Weaving typifies the new damsel in grave danger. She isn’t just armed and ready to fight back, she’s also taking on decades of injustice.Updated: Sep 21, 2019 22:26 IST
Scream queens have existed since before the term was coined. Samara Weaving is the latest in strange and seductive bloodline of horror heroines who’ve been bestowed with this tiara of terror. Her performance in the newly released film Ready or Not is an excellent example of how scream queens have evolved over the years — she is independent, resourceful and, crucially, self-aware.
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.
While earlier, more schlocky horror films seemed satisfied with the idea of inflicting revenge upon one’s attackers, a more recent spate of scary movies has attempted to uncover the underlying sexism of the genre. Wes Craven, the filmmaker who challenged the Hollywood establishment with his low-budget, DIY-style movies in the 1970s, created the self-referential series, Scream, in the ’90s, which established Neve Campbell as Curtis’s successor. Campbell’s contemporaries included Sarah Michelle Gellar and Jennifer Love Hewitt. It was around the same time that Bipasha Basu was crowned Bollywood’s scream queen, after appearances in Raaz and Jism.
The arrival of the internet has altered the idea of scream queens even more drastically. The characters are now woke, burdened not just by immediate problems but also by decades of injustice. They are united by a shared paranoia, but instead of evading danger, they confront it. Before Weaving, actors such as Anya Taylor-Joy, Maika Monroe, the Farmiga sisters — Vera and Taissa — have all held the crown. Others will surely inherit it. The fire remains lit; the torch ready to be passed on.
First Published: Sep 21, 2019 22:26 IST