The Girls of Horror - free poster in this issue The Girls of Horror

After Scream, the role of the female lead in Horror movies has changed beyond recognition – or has it?

A Shivers feature by James Abery

selected from Shivers #63

Last month we examined how the Boys of Horror have, of late, got younger and prettier, and have rather lost out to a series of ball-breaking heroines. Now we look at some of the talented and beautiful actresses who are unashamedly taking the lead in the Horror genre.

The conventional wisdom goes that in the Seventies and early Eighties, the female lead was a graveyard part in every sense of the word. The vapid heroine wandered around after her strapping boyfriend, got undressed, got laid and got slaughtered. Nowadays, they say, after 1996’s Scream, the conventions of the so-called slasher movie have been readdressed – the female characters are newly empowered, smart and sassy. So they may be, but they’re still getting slaughtered.

The only difference with the heroines of Scream and their ilk is that the characters know that they are canon fodder, if you’ll pardon the pun. They know they are going to die, and why. This post-modernism is indeed a wonderful thing.

Research reveals that 20 years ago, the girls were already up there kicking ass with the best of them. The first of the no-bullshit Horror heroines included Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley in Alien and Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode in Halloween. Ripley battled through three more Alien movies, progressing from a ferociously defensive single-mother icon to a kind of Joan of Arc figure, eventually ending up by a process of cloning as part-alien herself. Progress? I don’t think so. Jamie Lee Curtis returned to play a washed-up, broken-down, emotionally-tormented Laurie in Halloween: 20 Years Later, which could be seen as an advance in terms of characterization, but it was rather hard on poor old Laurie.

Writer Joss Whedon took things a step further in empowering the female heroine with his script for the film Buffy The Vampire Slayer. The nominal male star, Luke Perry, was little more than a foil to Buffy (Kristy Swanson), who, under the tutelage of grizzly Donald Sutherland, got all the action and did all the slaying.

With The X-Files topping the ratings, Warner Brothers looked around for a suitable paranormal series with which to strike back, and lighted upon Buffy. So Buffy bounced back in the form of Sarah Michelle Gellar, accompanied by the wonderful Willow – an inspirational piece of characterization brought to inimitable life by Alyson Hannigan. Willow is insecure and gauche, and she often speaks without thinking. (How novel! She’s just like the rest of us...)

But occasionally her blurted truisms carry more wisdom than any of The X-Files ponderous monologues, and in the later stories, when Willow develops a talent for a little bit of witchcraft, she fulfills her potential as a kind of wise-beyond-her-years Earth-mother figure. It would be comforting to think that the future of the female Horror lead lay in characters like these.

In this issue we look at three of the most recent Horror heroines: Alyson Hannigan, Neve Campbell and Jennifer Love Hewitt. Next month: Sarah Michelle Gellar and Charisma Carpenter

Girls of Horror poster copyright Visual Imagination

Get the poster and profiles in Shivers #63
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