The horror genre has been defined over time by its most memorable characters and performances. However, though it tends to be the slashers and villains that serve as the enduring images we associate with great horror films, it’s often the ordinary people—be they victims, supporting characters, good folks turning to evil, etc.—who make the films great. So with the Halloween film season upon us, and hopefully more great performances on the way, here’s our look back at horror’s most memorable actresses and the projects they brought to life.
Any list like this has to begin with Jamie Lee Curtis, who’s arguably the most recognizable horror film actress of all time. Her first major role was the masterpiece HALLOWEEN(1978), which as Flavorwire points out ultimately became the highest grossing independent film ever made up to that point. The film is still recognized by most as one of the great horror/slasher projects of all time, and Curtis also starred in the 1981 sequel (“HALLOWEEN II”). She had a subtle role 1983’s “HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH,” and she even reprises her role as Laurie Strode in 1998’s strange continuation, “HALLOWEEN H20: 20 YEARS LATER.”
If that list of films in the HALLOWEEN franchise comprised the entirety of Curtis’s involvement with the genre, it would be enough to count her among horror’s most memorable actresses. But Curtis’s legacy extends even further, first in the fact that her own mother was a renowned horror actress—Janet Leigh, who received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO(1960); and second in that she also starred in films like THE FOG and PROM NIGHT(1980).
Sometimes the best genre actors and actresses are the ones that just never quite seem to leave what they’re best at behind them. Linda Blair is a great example in this regard, as her signature role in a horror film came in THE EXORCIST(1973) when she was a teenager. It goes without saying that this was one of the greatest horror triumphs in film history, but many might not remember that Blair won a Golden Globe for her performance. She was nominated for an Academy Award as well.
Unfortunately, Blair has yet to capture that same sort of glory in her career since THE EXORCIST, but it’s oddly refreshing to see a child star stick to horror flicks, independent films, and B-movies when she probably could have sold out and done something different. She’s been nominated multiple times for “Golden Raspberry Awards,” or “Razzies,” which are basically mock awards going to the worst performances in film categories.
However, for her work in THE EXORCIST, its sequel, she’s earned a spot on the list.
Adrienne King’s filmography has been fairly light since she starred in the film that made her famous-but has made a recent comeback and was interviewed by Mr. Lobo in 2008 at the Sacramento Horror Film Festival. It was King who played the role of Alice Hardy in the iconic original FRIDAY THE 13TH(1980).” Since waking in the hospital after being dragged underwater by Jason (arguably the most infamous villain in horror film history), King has faded somewhat from memory (though she did also star in the 1981 sequel). But her contribution to horror history remains massive, as FRIDAY THE 13TH proved to have one of the most extensive legacies in the genre.
Not only was there a sequel in 1981, but through 2009, 12 total films based on or spun from the 1980 original have been made. This includes additional “Friday” sagas and a sort of sub-series of Jason material. In fact, the original film even had a wide enough following to inspire an adult film parody from Zero Tolerance (officially titled, simply, OFFICIAL FRIDAY THE 13TH PARODY). According to Adam and Eve, the movie features the “legendary Jason himself” hunting down a sex-crazed staff at Crystal Lake. Huh, sounds a lot like the original right?
Perhaps the most well-known actress from the Hammer Films heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, Barbara Shelley certainly belongs on the Mt. Rushmore of horror actresses. Horror-Movies.ca notes that Shelley starred in eight films for Hammer during these two decades, with her biggest success probably coming in the form of DRACULA, PRINCE OF DARKNESS(1966).” Although, it’s worth mentioning that her noteworthy scream in that film was actually dubbed by a co-star!
While her eight Hammer films were more than enough to establish Shelley’s legacy as a noteworthy genre actress, she also had some interesting side projects. While Adrienne King merely starred in a work that eventually inspired an adult film parody, Shelley dabbled in some more adult-themed content as well. To be clear, she was never an adult film actress, but her film VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED(1960) more or less concerned sexual assault by aliens.