Women are scary. They’re scary because we live in constant fear of their rejection. They’re scary because sometimes we look at them and strange glandular secretions do a speed lap through our blood stream. They’re scary because they take away our ability to speak or think clearly or not break into uncontrollable sweats….
So it’s only fitting those fears should be tweaked, twisted, and thrown on the big screen. The horror landscape has more females than Dracula’s Castle (FYI: the dude had a legit harem)—some of them brave heroines facing their fears, others bloodthirsty monsters inflicting them. Here are the 10 women of horror we’ve deemed most memorable—even if we’d like to forget we ever encountered some of them.
1. Sydney Prescott, Scream
Wes Craven’s Scream gave the dusty mid-’90s horror landscape a much-needed reboot, making knife-wielding psychopaths as trendy as frosted tips and boy bands. It did this with a half-ironic approach to the conventions of slasher flicks (most famously with Jamie Kennedy’s “Rules to Surviving a Horror Film” speech). But anchoring all those knowing winks is the deadly serious Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell), the dark-haired heroine who watches her best friends get slashed off one-by-one with a tearful-yet-strong dignity. She was to ’90s horror what Alanis Morisette was to ’90s music.
2. Helen, I Know What You Did Last Summer
It would be criminal to list the most iconic women in horror without including TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Sarah Michelle Gellar). Unfortunately this is a list devoted to films, and the only way to get Ms. Gellar on the big board is though Helen, the bubbly beauty queen whose late-night hit-and-run haunts her—specifically, it “haunts” a giant fishhook into her dead back.
3. Dana Scully, The X-Files: Fight the Future
With the horror landscape full of heroines who seem to live in a state of perpetual high-pitched frenzied insanity, FBI agent and forensic scientist Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) stands out as a beacon of quiet and methodical coolness in the face of extraterrestrials, government conspiracies, monsters…and the sexual perversion of David Duchovny.
4. Nancy Thompson, A Nightmare on Elm Street
With three films and a decade of Nightmare on Elm Street installments between them, the level-headed Nancy (Heather Langencamp) and the sarcastic Freddy Kreuger are the closest thing horror has to a “will they?/won’t they?” couple — specifically “Will they or won’t they send one another to the bowels of Hell?”
5. Juno, Sarah, Beth, Sam and Rebecca, The Descent
A quintet of supermodel-hot women go on a foolhardy cave-diving trip and find themselves pursued by grotesque subterranean Gollums. Twenty years ago, they would have been picked off one-by-one until Jean Claude Van-Damme arrives, rescues the soul survivor, and sleeps with her in the back of a hellicopter. But in 2005’s The Descent, the all-female survivors fight, dismember, decapitate, eye-gouge and generally kick the shit out of the underground ghouls better than the Mussels from Brussels ever could.
6. Marion Queen, Psycho
All hail the Queen of Scream Queens. Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) stepped into the shower of the Bates Motel as a petty thief on the run and stepped out of the it… actually, she never stepped out of the shower. But when Norman Bates tore the curtain away and raised his mom’s kitchen knife, Crane let out the shriek that launched a genre. If only she were alive to enjoy the glory.
7. Dren, Splice
Splice is less of a horror film and more of a strange socio-sexual experiment on horror audiences. In the film’s grotesque, captivating 104 minutes, Dren the lab-created amphibious humanoid goes from disgusting to terrifying to disturbingly sexy to naked and riding on top of Adrian Brody in a barn like a demonic porn star. And by the film’s end, we realize the true monster is us… for being kind of turned on.
8. Bride of Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein
She may have been created for the sole purpose of providing Frankenstein with a spouse, but as Frankenstein eloquently reminds us in Bride of Frankenstein: “Friend, good.” Besides, Frank’s Beau stands as the breakout female ghoul at a time when the Universal Monster landscape was populated by males: Count Dracula, The WolfMAN, and the Bro From the Black Lagoon.
9. Rosemary Woodhouse, Rosemary’s Baby
Any woman can be a mother. But only a great woman can be a mom. And only Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow) could be a mom to a cursed reptilian demon child. But that’s just what Rosemary does in the notorious conclusion of Roman Polanski’s demonic pregnancy thriller. (Yes, Roman Polanski made a movie about pregnancy. Process that information as you must.)
10. Samara, The Ring
Okay, so Samara, the soggy-haired star of the world’s worst straight-to-video movie (it kills you after seven days), is more of a literal babe. As in, young—but still completely horrifying. She joins Damien, Danny Torrence and The Children of the Corn as an alumni of The Preschool From Hell. When Samara crawled out of a possessed TV to — uh, I guess, liquify? — her first victims, she did for our VCRs what Friday the 13th did for our hockey masks, The Shining did for our elevators, and The Evil Dead did for our books bound in human flesh.