WiHM 2023: From Scream Queen to Lady Badass: An Evolution of Women in Horror

From Scream Queen to Lady Badass: An Evolution of Women in Horror
by: Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Is there anything more cringeworthy in the horror genre than the unfashionable damsel in distress trope?  It’s a hard sway from today’s horror scene, which has at least given actresses a 50/50 chance of being cast as sexpot butcher bait or given a more motivating assignment of kicking evil’s ass.  Or in the contemporary cases of Toni Collette in Hereditary or Lupita Nyong’o in Us, redefining what women can do to the genre, much less for it.

As long as Betty Crocker and Hoover appliances were bleakly tagged upon the kitchen-bound stereotypes of women in pop culture, devaluation of females in horror was likewise an interminable norm.  Let’s face the facts; horror films of yesteryear were seldom rewarding to their leading ladies, especially being outnumbered for work 3 to 1 by the men.

Bad enough those women lucky enough to be cast into a protagonist position in 1950s and later, Eighties horror, were often disposable eye candy.  Females of the drive-in days of the Fabulous Fifties were scripted to divvy just enough common-sense motherly dialogue to ferry the B-level masculine drivel overruling them.  This, as muscleheads in rubber suits, werewolves the palest shade of Lon Chaney, Jr. and stop-motion clay monsters sent women of the Fifties into extreme closeup mode, shrieking their guts out.  Frozen in place for seconds until they were either rescued by alpha intervention or they disappeared from the story altogether offscreen.  In either scenario, done so without a fight.  You just know the ancient warrior goddesses Sekhmet, Hel, Athena and Freya were face-palming themselves at the hapless (and hopeless) sight of these pin curled, Victory rolled “scream queens.”