The 80s were an important time for horror. John Carpenter helped establish the slasher template in 1978 with Halloween and the genre went from from strength to strength (as well as sequel to sequel) throughout the decade. Wes Craven moved from video nasties Last House on the Left and the Hills Have Eyes into the mainstream thanks to the success of Nightmare on Elm Street, and a certain hockey-masked villain would become an enduring icon of horror for years to come. Sci-fi (The Fly, The Thing, Aliens) and comedy (Re-Animator, Gremlins) were well-represented in the genre as were gore fests (Evil Dead) and the hauntingly atmospheric (The Shining). It’s fair to say that some of the most critically acclaimed horror movies as well as future cult hits were released during the decade, but one other timeless attribute of the genre also emerged – the scream queen. Many horror movies rely entirely on their leading lady and some of these actresses became the faces of 80s horror.
10. Adrienne King
The ‘final girl’ is one of horror’s most important tropes. The term refers to the last character who is left alive at the end of the movie, which usually happens to be a female. Friday the 13th (1980) is one of the earliest and most popular slashers from the decade and it played an important role in defining the final girl legacy for the genre. Adrienne King gives a spirited performance as Alice, the only survivor of Mrs. Voorhees’ murderous rampage at Camp Crystal Lake. Alice decapitates her at the end of the movie but she is killed in the opening minutes of Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981) by a vengeful Jason. King had been pursued by a stalker after the success of the first movie and asked for her role in the sequel to be as small as possible. She dropped out of the industry for 20 years but she left a lasting mark on the horror genre.
9. Linda Blair
Linda Blair became a horror legend as a child actress thanks to her performance as Regan in the Exorcist and she even managed to bag herself an Oscar nomination for the role. However, a well-publicised drugs bust arrest at the age of 18 very nearly blacklisted her completely in Hollywood and she was forced to star in a string of B-movies. Nevertheless, Blair was always a good sport and had an engaging screen presence when she appeared in a string of 80s horror titles like Hell Night (1981), Witchery (1988) and the Chilling (1989) as well as a string of seedy exploitation movies.
8. Brinke Stevens
The 80s saw many horror franchises break through into the mainstream and become part of the decade’s pop culture, but there was still plenty of B-movie schlock being churned out by the industry. Brinke Stevens was definitely one of the highlights from this genre and the raven-haired vixen starred in cult favourites like The Slumber Party Massacre (1982), Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama (1988) and Nightmare Sisters (1988). She’s steadily worked in the genre ever since and is now more in demand than even
7. Caroline Munro
Caroline Munro was another sexy scream queen who was impossible to ignore whenever she appeared on screen. The former model turned actress had made splash in the horror genre thanks to roles in the Hammer movies during the 70s, but she really came into her own during the 80s appearing in cult hits like Maniac (1980), Don’t Open Till Christmas (1984) and Slaughter High (1986) and Faceless (1988).
6. Barbara Crampton
Barbara Crampton was an actress who embraced horror and always gave her roles everything she had. She collaborated with director Stuart Gordon in cult 80s films Re-Animator (1985) and From Beyond (1986) – both of which featured her in some pretty weird nude scenes – and featured in the unashamedly goofy Chopping Mall (1986). She still works in the genre and recently appeared in Rob Zombie’s the Lords of Salem (2012) and the slasher revival flick You’re Next (2011).
5. Adrienne Barbeau
Adrienne Barbeau was one of horror’s leading sex symbols during the early 80s. Married to John Carpenter for 5 years, Barbeau made the unlikely leap from Broadway and sitcom success to collaborating with her husband director on the likes of The Fog (1980) and the cult sci-fi hit Escape for New York (1981). She also turned in memorable performances in Swamp Thing (1982) and Creepshow (1982).
4. Dee Wallace
Although her most famous role was as Elliot’s mother in E.T. (1982), Dee Wallace is better-known to horror fans for her performances in the genre throughout the 80s. Wallace had starring roles in the likes of The Howling (1981), Cujo (1983) and Critters (1986). Unlike most entries on this list, Wallace played the mother or wife role in these films and the characters were a far cry away from the doe-eyed, college-aged teens usually associated with the horror genre. However, her performances always played against stereotype and she represented a different side to the scream queen idea. Although she went on to have a varied and successful career, Wallace is still proud of her horror roots and she became a familiar face on the convention circuit.
3. Linnea Quigley
Some scream queens bring the sex appeal rather than the ‘girl next door’ looks. Linnea Quigley’s name may be not be as recognizable as others on this list, but she’ll be familiar to anyone who has ever seen the Return of the Living Dead (1985) or Night of the Creeps (1986). In the former she performs an unforgettable striptease in a graveyard (and later comes back as a nude zombie) and in Night of the Creeps she is probably best remembered for a shocking scene where she pushes a tube of lipstick into her nipple and it goes right through into her breast. Both scenes have probably been rewatched by movie fans countless times over the years (and for very different reasons), but this nude happy actress has always been proud of her horror roots and starred in classics like Graduation Day (1981), Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984) and Creepozoids (1987) as well as many, many other genre movies.
2. Heather Langenkamp
Heather Langenkamp may not have many horror credentials to her name – in fact, her entire filmography is pretty spotty – but she played one of the most iconic characters from any horror franchise. Langenkamp played protagonist Nancy Thompson in Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and her girl next door looks put a very different spin on what most audiences expected from a scream queen. Nancy was a spirited, resourceful character who took charge when she was being pursued by the dream stalker Freddy Krueger and she didn’t have to be rescued by a male hero in the final act. Langenkamp returned to the role for the third Nightmare entry Dream Warriors (1987) and again in New Nightmare (1994), but her only other notable horror entry during the 80s was a cameo in Wes Craven’s horror Shocker (1989) playing a corpse in a body bag. She’s bounced between TV and movie work ever since but she’ll always be remembered as one of the most important final girls in horror.
1. Jamie Lee Curtis
Jamie Lee Curtis had scream queen in her genes. Her mother Janet Leigh became the most memorable horror movie victim of all time when she was killed in that shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic ‘Psycho’, but Jamie Lee Curtis would go on to play a scream queen who was much harder to kill. In 1978, Curtis starred in John Carpenter’s seminal slasher Halloween. Playing the ultimate final girl Laurie Strode, Curtis had helped establish one of horror’s most enduring tropes and the huge success of the movie (it became one of the most profitable independent films ever made) boosted her career. However, Curtis didn’t turn her back on the genre which made her a name. She reteamed with Carpenter again for supernatural horror the Fog (1980) and starred in lesser genre efforts like Prom Night (1980), Terror Train (1980), Road Games (1981) and Halloween II (1981). Although it wasn’t long before she moved toward comedy and drama, she eventually came back to the Halloween series for the final entries Halloween: H20 (1998) and Halloween Resurrection (2002) before it was given the reboot treatment courtesy of Rob Zombie.