Is ‘Scream Queen’ An Offensive Term For Horror Actresses?


Beloved horror movie actress Barbara Crampton is someone I would endearingly call a “scream queen”, but doing so might piss her off. Which one of us is wrong?

You’re Next and Re-Animator actress Barbara Crampton is someone I truly admire.

As a horror movie fan, I’ve seen quite a bit of Crampton’s work. Whether it’s from an 80s cult classic like Chopping Mall or a quality modern horror like We Are Still Here, Crampton always kills it. It would be with great pleasure for me to call her one of the greatest scream queens of all time.

But if Crampton were to hear me say that, let’s just say she wouldn’t be as big a fan of me as I am of her. The actress has taken to the internet and social media to publicly decry the term “scream queen”. Just take a peek at the tweet below to see what I mean.

Crampton goes further in-depth on her feelings on the term in an online article, as well. Whether you agree with her or not, I recommend checking out the full piece; it’s a quality read. And Crampton does make some good points on why she hates being called a “scream queen”. Such as the case in this excerpt:

"“This moniker of Scream Queen is limiting in description and also limiting in its ability to reveal that these actresses are more than the sum of the strain of their vocal cords. For many, like myself, it has cemented a career in a beloved genre, yet for some it has also reduced the roles they are offered in other genres, having pigeonholed them to one sort of film work.”"

I genuinely get her concern. But I wholeheartedly disagree with her assessment. She’s allowed to feel however she wants, and I’ll give her the respect of not using that label with her specifically. But I think I speak for many horror fans when I say we use the term “scream queen” with the upmost regard for the actress. It’s one of the greatest compliments to come from fans of the genre.

It seems like Crampton is misinterpreting the real meaning of the phrase. No, being a “scream queen” doesn’t mean you’re only good for literally screaming and nothing else. We’re really saying you’re one of the best actresses to ever grace our beloved genre with your presence. The “queen” part comes from being at the top of the class, and adding “scream” in front of it just links it to the horror genre.

As far as typecasting horror actresses, I wouldn’t attribute that to the term specifically. Unfortunately this happens with actors and actresses all across the board, in every film genre. I don’t think casting directors were saying to themselves, “Well I was going to cast that actress, until I heard someone call her a scream queen”. After all, the most famous scream queen of them all, Jamie Lee Curtis, didn’t let it stall her career. She’s even coming full circle by starring on a freakin’ TV show called Scream Queens.

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In short, being a scream queen means having one (or more) of the greatest performances in all of horror cinema. It does NOT mean your only talent is screaming and you’re cursed to stay in the horror genre. I can’t wait to see you in Death House, Barbara. But I promise I won’t call you a scream queen— even if I personally believe that you are one of the very best of them all.

What do you think, horror fans? Is scream queen a compliment, or are we retiring the term? Let me know how you feel in the comments below.