Women in Horror: The Fabulous Horror Queens Of The 1980s


It’s Women in Horror month at 1428 Elm. Join us as we take a look back at the fierce females who lit up the screen during the reign of the slasher film.

The golden age of horror, for me, will forever be the ’80s. Some of my favorite all-time movies in the genre are from my formative years.  I made a list of some of the influential actresses of the era. So, let’s go retro and discuss the fabulous queens of horror.


Adrienne Barbeau as Maggie in John Carpenter’s ‘Escape from New York’ – Courtesy of AVCO Embassy Pictures

Adrienne Barbeau –  Not many people may know this, but Adrienne Barbeau started out as the original Rizzo in Grease on Broadway.  Before her turn as the female lead in her then husband’s movies, John Carpenter, she was best known as Bea Arthur’s daughter, Carol on Maude. During the ’80s, she appeared in several horror classics such as The Fog, Escape from New York, Swamp Thing and Creepshow.  Always ready to kick ass and take names, not only was she sexy but she was tough and could hold her own with the heroes.

Memorable Character and Scene: Maggie in Escape from New York. Making her last stand by firing at the Duke (Isaac Hayes) who kills her by running her down.

Dee Wallace as Donna Trenton in Lewis Teague’s ‘Cujo’ – Courtesy of Warner Brothers

Dee Wallace – In the ’80s, Dee excelled at playing wolf mamas who would do anything to protect their offspring. One of her most famous roles was as Elliot’s mother in the beloved sci-fi film, E.T. She followed that up with Cujo. Some of Dee’s other notable horror films were The Howling, Critters and Shadow Play.

Memorable Character and Scene: Donna Denton in Cujo. Fighting the rabid dog single-handedly with a baseball bat and impaling him. This is proof that beneath Dee’s mild mannered neighborhood Mom persona lurked a tough horror heroine.

Deborah Foreman in Fred Walton’s ‘April Fools Day’ – Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Deborah Foreman – Known for playing the sweet girl next door who has steel resolve, Deborah Foreman cut her teeth on horror films. In 1983, Foreman starred in Grizzly II: The Concert along with a then unknown, George Clooney. During this time, she also managed to star in some mainstream fare like Valley Girl with Nicolas Cage and Real Genius with Val Kilmer. However, she returned to the genre in 1986 with April Fool’s Day. She followed that film with starring turns in Waxwork and Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat with Bruce Campbell.

Memorable Character and Scene: Sarah Brightman in Waxwork. Killing the Marquis de Sade with an axe. Enough said.

Barbara Crampton as Megan Halsey in Stuart Gordon’s ‘Re-Animator’ – Courtesy of Empire Pictures

Barbara Crampton – Fun fact for fans of Ms. Crampton — before she was a horror queen, she had a brief run on Days of Our Lives back in 1983. Barbara played the sexy studious type very well. Two years later she became Stuart Gordon’s muse in Re-Animator and following that film, she also starred in Chopping Mall. In 1986, she reunited with Gordon again for From Beyond.

Memorable Character and Scene:  Dr. Katherine McMichaels. The following scene is not for the squeamish. In From Beyond, when she is about to have her brain eaten by Crawford Tillinghast (Jeffrey Combs), she bites off his protruding pineal gland.

Heather Langenkamp as Nancy Thompson in Wes Craven’s ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ – Courtesy of New Line Cinema

Heather Langenkamp – Heather was just 20 years old when she starred in Wes Craven’s chilling opus, A Nightmare on Elm Street. Her character of Nancy, a naïve and impressionable young girl soon became a popular heroine. A little bit of trivia, Heather beat out Demi Moore, Courteney Cox, Tracey Gold, and Jennifer Grey for the coveted role. Three years later, Langenkamp returned in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors.  In 1989, Heather was in another Craven production, Shocker.

Memorable Character and Scene: Nancy Thompson in A Nightmare on Elm Street. Pulling Freddy out of her dreams and into reality. She finally ends his reign of terror by stripping him of his powers.

Next: Women in Horror: Top 30 Female Horror Movie Characters

I hope you enjoyed the throwback to the era of slasher films and the women who made them classics.

What ’80s horror heroine is your favorite? Do you have any other names to add to the list? Let us know in the comment section below.