My wife Sarah Virginia Brock is a scream queen. I’m not being biased when I say her accomplishments humble me. She has been featured in numerous radio interviews as well as the recently released book Queens of Scream the New Blood, I encourage everyone to check it out. I understand there is a soon to be released documentary on scream queens containing excerpts from an interview with Sarah, which I happen to know is outstanding as I’m the one who filmed her portions. I’m very proud of my scream queen wife.
The other day she received an online offer from a presumably real film studio to create a fifteen minute promotional video that she could sell of herself at conventions. However, this website’s understanding of what a scream queen is felt incredibly shallow to me, basically amounting to nothing more than a woman who runs around in her undergarments screaming about various life threatening culprits, like casting agents and online film studio executives.
I believe scream queens are a misunderstood lot. The women in these roles are called upon to motivate the audience into caring about the movie. Is this archetype based on sexism? Of course it is. A scream queen is always attractive and vulnerable, and subsequently more valuable to the film than the other characters. I suppose we should care about all of the characters equally, but it isn’t going to happen. The scream queen holds a higher place of honor in the plot’s unveiling. Her presentation is carefully revealed and her fate is spotlighted.
Which, as a man who has done a bit of acting, I’m envious of the attention she gets and relieved that I never have to feel that pressure. I’m an introvert. I don’t scream on roller coasters. In traffic I calmly discuss the fundamentals of the turn signal to the other drivers long after they have disappeared from my line of sight. I would never be able to convince an audience that they should be concerned about my demise. I avoid charisma checks as much as possible.
The Blair Witch Project comes to mind. Remember Heather? Remember how we all felt that we would have killed her ourselves? A scream queen doesn’t just scream. A scream queen screams with perfect timing and with appropriate significance. A lot of people think cheerleaders are innately attractive, but I always think about how ridiculous it is to spell the word victory at the top of one’s lungs when not only is the opposing team winning but they’ve offered to send a few guys over to help. Scream queens don’t get to fail their charisma check. Their role in the movie is to make the audience care about the prey, and when they fail they audience starts rooting for the predator. That’s a hard position to be in.
I actually can’t think of the male equivalent of the scream queen. Marathon Man put Dustin Hoffman in the role of the victim but no one classifies him as a scream king. Donnie Wahlberg was tortured through three Saw movies but Shawnee Smith still walks away with the tiara. David Arquette is arguably the most vulnerable character in the Scream trilogy, but it’s Courteney Cox who steals the title.
When men scream it seems to have a very different subtext than sympathy. I’m thinking Leonidas’s war cries in 300. Men scream because they’re firing machine guns, or they’re fronting garage bands, or they’re Sam Kinison. Men who scream at the approach of Freddy Krueger lose the audience’s sympathy.
But then there’s Hudson played by Bill Paxton in Aliens. Mr. “Game over man!” himself. With Sigourney Weaver filling in as John McClain and Jenette Goldstein doubling for John Rambo, Bill Paxton is clearly the scream queen of the picture. In fact, I’ve just learned something about scream queens from Bill, their signature character is in the horror franchise. Fay Wray will always be associated with King Kong, just as Jamie Lee Curtis is Laurie Strode before she’s Wanda Gershwitz. Bill Paxton will always be Private William Hudson. “Well that’s great man! Are you ready to go back to Titanic man?” And as the only actor to be killed by an alien, a predator and a terminator I submit his name for entry into the noble Scream Queen Hall of Fame.