“There are certain rules that one must abide by to successfully survive a horror movie.” That Randy dude was right. There are certain tropes horror films must include to please fans. We need a survivor, a villain, jump scares, a character who just professed a huge plot point and must now die and a boatload more. And there is one trope in particular that, when done right, can chill even the most hardened of horror hearts. We’re talking, of course, the scream.
Whether it’s Shelley Duvall’s (Tale of the Mummy, 1998) tormented Wendy Torrence cowering from her psychotic husband in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) or Susan Backlinie’s (The Great Muppet Caper, 1981) blood-curdling shrieks as Chrissie Watkins is thrashed about the ocean by a murderous great white shark in Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975), there are some truly terrifying screams in horror film history. October is Sound of Screams month at Nightmare of Film Street, and we’re yelling at the top of our lungs about the Top Ten Best Screams in Horror.
10. MARK PATTON – A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2: FREDDY’S REVENGE (1985)
A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge has always been an interesting installment in the Freddy Kreuger saga, which does a formidable job in bringing Freddy back from the depths of hell for another round of dream killing. Enter self-proclaimed Scream Queen, Mark Patton (Amityville: Evil Never Dies, 2017) who plays Jesse Walsh in the typical final girl role. Mark turns out a great performance as the teenager tormented by the vengeful spirit of the Springwood Slasher. Bit by agonizing bit, Freddy takes control of Jesse’s body, mind, and soul with a transformation scene so agonizing to watch that one has to wonder the places Patton had to go to produce those spine-tingling screams.
9. VERA FARMIGA – THE CONJURING 2 (2016)
Vera Farmiga has emerged as a true queen of horror in the past decade with an impressive resume of spooky cinema to boot. From her turn as Norma Bates on TV’s Bate’s Motel (2013-2017) to a role as an alcoholic, grieving mother in Orphan (2009), the New Jersey native has certainly had her fair share of silver screen screams, but there’s one performance that stands out among the rest.
For the second time in the film’s franchise, Farmiga played real-life demonologist and clairvoyant, the late Lorraine Warren in James Wan’s The Conjuring 2. The Warren’s are put through the wringer as they investigate the Hodgson house in Enfield, England, but it’s the opening scene where Fermiga really blows the doors off with her pipes. In the scene during a seance at the Amityville house on Long Island, NY, Lorraine witnesses a dark presence that may or may not be the cause of the DeFeo murders that happened at the house some years prior. Her earth-shattering screams coming out of the vision are absolutely, undeniably harrowing. It’s a definitely unsettling tone to kick off the movie.
8. AMY STEEL – FRIDAY THE 13th PART 2 (1981)
The Friday the 13th franchise is famous for its screams. If the wails aren’t coming from the actors onscreen, they’re definitely coming from the crowds of teenagers that flocked to movie theaters across the globe to witness Jason Voorhees dispatch the latest group of camp counselors. Out of the many actors and actresses to face off against the Voorhees clan, there is one that when she screamed, you felt her pain.
Everyone’s favorite Friday Final Girl, Ginny Field, played by Amy Steel (April Fool’s Day, 1986) was the ultimate survivor. Not only did she possess beauty but she also had the brains to go up against Crystal Lake’s most infamous citizen challenging him to a psychological duel to the death. She may have won in the end, but her blood-splattered struggle to get there is painted with a soundtrack of her own screams that have haunted audiences for nearly 40 years.
7. FAY WRAY – KING KONG (1933)
You cannot have a Top Ten Screams in Horror list without including the original scream queen, Fay Wray. In what is considered by most to be her most iconic role, Wray’s turn as Anna Darrow in Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack’s 1933 classic King Kong is the stuff of motion picture legends. Her performance laid the groundwork for generations of horror movie survivors to come.
In the scene where Darrow first meets the monster, Wray screams for nearly a minute-twenty straight and we’re not talking about whimpering at a volume, we mean the top of her lung screeches that could peel the paint off of the wall. In fact, the majority of her lines in the picture are some kind of scream or another. Beauty may soothe the savage beast but what soothes the beauty?
6. MEATLOAF – THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975)
When most people think of director Jim Sharman’s (Shock Treatment, 1981) pivotal midnight movie, The Rocky Horror Picture Show they picture Tim Curry (Clue, 1985) decked out in corset and garters, Barry Bostwick (3 From Hell, 2019), and Susan Sarandon (The Hunger, 1983) hanging out in their undies, but behind the camp, beyond the antici…pation are some dark moments that despite the catchy soundtrack and dance numbers houses some real horror.
Meat Loaf’s (Stage Fright, 2014) portrayal of Eddie, Frank-N-Furter’s ex-delivery boy, Columbia’s secret lover, and all-around rock n’ roll bad boy was a grease fueled, helmetless motorcycle ride from hell with a screaming introduction, a screaming musical number, and a most unsettling, screaming death. Eddie’s blood-curdling wails as Frankie bludgeons him to death with a pickaxe bring about a sobering moment following the rousing musical number that precedes it.
5. MUTANT BEAR – ANNIHILATION (2018)
In 2018 director Alex Garland (Ex Machina, 2014) released an all female-driven horror/sci-fi that follows a group of scientists and military elite as they enter a quarantined area where animals have mutated into strange horrific beings directly related to an alien presence. This premise opened the door for al kinds of gristly possibilities and one that stands out immediately is a terrifying character that doesn’t exist in real life but is still very much alive.
The character of the mutant bear, a CGI-created monster that terrorizes the group in an absolutely gut-wrenching scene taut with bleak tension. The beast roars a sound that straddles pain and hunger as it prowls around the team looking for its next meal. It leaks screams as it sniffs around for potential prey, but when it gets too close to devouring one of the crew, Lena, played by Natalie Portman (Black Swan, 2010), pumps its mange-laden hide full of enough lead tasties to down a t-rex. The screams from the animal, at this point, are devastating. The grotesque visual combined with the inhuman audible solidifies this as one of the most unforgettable scenes in the film.
4. JAMIE LEE CURTIS – HALLOWEEN (1978)
Another “given” for the list is horror legend, Jamie Lee Curtis (Road Games, 1981). Take your pick and you are bound to find some juicy JLC screams. I mean, we have Elizabeth Solley’s ear-splitting shrieks in The Fog (1980), Kimberly Hammond’s screaks of shock in Prom Night (1980), and Alana’s bellows of dread in Terror Train (1980), and that’s just the films she did over the course of a year!
But for this list, we felt we should highlight the one that started it all, the one, the only, the classic, Halloween. Throughout John Carpenter’s classic slasher, Curtis’ character Laurie Strode is pursued by escaped mental patient Micheal Myers and in her struggle for survival, she finds the bodies of her recently murdered friends. The terror in Curtis’ screams, as she fights for her life, is palpable in the least and tortuous at it’s most intense. A true talent in her field. Which field, you ask? Well, you know, the one out behind the Lost River Drive-In of course.
3. DREW BARRYMORE – SCREAM (1996)
If there is one scene in the late Wes Craven’s 1996 meta-horror slasher Scream that stands out, it’s the tone-setting opener that features Drew Barrymore in the role of ill-fated high school senior Casey Becker. The scene starts with a semi-playful tone but quickly devolves into a terrorizing prank phone call-gone-really-freaking-wrong scenario that audiences can’t soon forget.
As Ghostface slowly destroys Casey over the phone, the teen’s psychological state becomes more and more unglued, but it’s when her boyfriend is put on bloody display on her back patio that the screams really start. But poor Steve isn’t the only one gutted over Ghostface’s prank call, Casey’s screams tell us in full Dolby Digital sound auditory obliteration. This is one prologue that really lives up to the film’s title.
2. MARILYN BURNS – THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974)
I have to admit that I was probably too young when I first watched Tobe Hooper’s (The Funhouse, 1981) 1974 exploitation extravaganza, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It took me a long time to revisit this one simply because of how much it messed up my poor little eight-year-old brain. I remember hiding my face in my hands a lot, thus missing a lot of the action on my first watch, but the one thing I couldn’t escape was the movie’s soundtrack.
The late Marilyn Burns (Future-Kill, 1985) had a scream that ran through my juvenile brain like a broken record. For days after watching the film, I could still hear her shrieks echoing in my mind. The absolute torment that Sally encounters at the hands of the Sawyer Family is in some ways tougher to stomach than the gory demise of her friends. They, at least, got a quick release from their horrible fates. Sally, on the other hand, wasn’t as fortunate. As she descends into madness, the screaming inside of her brain makes it way out through an endless series of wails and howls that are both chilling and heart-wrenching.
1. JANET LEIGH – PSYCHO (1960)
In many ways, hers was the scream heard around the world. In a film ahead of its time, Alfred Hitchcock’s (The Birds, 1962) proto-slasher Psycho made everyone rethink taking a shower. In fact, star Janet Leigh (Night of the Lepus, 1972) was even quoted in several interviews stating that after watching the film, she herself was leery of taking showers. Maybe that’s because her performance in that scene is the stuff of legends.
Many moviegoers thought Leigh, mother of next-gen horror queen Jamie Lee Curtis, was the star of Psycho and were genuinely surprised when her character, Marion Crane was killed off so soon. Many even said that the scene was made scarier because of this out-of-left-field inclusion in the film. But it wasn’t just the jolt of the lead getting the ax about halfway through the film’s runtime that still makes this scene terrifying some sixty years later, its Marion’s screams that catapults Leigh into the number one spot on this list. If it isn’t already etched into your memory banks, give it a listen below to experience Leigh’s chilling performance.
I’m not going to lie, compiling a Top Ten Screams in Horror list has been a scream, pardon the pun. The horror genre is rich with wails, weeps, and whimpers and quite honestly, anyone (or anything) could have landed on this list. But what do you think? Are there any screams that, ahem, scream out to you that you believe should have been included? Let us know on Twitter, in our Official Subreddit, or in the Horror Movie Fiend Club Facebook Group. Until next time fellow fiends, stay creepy!