Scream Queens: From Jaws’ Denise Cheshire to The Phantom of the Opera’s Mary Philbin
It’s Halloween 2012, a great time for us to post — or rather, repost, with modifications / updates — our (belated) Halloween 2011 list of cinema’s Top Ten Scream Queens. (Photo: Denise Cheshire as an early white-shark dinner in Steven Spielberg’s Jaws.)
Important: I’ve listed the Top Ten Scream Queens. Hence, you won’t find any screaming guys (i.e., Scream Kings) on the list below (and in the follow-up posts). But what have I got against guys who scream in horror, whether in movies or in life? The answer is: absolutely nothing.
There are no Scream Kings on my list simply because the vast majority of movie heroes (and anti-heroes) suffer from emotional constipation. They’re too cowardly and/or uptight to demonstrate qualities that help to make human beings human, e.g., fear (or downright horror), pain, passion, lust, etc. Their loss; and really, ours as well — in case we’re stupid enough to take those castrated psyches as something to be emulated.
The movies’ Top Ten Scream Queens
10 - Mary Philbin, The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
True, Rupert Julian’s The Phantom of the Opera is a silent film. In other words, top Universal star Mary Philbin’s piercing scream when she first sees The Phantom’s skull-like face was all in my head. But it worked. Lon Chaney at his most grotesque had the title role; Norman Kerry was Philbin’s dashing leading man.
9 - Patricia Owens, The Fly (1958)
Wouldn’t you also scream if you saw a fly named Andre — who happens to be your husband, no less — coming straight at you? In Kurt Neumann’s The Fly, David Hedison plays the unlucky Andre, a scientist who swaps heads with a buzzing fly. Curiously, I find the 1958 B movie more memorable than David Cronenberg’s darker, more complex remake starring Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis.
8 - Denise Cheshire, Jaws (1975)
Few people know the name of the woman who becomes shark meal at the beginning of Steven Spielberg’s 1975 summer blockbuster Jaws. On the other hand, just about everyone knows her moment of screen glory. The first time I saw Jaws I was a kid. To this day, I look for shark fins even in swimming pools.
7 - Jane Wyman, Johnny Belinda (1948)
Once again, the screaming in Johnny Belinda was all in my head, but Jane Wyman’s Oscar-winning star turn as a mute young woman who gets raped remains one of my favorite of the ’40s. Jean Negulesco directed this underrated drama, co-starring Lew Ayres.
6 - Claire Bloom and Julie Harris, The Haunting (1963)
I first saw Robert Wise’s The Haunting when I was a little kid. Debbie Does Dallas wouldn’t have been acceptable for me to watch because of the graphic sex, but this psychological horror drama (with a strong sexual undercurrent) was. I had nightmares for weeks.
What am I saying? I’ve been traumatized for life. Every time I see a locked door I wonder if some powerful, evil force is waiting for me on the other side — like the one out to get terrified Julie Harris and Claire Bloom in Wise’s horror classic. Dallas’ Debbie and her much more benign, fun-loving pals would never have had that same effect on my young and impressionable psyche.
Jack Clayton’s The Innocents (1961), starring Deborah Kerr as a sexually repressed Christian governess who sees ghosts (and sex) everywhere she turns, didn’t help matters any, I might add.
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Denise Cheshire Jaws image: Universal Pictures.