While the past year and a half have been scary enough, horror movies and television shows still grasp our attention. One possible reason, according to a 2018 study, is that horror media helps us face our fears in a controlled environment.
With October here and Halloween around the corner, it is the perfect time to break out some horror films and television shows. Many horror movies feature scream queens which are essential to the plot – and may be the sole survivor, also known as the final girl.
It turns out that many actresses who play scream queens happen to be Jewish. While some actresses, like Jamie Lee Curtis, have starred in multiple horror films, here I’ll be including their most iconic performance in a film or series. So, here’s a ranking of 12 Jewish scream queens, according to me, a person who is not a film critic but a fan of the genre (and Jews).
(Warning: spooky spoilers ahead!)
12. Eva Green as Angelique “Angie” Bouchard
in “Dark Shadows” (2012)
After Barnabas Collins rejects Eva Green’s Bouchard’s advances, the witch makes Collins’s life on earth quite dark. Bouchard murders Collins’ parents and curses Collins, so that everyone he loves will die. Bouchard never gets her happy ending with Collins, and her evil ways catch up to her in the end. While “Dark Shadows” is entertaining – and funny – the horror genre has seen better scream queens than Green’s Bouchard. This is not entirely Green’s fault, as “Dark Shadows” lacks a strong, coherent plot that would let Bouchard be the powerful, evil scream queen that she could have been. Green is from a Sephardic Jewish family and describes herself as a secular Jew.
11. P. J. Soles as Norma
in “Carrie” (1976)
In “Carrie,” Norma, a popular high school mean girl, plays an important role in leading Carrie to her breaking point. A member of the school’s student council, Norma rigs the competition for Prom Queen in order to get Carrie to get on the stage so she could be drenched in a bucket of pig blood. Like most of the school, Soles’ Norma dies after Carrie telekinetically seals the doors shut and sets the gym on fire. It’s a pretty strong – and mean – performance in Soles’ film debut. Soles’s maternal grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Lithuania and Austria.
10. Jane Levy as Mia
in “Evil Dead” (2013)
While “Evil Dead” is definitely a scary movie, there is something about the character of Mia that strikes me the wrong way. Addiction can be challenging, and misusing substances can affect someone’s behavior. But having a character dealing with addiction become possessed when people are trying to help her feels a little… off. These days, you may know Levy (no relation to Eugene and Dan) from the television series “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist.”
9. Bex Taylor-Klaus as Audrey Jensen
in “Scream” (TV Series, 2015-2019)
Taylor-Klaus, who is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns, plays the character Audrey Jensen, who uses she/her pronouns, on the television series “Scream,” a spinoff of the film series. The television series is kind of cheesy, but Jensen is a pretty strong character. While Jensen deals with bullying due to homophobia, she is also a villain, or at least takes antagonistic actions, in her own right. Why I don’t rank Taylor-Klaus’ performance higher is that I have a hard time rooting for Audrey, either as a misunderstood character with redeeming qualities or a traitor who should not be given a second chance. Taylor-Klaus is from Atlanta, and has spoken out about casual antisemitism on Twitter.
8. Danielle Harris as Jamie
in “Halloween 4” and “Halloween 5” (1988 and 1989)
There comes a time when a movie series needs to take a longer break in order to feel fresh and inventive. This is definitely the case for the “Halloween” series, which would have benefited from a few more years off. Jamie is Michael Myers’ niece and Laurie Strode’s daughter, which means that there is no way that she can have a normal life. While Jamie undergoes traumatic experiences thanks to her uncle, it’s almost touching that she has hope that she could appeal to what she thinks is left of his human side. Harris’ performance was good for a tween, but her acting was not as strong as her on screen mother’s, Jamie Lee Curtis (a tough act to keep up with). Hailing from Plainview, New York, Harris was raised in a Jewish family.
7. Billie Lourd as Montana Duke
“American Horror Story: 1984” (2020)
While Lourd has many memorable performances in the anthology “American Horror Story,” my favorite is Montana, due to the complexity of the character. The protagonist Brooke would not have suffered more if Montana decided to deal with the murder of her brother in a healthy way. After murdering for fun as a ghost-like immortal figure, it was nice to see that she could become one of the good guys after a selfless act of kindness. Lourd has previously said in an interview that she peaked in bar mitzvah season (I’m not buying it), and she named her son after her late Jewish mom Carrie Fisher.
6. Sarah Michelle Gellar as Helen
in “I Know What You Did Last Summer” (1997)
If you like slasher films and teen dramas, “I Know What You Did Last Summer” is the cream of the crop. While Gellar’s Helen does not witness her friend Julie and others supposedly accidentally kill someone while driving, she works with Julie to try and figure out who is after them — but does not complete her mission. Gellar was the film’s breakout star, and her performance made me sympathize with what could have been just a vapid beauty queen. However, I also may be biased towards this film because it’s where Jewish actress Gellar met Freddie Prinze Jr, and over 20 years later, they’re one of the few celebrity couples that I would be genuinely sad if they split!
5. Lauren Cohan as Maggie Green
in “The Walking Dead” (2011-current)
In her nearly decades-long performance (she sat out one season due to refusing to be underpaid compared to male co-stars) as Maggie Green, Cohan’s character is a survivor. While we hopefully will not have to deal with zombies anytime soon, Cohan’s performance as Green feels very realistic. Green is very protective of her family, both blood-related and chosen, and does not want anyone to give up on life, despite their challenging circumstances. Cohan converted to Judaism when she was 5 years old after her mother married her Jewish stepfather.
4. Victoria Pedretti as Eleanor “Nell” Crain Vance
in “The Haunting of Hill House” (2018)
In “The Haunting of Hill House,” the Crain family must contend with whether the horrors and tragedy they experience while at Hill House are real, or if the family is dealing with profound mental illness. After her husband dies, Pedretti’s Nell returns to where she grew up, and the person who attacks her was supposed to be her defender. Then, Nell must protect the rest of her family. Unlike in “You,” I’m not scared of Pedretti’s character here; instead, I’m scared for her. Hailing from Philadelphia, Pedretti had a bat mitzvah while growing up.
3. Lin Shaye as Elise Rainier
in the “Insidious” series (2010-2018)
Unlike many horror films that feature supernatural elements, Shaye’s Elise in the “Insidious” series knows exactly what is going on, as she is a psychic who works with paranormal investigators. Throughout the four films, Elise tries to save people who are possessed by malevolent spirits. But, when she tries to help the son of someone who became possessed, the work that Elise previously did becomes undone. Shaye’s performance is captivating, and it’s nice to have a scream queen over the age of 30 debut in a film. Shaye’s mother is a Russian Jew, and her paternal grandparents were Romanian Jews who moved to the United States.
2. Neve Campbell as Sidney Prescott
in the “Scream” film series (1996-2022)
“Scream” was the first horror movie that I ever watched, so I’m biased toward this one, too. In the first film, Campbell’s Sidney Prescott faces threats and is nearly killed by Ghostface due to being blamed for the harm that her mother’s affair caused for multiple families. Thanks in part to the guidance of Randy, Sidney embodies the status of the final girl. Campbell does a good job at capturing Prescott’s concerns about who she can trust after being betrayed so many times. I’m also biased to Campbell because we are both Canadian Jews.
1. Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode
in the “Halloween” series (1978-2021)
Not just by my own rankings, Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode is considered one of the top, if not the top, scream queens in horror movie history. After high schooler Strode learns of her adoption, she deduces that her biological brother Michael Meyers, who previously murdered her biological sister, had escaped from a mental hospital to kill her. Strode would then spend the next 20 years trying to kill Meyers before he kills her. While Strode is clearly traumatized, I like how Curtis portrays this scream queen as someone who does almost everything she can to be the final girl. Curtis’s father was Jewish actor Tony Curtis, and Curtis has spoken about how Jewish sage Hillel the Elder inspired her to make changes in her life.