Best Scary Roles Of Actresses In 1970s Horrors

Horror genre

There are several popular and overused tropes in the horror genre, from jump scares, to characters who aren’t believed, to swelling music in scary moments. The most popular trend is that of the final girl. The term was invented in 1992 by author Carol J. Clover for her book Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. The final girl refers to a horror film where the last person standing is the usually virginal heroine with moral standards who outlasts her friends and kills the villain in the end.

Most final girls are found in slasher films. While there were some prominent slasher films in the 1960s like Psycho and Peeping Tom, it wasn’t until the mid 1970s that the slasher genre boom took off, lasting for over a decade. The 1970s, which saw the rise of feminism in the real world, now gave us a fantasy world where women were kicking ass too. Here are nine of the best horror heroines who showed that they didn’t need a man to save the day, thank you very much.

Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley in ‘Alien’ (1979)

The coolest, most badass final girl ever is Ellen Ripley. She is the opposite of weepy and emotional, and there is no delving into her sex life or drug use. Ripley is simply a strong person who just happens to be a woman. Ridley Scott directed this sci-fi horror classic that sees the crew of a spaceship under attack by a sole, quickly growing alien on board. Some of the film plays like a traditional slasher, with the dark ship resembling the bowels of a dark and eerie house. Having the alien be just one figure hiding in the shadows, rather than being a plethora of creature’s like the 1986 James Cameron helmed sequel, Aliens, turns the beast into something like a masked killer. As in almost all slashers, each member of the ship is taken out until only our female lead is alive. Ripley shows strength like no final girl you’ll ever see, outsmarting and outmuscling the creature, until the alien is dead and only Ripley remains.

Mary Woronov as Diane Adams in ‘Silent Night, Bloody Night’ (1972)

Of all the films included, this is the least well known, but it’s here for being one of the earliest uses of a final girl. Co-produced by Lloyd Kaufman, who two years later would be a co-founder of Troma Entertainment, this Christmas centered slasher would influence films like Black Christmas. The plot centers on a series of murders that happen on Christmas Eve after a man inherits a home that used to be a mental hospital. This isn’t a great movie. It’s grainy and amateurish with bad acting. It’s saved by Diane, the daughter of the mayor, who has been summoned to the creepy house. Diane is smart, researching the home, and in the end she shoots the killer dead. She’s guilty of being too weepy and hysterical, a trait that would be written out of many other final girls, but she was a good starting blueprint of what was to come.

Jocelyn Jones as Molly in ‘Tourist Trap’ (1979)

One of the most bizarre slashers of the 70s is this film, obviously modeled on The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but with a healthy dose of head scratching supernatural turns. Much of the film plays out like another trope, that of a group of young friends who stop at a creepy, rundown wax museum, only to be hunted by a masked killer. The twist here is that the killer has telekinetic powers and turns people into mannequins. The finale, while puzzling, is one you’ll never forget. The Leatherface-like killer is keeping final girl Molly hostage, and the surrounding mannequins are coming to life. Molly lashes out and downs the villain with a blow from an axe. Molly goes mad, screaming into the camera. The last scene sees her driving down the highway, the mannequinized version of her friends in the car with her. Molly might have lived, but her life will never be the same.

Amy Irving as Sue Snell in ‘Carrie’ (1976)

While most of the films here are slashers, this film, based on Stephen King’s first novel, is something more. Carrie, played with such heartbreaking vulnerability by Sissy Spacek, is an extremely shy and repressed high school girl who just so happens to have telekinetic powers. She is bullied by several of her peers, including Sue Snell. Sue’s character works by being a fully formed person. She can be just as awful as everyone else, but while others don’t let up, Sue has a conscience. She feels bad for what is happening, and trying to be nice, asks her boyfriend (William Katt) to accompany Carrie to the prom. Carrie is thrilled to be noticed, but we know it’s going to end badly. Before it does, we see Sue at the prom, watching her boyfriend with Carrie, happy that she made the outcast feel good. It turns tragic after that, with a prank that Sue can’t stop, leading to Carrie going on a bloody massacre. The end scene, with Sue visiting Carrie’s grave, only for the dead girl’s arm to shoot out and grab her wrist, is one of the most famous jump scares ever.

Camille Keaton as Jennifer Hills in ‘I Spit on Your Grave’ (1978)

There have been many rape-revenge films over the years, but none quite get under your skin like this one. It’s both brutal yet rewarding. The first act, which shows Jennifer being attacked by four men and left for dead, is drawn out and hard to watch. We only keep going to see them get their comeuppance. One by one, Jennifer dispatches of her attackers, hanging one, cutting off the penis of another, taking an axe to the third. The last one is taken out with a boat motor, with Jennifer screaming the same foul things at him that he once directed at her during her rape. The film didn’t have much of a theatrical life obviously, but curiosity made it very popular on VHS. Critics ravaged the film as disgusting trash, but for many its violence is cathartic. If a woman can survive a brutal rape and being left for dead, only to get revenge on her attackers, what nightmares are we able to overcome?

Jessica Harper as Suzy Banion in ‘Suspiria’ (1977)

Legendary Italian horror filmmaker Dario Argento directed this surreal and colorful film about a ballet student from America named Suzy who goes to a dance school in Germany. There’s no masked serial killer running around this school. No, it’s much worse. The school, it turns out, is run by witches. Suspiria is different from most films on this list, not just for its difference in the villains, but for its surprising lack of men in the cast. It’s almost all women in every role. The lack of testosterone doesn’t make the film any less frightening or the final girl any less strong. Suzy might be another that falls into the trope of being shy and smart, but she overcomes that boxing-in by battling not your average human killer, but the supernatural. This one is not just scary, but one of the most beautifully filmed horror movies you’ll ever watch.

Marilyn Burns as Sally Hardesty in ‘The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’ (1974)

Sally Hardesty is credited by many for being the first popular final girl, as this film came out just days before Black Christmas in 1974. What might be redundant now was original in 1974, when this film’s plot follows a group of friends who stumble across a rundown house. Of course, inside that house waits the chainsaw wielding Leatherface and his family of cannibalistic misfits. One by one, Sally’s companions meet their end at the hands of Leatherface, with only Sally remaining. She fights back, but the family kidnaps her, tying her to a chair and forcing her to attend a dinner that will be her last. Sally could give in. She’s outnumbered with nowhere to go, but she fights back and escapes. This is not a film that shows the final girl taking out the killers. Sally is brave and fights to protect her friends, but there’s no time to take out her kidnappers. Escape is the only option. When Sally gets away, screaming as she runs onto a highway to find help, we watch her fall apart, hysterical and crying. Yeah, she’s weepy, which most final girls aren’t, but who wouldn’t be? The fear she shows makes the family so much more scary than they would be if Sally was emotionless.

Olivia Hussey as Jess Bradford in ‘Black Christmas’ (1974)

Before director Bob Clark became known for comedy classics such as A Christmas Story and Porky’s, he was at the helm of this holiday slasher, a precursor to what Halloween would perfect and make mainstream. Here, a sorority is being haunted by a man who is terrorizing the girls living there with vile and threatening phone calls. One by one, the girls die at his hand. What they don’t know, but the audience does, is that the killer is in the house and calling from a phone upstairs. This would lead to the birth of another horror trope that sees the final girl alerted that “the calls are coming from inside the house.” The final girl this time, Jess, does not become a stereotype. She is not virginal, for one. An entire subplot shockingly wades into the issue of women’s rights and abortion, as Jess is pregnant and doesn’t want to keep it. The film wants to show us that she is not controlled by men. Jess shows this at the end by going upstairs in an attempt to protect her friends, even though there’s a killer up there, when she can easily just walk outside. Jess might be the most well crafted of the final girls for simply not being like the rest.

Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode in ‘Halloween’ (1978)

Jamie Lee Curtis is the Scream Queen for a reason. She became a household name and the most famous of the final girls as the shy high schooler hunted by a masked psychopath on Halloween night in John Carpenter‘s masterpiece. Her character of Laurie Strode works for how real she feels. She is insecure, but smart; quiet, but wanting. We can see her struggle as she yearns to be fun and carefree like her friends. When she and her friends are targeted by Michael Myers, we see her fear, but her love for her friends and the kids she’s charged with protecting pushes her forward. She doesn’t run, but fights back, no matter how scared she might be. Maybe you can’t kill The Boogeyman, but Laurie sure tries.

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Stevie Flavio
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