The evolution of Scream Queens: From sex symbols to badass heroines, meet horror's 'last women standing'

Meaww sits for an exclusive chat with 'Scream Queen of the '90s' Debbie Rochon and the Scream Queen of today, Devanny Pinn, to understand the evolution of horror film actresses.

                            The evolution of Scream Queens: From sex symbols to badass heroines, meet horror's 'last women standing'

When Debbie Rochon started her career as the ultimate 'Scream Queen' in the '80s, she had no female role models to look up to because all the leads in the horror genre were men. Now, Devanny Pinn, the 30-year-old 'Scream Queen,' who stars in the upcoming Sci-fi horror 'Crossbreed,' slated to release on February 5, has had many female role models inspiring her namely Jamie Lee Curtis, Sarah Michelle Gellar and more

One can see how the horror genre has evolved and more importantly, now it is the women who play the ass-kicking hero eventually and emerge to be the unrivaled 'final girl'. Debbie, who is as known as the 'Meryl Streep of Horror,' opines that the much-needed change in the industry came in the past decade with the TV show 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer.'


"The reason I say that is because prior to that Scream Queens were really just actresses that were doing horror and mostly were used for the exploitation aspect of it. But in Buffy the Vampire Slayer the actresses were given a role that changed the cycle. The evolution started there and we're still evolving," she said and she hailed films and shows such as 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,' 'Alien' and 'American Horror Story,' that were "written not just for women, but for women of all ages." "The roles given to women now have dialogues and action which is so much better as opposed to just being body counts," Debbie added.

As a '90s Scream Queen of the Decade, Debbie said that there is a striking difference when it comes to the role of women in horror films these days as compared to those in the '90s. "It was more about if they were willing to go naked than if they can act," she said. "Now it's about actresses wanting to call themselves "final girls," as a "badass who lived till the end." Also, in the '80s and '90s being a Scream Queen meant that you already had a couple of credits under your belt and had an automatic audience. "You did not have to put in the time and effort. You put that label on yourself and boom, you get the attention," she explained.


Debbie Rochon in 1996 'Santa Claws (Facebook)
Debbie Rochon in 1996 'Santa Claws (Facebook)

Affirming and demonstrating that is Devanny Pinn, who was nominated for the 'Scream Queen' title for her debut in 2010's 'The Lonely Ones,' where she played an almost similar role of a "non-human" species as she plays in 'Crossbreed' and shares how exciting and empowering it was to be the "final girl" standing. Ever since she set foot in the industry, Pinn has witnessed how the change has come about for women, both in front of the camera as well as behind it. Besides playing the starring role in the upcoming film, Pinn also served as the producer of the movie. 

"I've been producing movies now for almost 10 years and in 'Crossbreed', I took an active role in front of the camera and behind it. It was really empowering. I was running the entire set wearing a blue alien costume and barking orders at men double my size and age. They really got behind it and respected me and it was a proud moment," she shared. 


Even for Debbie, who started her career in 1982, the film roles she's been taking up now are very distinct. Recently she was seen in the film 'Bloody Ballet,' where she played the role of a therapist to the protagonist, Kendra Carelli and in January she was seen in the horror film 'Doom Room,'  based on a true story of a woman abducted by a man and woman and kept inside a box for seven years. Debbie played the wife and laughed saying that most of the roles she does nowadays are the negative ones.


The 50-year-old actress made her directorial debut in 2016 with a movie called 'Model Hunger,' about an aged lady who killed women who didn't understand that beauty is within and not on the outside, stemming from her own rejections she faced in the modeling and acting world. "She was sort of based out of Bettie Page's character and we did our own improvisation on set. She was so focused on her rage and would come along to exact revenge. I mean to talk about some great roles for women inspired by women," said Debbie. This year, the actress is set to direct another film titled 'Torment Road,' which is about a woman who gets out of prison and is looking for somebody on the road.

While it looks that Scream Queens have come a long way, horror actresses don't want to be identified with the title these days and that is because the once-glorious title has been "watered down."

"A lot of actresses including Scream Queens themselves have been trying to distance themselves from the title because it has lost its value," says Pinn. "But I hope we reclaim that because I'm proud of the title. It is appreciated and looked upon fondly within the genre itself. I love the women who work hard to honor it and I respect the Scream Queens," she added.

What is it to be a Scream Queen and why is it getting controversial now?  For Pinn, Scream Queen is as simple as "somebody who has given a significant contribution to the horror genre and whose body of work has left a mark on one way or another."

The controversy around the title comes because of the earlier portrayal as a damsel in distress often sexualized and serving the plot to scream, die and attract the audience.  With the Me Too and Time's Up movement, women's true identity as a person with a voice and not just as trophy subjects in films have awakened filmmakers and audience alike to cast powerful female leads. So even if in earlier days no one wanted to see women kicking some serious asses, now they do. "We live in a really exciting time. I don't want to diminish the Screen Queens of past who ran in high heels and did nude scenes because I think there's a place for that and it's fun and it left a mark on the industry and we do appreciate that," said Pinn adding that the genre has now gone to "empower women in new ways and in new roles."

"You can be the hero or you can be the villain. You can be so many more things and I think that our lack of limitations now is so exciting," Pinn stated. The genre of horror has monsters, paranormal entities, psychos, aliens and so much more that with it comes new opportunities for women to really just "kick asses." 

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Scream Queens themselves are such powerful women who don't mind filming in difficult terrains and in difficult circumstances. "I've fallen off roofs. I've been run over by cars, I've run through the woods in the rain, filmed in December in Upstate New York and added to that I have had to scream and cry for hours," says Pinn. Even though we see the scenes only in minutes, it is often days or weeks of filming and Pinn admitted it was "mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting." 

What's even more of a challenge is the budget the horror films get as opposed to mainstream films and TVs. "There is no healthy budget to afford a trailer bus and the conditions we are filming in are extremely extreme," says Pinn. Debbie, who has been in the industry for nearly four decades now says that the biggest budget film that she's worked on was a million and a half. "But that's not the average for me. I mean normally it's a couple hundred thousand and everything is independent."

It's the passion that the Scream Queens have that keeps them driven to do what they do. "You have to be a special kind of crazy to do this. There's a very select group of people who really don't have a choice because we know this is what we're built to do. The worst day on set is still the best day of my life," shares Pinn.

Scream Queens are often not recognized for their work because the horror industry is not taken as seriously. "It should be the exact opposite," said Pinn. "I know because I've done both sides and people in the horror genre work harder than anybody else and they need to be respected," added the actress who also starred in 'Wizard of Oz' when she was 3-years-old. Because of the way horror is viewed in the industry, even Scream Queens have a hard time being taken seriously. 

However, like any other industry, the horror genre suffers from a pay disparity between the men and women cast. 

Debbie said that even though women are in a lot more roles these days, "it's still a guys world and so it is difficult to break through barriers. It's difficult to get the same pay rates as some of the guys that are working in horror playing a guy behind a mask. The struggle is real."

Pinn, who has worked behind the camera gives an insight that this happens because the money that is generated for a film comes from overseas and countries where the patriarchal system is dominant. "So they are willing to pay for movies and television that are led by men, directed by men and written by men because according to them, men are superior."

Now that the problem has been identified, the fraternity is looking to change that and Pinn affirms that this is going to change. With her own experience in producing films, she shares that she has witnessed positive response and now the trend of female-driven stories assures a good future for the horror genre. 

As for other challenges, the horror actresses have a very niche fanbase. "Scream Queens have passionate fan followers who follow your every word, but on the flip side if someone doesn't watch horror movies, they don't know who you are at all."

That means, oftentimes Scream Queens go unnoticed on the streets and can have a regular normal life going to the grocery stores and hanging out with friends. "My life is weird. Yesterday I was at a grocery store looking terrible and was picking my ear when suddenly somebody came up and recognized me and took a selfie with me. Then on some days, I am in front of the cameras prepared to be recognized and have a moment. "

Now, because of social media, Debbie believes that younger actresses have easier access and exposure. She, as one of the revered Scream Queens of today, came from the streets and was inducted into the B-Movie Hall of Fame in October 2004. "With technology being what it is today whether it's YouTube videos or movies or shorts podcast or anything, there's nothing to stop you," she believes.

Pinn, who is one of the younger Scream Queens believe that Social Media has significantly helped and hurt the actresses, who were and are, to an extent, recognized to a niche audience. "I've always been a part of how I marketed myself and I'm one of the younger Scream Queens so when I started, I was literally right there with social media. It played a huge part in getting me to the horror genre and allowing me to reach fans and filmmakers. So I was able to build my brand really quickly," she admits. "But on the other hand, it also connected me to people who don't like what I do," she adds.