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The Top 30 Horror, Sci-Fi & Fantasy Actresses, #1
[Final installment of a series.]
Scream queens. Horror heroines. Sci-fi divas. Cult/genre film legends. We know them. We love them. We’ve watched them run, scream, bleed, cry, die, strip, cower, fight, kill and kick ass in numerous science fiction, fantasy and horror films over the years.
Who are the most memorable and important genre actresses? I’m not talking about on-screen characters, like Alien’s Ripley or Dana Scully of The X-Files, but the women who portrayed these scream queens and sci-fi heroines. I’ve chosen thirty actresses who I think have made the most important contributions to the sci-fi/horror/fantasy/cult genres, in both film and television.
My criteria for this Top 30 List were as follows: the sheer number of roles in horror/fantasy/sci-fi movies and TV shows; the famous, outstanding and genre-defining roles/characters portrayed; and, the actresses’ acceptance of and participation in fandom and fan events. I developed a complex algorithm to evaluate these factors and determine list ranking. (In other words, my list is completely subjective and only slightly more advanced than throwing darts at a dart board.)
Here’s the list so far:
30. Connie Mason; 29. Jenny Agutter; 28. Jane Seymour; 27. Amy Irving; 26. Bobbi Bresee; 25. Rosalba Neri/Sarah Bay; 24. Erika Blanc; 23. Asia Argento; 22. Lindsay Wagner; 21. Lynn Lowry; 20. Michelle Bauer; 19. Linda Blair; 18. Shawnee Smith; 17. Sarah Michelle Gellar; 16. Tiffany Sheppis; 15. Brinke Stevens; 14. Nancy Allen; 13. Caroline Munro; 12. Marilyn Burns; 11. Debbie Rochon; 10. Sybil Danning; 9. Fay Wray; 8. Linnea Quigley; 7. Adrienne Barbeau; 6. Dee Wallace Stone; 5. Margot Kidder; 4. Ingrid Pitt; 3. Jamie Lee Curtis; 2. Barbara Steele
1. MARY WORONOV
When Andy Warhol filmed the 500+ four-minute-long close-ups for his avant-garde film Screen Test in the mid-60s, he told his subjects to sit perfectly still and not to talk or blink. Some people look scared, bored or stoic on screen, but not Mary Woronov. She leers, smirks and tosses her hair. Woronov “shows some kick in her brief segment; she’s the only one who actively challenges the camera, obviously torn between obeying Warhol’s directive and the demands of her own larger than life personality. Through sheer force of will she breaks through, glaring back at the camera, tossing her head, and barely suppressing a smirk.” (Bright Lights Film Journal)
Mary Woronov became a cult film icon by happenstance. Born in Florida, she spent her childhood and teen years in New York, first at boarding school and then at Cornell University where she was a sculpture major. (Her stepfather was a cancer surgeon at Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater and her grandmother was a broker on Clearwater Beach. I had a lot of fun reading about the Woronovs in the St. Pete Times’ society page archives.) While at Cornell, she visited Andy Warhol’s Silver Factory on a class trip and then joined his entourage. She appeared in several of Warhol’s films (including Shower, Milk, Heddy, Superboy and Kiss the Boot), most notably The Chelsea Girls, where she played the bitchy Hanoi Hannah. Woronov was a go-go dancer in the Velvet Underground’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable shows and appeared on the New York stage, in both on- and off-Broadway plays. Her dance performance in Boom Boom Room -- Woronov’s Broadway debut – resulted in her winning a Theatre World Award and leaving her first husband for Boom playwright David Rabe. Her intense acting style, husky voice and commanding physical presence made Woronov stand out on-screen; her fierce intelligence, finely-honed artistic talent and wicked sense of humor made her popular in real life.
After burning out physically, the newly-addicted-to-speed Woronov left the Factory to concentrate on her theater and film roles (and to kick her addiction). In addition to appearing on stage, she starred in Sugar Cookies (with Lynn Lowry) and played the sole survivor in Silent Night, Bloody Night. Then she burned out romantically -- divorcing Silent Night, Bloody Night director Theodore Gershuny – and moved to L.A. to work for producer Roger Corman's New World Pictures, appearing in the campy, high-octane cult fave Death Race 2000 as racecar driver Calamity Jane, one of the contestants in the televised, transcontinental race-to-the-death. She hit it off famously with director/actor/writer Paul Bartel on Death Race 2000 and went on to team up with him over a dozen times. Their most notorious partnership was in the 1982 cannibal comedy cult classic Eating Raoul. Woronov and Bartel played Mary and Paul Bland, the prudish, twisted couple who kill and cannibalize people for profit.
Woronov played a hilariously ditzy, sexually-repressed divorcée in Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills, a scheming gold-digger wife in first-time director Oliver Stone’s horror film Seizure, a sly, sarcastic, scene-stealing secretary in Blood Theatre (Movie House Massacre), an over-the-top prison matron in Hell Hole, meat-is-murder maven Mary Bland (from Eating Raoul) in Chopping Mall, a character named Dyanne She-Bitch Slutface in Prison-A-Go-Go! and, of course, the domineering principal Miss Togan in Rock n’ Roll High School.
Her other cult and/or genre roles include Angel of H.E.A.T. (with Marilyn Chambers!), the thriller Cover Girl Murders, Night of the Comet, the horror/mystery Nomads, the horror-fi/comedy TerrorVision, Black Widow, Dick Tracy, the horror flick Frog-g-g, Warlock, and a blink-and-you-miss-it cameo in The Devils Rejects. Her genre TV work includes Babylon 5, Amazing Stories, Buck Rogers, Charlie’s Angels, Highlander, Logan’s Run and Monsters.
Woronov is also an accomplished painter and a prolific writer. She has written screenplays, TV scripts, numerous articles for various art magazines, and has published five books: Wake for the Angels, a collection of dark short stories; novels Snake and Niagra; Blind Love, a collection of short stories; and the autobiographical Swimming Underground:My Years in the Warhol Factory.
She’s also comfortable being celebrated as a genre film star, stating “I’m thrilled to be a cult queen.” She actively participates in panel discussions, midnight movie screenings, film festival symposiums and genre conventions. To Woronov, “Cult movie fans are good people.” Now in her mid-60s and living in New York, she maintains a full schedule of writing, acting, painting, sculpting and teaching writing courses. She explored her cult queen status with her trademark wit and humor by writing Vampire Cult Queens From Hell, a comedic screenplay about out-of-work former cult queens who spend their days sitting around at conventions signing autographs and their nights roaming the streets as vampires. In the fall of 1995 Woronov hosted a table reading of Vampire Cult Queens From Hell with Barbara Steele, Martine Beswick, Paul Bartel, Sandra Kiner, Paul Witter and Matthew St. Patrick.
Mary Woronov has experienced wonderful highs and depressing lows. She has been Andy Warhol’s muse and a speed addict. She’s been worshipped as a B-movie legend and has had to direct episodes of the soft-core porn TV show Women:Stories of Passion to pay the rent. She’s been burned out, physically exhausted and the recipient of a terminal cancer diagnosis, and she’s been vibrant, energetic and a health-food nut. She was an ugly baby born with a tail-like cyst who grew up to be a statuesque stunner.
”But Woronov reacts quite differently to Warhol's casual sadism — leering, smirking, tossing her head with lusty abandon, in a sense forcing the camera to blink. Her sheer intensity in a confined space, her refusal to be intimidated even for four minutes by Andy Warhol, set the pattern for her cinema career. With her geometric face, husky voice, and droll-dominatrix look, Woronov mesmerizes in small roles in major films and big roles in marginal ones.” (Bright Lights Film Journal)
Mary Woronov is a cult film icon.
[Sources include Bright Lights Film Journal, MaryWoronov.com, TCM.com, WarholStars.org, ArtInterviews.com, Pretty-Scary.net, FilmThreat.com, eFilmCritic.com, sf360.com, BizarreMag.com, Wikipedia, IMDb and probably some others I’ve accidentally omitted.]
[I owe PCR columnist Chris Woods a big thank you for his help with this article: for the brainstorming ideas, the debates over ranking, and for pointing out the many glaring omissions on my original list.]
"FANGRRL" is ©2010 by Lisa Scherer. All graphics, except where otherwise noted, are creations of Nolan B. Canova. All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2010 by Nolan B. Canova.