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Mon 15 Oct 2012 16:00 BBC Radio 4

28 minutes
First broadcast:
Monday 15 October 2012

'It is women who love horror,' said the screen's first Dracula, Bela Lugosi. Since the horror genre began eighty years ago, the female role has changed; the passive victims of the classic monsters of the past have become resourceful heroines competing on equal terms with their male co-stars, both human and inhuman.

In this revealing documentary, part of BBC Radio 4's gothic season, Reece Shearsmith meets a coven of female horror stars and charts the development and changing roles in the genre; from the femmes fatales of Dracula's Daughter, through Hitchcock's leading ladies, to Hammer's lesbian vampires of the 1970s and the present-day action heroines such as Buffy the Vampire-Slayer.

Shearsmith reflects on the history and roles of women in horror films such as Psycho, The Innocents and Rosemary's Baby, with archive of Deborah Kerr, Ingrid Pitt and Barbara Steele.

Shearsmith believes that women are making a greater impact in the horror genre but is it still a man's world?

Contributors include screen legends Barbara Shelley and Madeline Smith, along with television's 'Woman in Black' Pauline Moran. Shearsmith also meets Linda Hayden who stars in one of his favourite horror films 'Blood on Satan's Claw'; and we also hear from Jane Merrow who went from appearing in horror movies to producing them.

Written by Roger Dobson

Produced by Stephen Garner

  • Reece Shearsmith's Hall of Horror

    1925. Mary Philbin plays a silent scream queen opposite Lon Chaney’s Phantom of the Opera

    1931. Helen Chandler and Francis Dade fall under the spell of Bela Lugosi's Transylvanian count in Tod Browning's version of Bram Stoker's Dracula.

    1931. Mae Clarke is terrorized on her wedding day by Boris Karloff's Frankenstein monster in James Whale's version of the story. The gentlemanly Boris waggles his fingers offscreen so Mae won't be too frightened by his make-up.

    1933. Zita Johann plays a reincarnated Egyptian princess to whom Boris Karloff takes a shine in The Mummy. In real life Zita is a fervent believer in reincarnation.

    1935. Elsa Lanchester plays both Mary Shelley and the bride of the monster in the most delightful horror sequel ever made -- Bride of Frankenstein.

    1936. London-born Gloria Holden gives a mesmerizing performance in Dracula's Daughter, though she doesn’t think much of the role.

    1941. In The Wolf Man Marya Ouspenskaya warns Lon Chaney Junior of the perils of lycanthropy but he gets bitten anyway.

    1942. Simone Simon plays Irena, the victim of an hereditary curse in the Val Lewton classic Cat People.

    1945. Sally Ann Howes encounters a ghostly child and Googie Withers buys a haunted mirror in the Ealing Studios masterpiece Dead of Night.

    1956. Lovely Hazel Court marries Peter Cushing's Baron Frankenstein, but he prefers to spend all his spare time in his laboratory stitching corpses together.

    1958. The British censor grows nervous over Melissa Stribling and Carol Marsh falling victim to Christopher Lee's Dracula appearing in their bedrooms.

    1958. Kim Novak returns from the dead in Hitchcock's Vertigo, a story which owes more than a little to Poe's “The Fall of the House of Usher”.

    1960. In Psycho Janet Leigh as Marion Crane steals 40,000 dollars and takes a shower in the Bates Motel. She doesn't live long enough to regret it.

    1960. Myrna Fahey climbs out of her coffin in Roger Corman’s version of “The Fall of the House of Usher”.

    1961. Deborah Kerr is the governess haunted -- or is she¬? -- by malign spectres in The Innocents, Jack Clayton’s spellbinding version of Henry James’s “The Turn of the Screw”.

    1963. It's banging at the door, demanding to come in . . . Claire Bloom and Julie Harris confront spectral goings-on in The Haunting, based on Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House.

    1963. Tippi Hedren plays a Hitchcock blonde attacked by our feathered friends in The Birds.

    1967. Barbara Shelley communes with five-million-year-old Martians in Quatermass and the Pit.

    1968. Niké Arrighi plays the beautiful Tanith, the plaything of the occultist Mocata in The Devil Rides Out, from Dennis Wheatley’s book.

    1970. Ingrid Pitt sinks her fangs into Sheridan Le Fanu’s vampire yarn “Carmilla”, filmed as The Vampire Lovers.

    1971.Another meaty vampiric role for Ingrid Pitt as Countess Dracula.

    1973. In The Exorcist Linda Blair’s Regan MacNeil hears rats scuttling in the attic, but the noises turn out not to be rats. Levitation, projectile vomiting, murder and appalling language ensue.

    1974. In The Wicker Man Edward Woodward’s virginal police sergeant is ensnared on Summerisle by Britt Ekland, Diane Cilento and Ingrid Pitt. There are worse ways to go.

    1976. Nastassja Kinski gets tangled up with satanists in To the Devil . . . a Daughter, from Dennis Wheatley’s chiller.

    1976 If you haven’t got a taste for terror then don’t take Sissy Spacek's Carrie to the Prom

    1978. Jamie Lee Curtis, daughter of the aforementioned Janet Leigh, comes up against a knife-wielding psycho of her own in Halloween.

    1980. “Here’s Johnny” and there goes Shelley Duvall running for her life around the Overlook Hotel in The Shining.

    1984. If Heather Langenkamp doesn’t wake up screaming she won’t wake up at all in A Nightmare on Elm Street.

    1996. Don't Answer The Phone. Don't Open The Door. Don't Try To Escape. That's good advice for Neve Campbell in Scream.

    1999. Heather Donahue films herself apologizing to the co-producers of her Blair Witch Project, believing that something terrible is hunting her and her friends

    2001.In The Others Nicole Kidman plays the mother of two light-sensitive children living in a haunted house on post-war Jersey.

    2002. Naomi Watts watches a mysterious cursed videotape in The Ring.

    2004 In The Grudge, Sarah Michelle Gellar discovers that It never forgives and it never forgets – where’s Buffy when you need her?

    2005. At last, girls get their own horror movie. In The Descent a group of female potholers encounter the hideous underground Crawlers.

    2007. What happens when Katie Featherston sleeps? She’s disturbed by a nightly demonic presence in Paranormal Activity.

    2012. Hammer rises from the grave with The Woman in Black.

    Compiled by Roger Dobson

  • Reece meets the Scream Queens

    Reece meets the Scream Queens

    More about Reece Shearsmith
  • Reece Shearsmith in Psychoville

    Reece Shearsmith in Psychoville

    Jeremy and the Silent Singer

    Reece Shearsmith on being scared


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