When you watch a horror film, are you the type who leans forward, hissing at the screen “Don’t go upstairs, you idiot?!” I'm the type who sits next to you, thinking “That salmon cable-knit sweater is going to look even worse when the demon vomits effluvia onto it.”
You might think the first rule for female leads in horror films is to leave the finery at home. Or perhaps to cover your good ensembles with a garbage bag you’ve ripped head- and arm-holes into. But you’d be wrong! Instead, I celebrate those who choose to swathe themselves in lace, in tight pencil skirts, in unnecessary accessories! I pay homage to those who run in heels—always upstairs, of course.
Here’s my list of the best-dressed women in horror. Sure, most of them end up dead, but they leave beautifully dressed corpses.
Simone Simon/Cat People, 1942
“From across the centuries comes the story of a modern girl, cursed by an ancient legend! The legend of…the Cat People!” Is she a woman, or is she a jungle cat?
Simone’s character switches from tender kitten to feral, man-eating feline whenever she’s aroused, and her outfits run from slinky bathing suit to good-girl suits. Every woman knows the rule about removing one accessory before leaving the house. I can only imagine Simone made a point to shake off the kitty litter.
Mia Farrow/Rosemary’s Baby, 1968
Having purchased the entire Twiggy maternity line, Mia Farrow’s Rosemary is ready to settle in and knit some hoof-shaped booties. While her wardrobe runs from A-line shifts to quilted bed jackets, Rosemary herself just waddles around making a special effort not to drip any of the raw-meat smoothies her helpful neighbor keeps bringing over onto her Peter Pan collars.
She’s so cute, you just want to eat her up. Or use her as a vessel for the Antichrist’s re-entry into the world, THEN eat her up.
The entire cast of The Vampire Lovers, 1970
Choose a favorite lesbian vampire movie? That’s my personal Sophie’s Choice. But if you held a stake to my head, I might lean toward The Vampire Lovers. Not least because the cast looks like they were let loose in the nightgown section of K-Mart and told to do their best.
The early-19th-century setting offers us tea gowns and bonnets galore, along with nightwear that fights with Van Helsing-level valor to keep heaving bosoms under control. Equal parts gothic horror and flammable polyester, this film may not be suitable for younger viewers. (Some of the bonnets are transparent.)
Sissy Spacek/Carrie, 1976
God, Momma. Get with the times. They’re not called dirtypillows, they’re called breasts. And every woman has them! It’s no wonder Carrie makes a prom dress that’s comparatively racy—everything else in her wardrobe looks like it was sewn by Mary from Little House on the Prairie (after she went blind).
Her prayer-closet is full of pussy bows tied like nooses and skirts just a couple of yards too long to be fashionable—this low-cut pink number has been a long time coming. It’s just a bonus that the color complements the deep red of pig’s blood so well! Add telepathically induced fire, and you’ve got a palette fit for a (murder prom) queen.
Rose McGowan/Scream, 1996
Call me biased, but murder in the 90s was just the best. I’m a 90s murder kid! I like to imagine Rose McGowan’s Tatum Riley perusing the Merry Go Round and 5-7-9 at the mall, looking for the perfect outfit wear for her date with the garage door. The miniskirt, a polyester swirl of psychedelic color, can be seen as a meta-comment on the cyclical nature of film. Or just as a really bitchin’ wardrobe addition. What’s really scary about this is the short-sleeved turtleneck sweater. If it’s cold enough for a sweater, IT’S TOO COLD FOR SHORT SLEEVES. Ugh, goosebumps.
So, what do you think is the latest in scream queen attire? What’s your go-to outfit when the murderous ghost of your childhood best friend is calling you on your cell phone? And most importantly, does blood wash out of polyester? Let me know, but soon, because I’ve got to run (in heels.)