Scream Queen for the Modern Age: How Emma Roberts Became Horror Royalty

Over the past decade, Emma Roberts has ascended as one of Hollywood’s most ubiquitous and gifted “scream queens.” While horror has always been a niche for young actresses to break into the industry, Roberts stands out for making the macabre her enduring home. The world of creepy, kooky entertainment seemingly courses through her veins. Let’s examine her run of memorable psychopaths, final girls, witches, and more misfit monsters.

Roberts’ horror hijinks kicked off in meta fashion with 2010’s Scream 4, the belated return of Wes Craven’s slasher satire franchise. As youthfully sardonic Jill Roberts, Sidney Prescott’s teenage cousin, Roberts immediately wins over genre fans with her blunt attitude. She’s a next generation know-it-all about horror tropes, dissecting slasher cliches with witty self-awareness.

Roberts inhabits the smugness and resentment Jill harbors at Sidney’s fame, believing she deserves the spotlight as the new leading lady. We see glimmers of instability beneath Jill’s wry exterior that erupt in the jaw-dropping finale’s extreme violence. Roberts announced her scream queen ascension in razor-sharp style by leaving jaws on the floor, evoking Drew Barrymore’s iconic opening scene.

But it was American Horror Story that provided Roberts’ true breakout vehicle beginning with its third season, Coven. Here she embraces vain narcissism as Madison Montgomery, a washed-up child star and social media junkie who happens to wield telekinetic witch abilities. Monroe steals focus in every scene by leaning into Madison’s bratty entitlement, providing the perfect foil to her fellow troubled witches.

Roberts clearly delights in portraying Madison’s most unhinged moments as her powers make her feel untouchable, including an incident with a repellent frat boy. This role established Roberts as a key member of Ryan Murphy’s recurring cast of grotesques. Her memorable witches, femme fatales, and final girls amplify the shock value of each new twisted AHS scenario.

Roberts returned to AHS in Freak Show as the opportunistic, silver-tongued Maggie, who infiltrates the circus troupe seeking fortune but finds a far more grisly fate. Come 1984’s Camp Redwood, she completes her AHS trilogy as corrupt counselor Brooke Thompson, whose moral compass goes awry amidst summer camp bloodshed and hauntings. Across three years of Murphy’s deranged creation, Roberts cemented herself as a welcome fixture primed to return whenever a new psychosexual nightmare arises.

Of course, Ryan Murphy knew Roberts’ talent for arch comedy and corruption deserved her own vehicle – which arrived in 2015’s Scream Queens. As fashionista sorority overlord Chanel Oberlin, Roberts is uproarious as a sociopathic mean girl whose empire is threatened by a serial killer in a Red Devil mask picking off her companions. Surrounded by an impeccable cast, Roberts excels at walking the tightrope between vain viciousness and vulnerable humanity. She’s as hilarious spewing insults as when her ice-cold facade eventually melts.

Scream Queens may be Roberts’ crowning small-screen achievement in synthesizing laughs and gasps. She’s the magnetic center of absurdity as Chanel, oblivious to her own monstrousness. The role capitalizes on Roberts’ knack for playing entitled narcissists unaware of their insanity. Across two twisted seasons, Ryan Murphy ensured Roberts’ talent as a sharp lead could anchor bloody mayhem.

Beyond AHS, Roberts also headlined the hit MTV slasher series Scream (based on the film franchise), where she portrayed Emma Duval, a leading lady grappling with secrets and mysterious murders. And she carried the supernatural thriller American Horror Stories as an unhinged escaped mental patient.

On the film side, Roberts brought her flair for unbalanced, aggressive characters to several features. In The Blackcoat’s Daughter, she’s convincingly unhinged as a troubled Catholic school student tangled up in demonic mischief alongside Kiernan Shipka. And in 2019’s Paradise Hills, she’s a ray of villainous sunshine as the colorful ringleader of an island facility plagued by sinister secrets.

Now entering her early 30s, Emma Roberts remains a compelling anchor for macabre stories across mediums thanks to her versatility and magnetism. She knows how to command the screen amidst horror’s outrageous scenarios with wit and empathy. Given her passion for the genre, Roberts seems poised to uphold her scream queen status for years to come as Hollywood’s most ubiquitous and gifted contemporary horror heroine.