Justin Long: Horror's unexpected, iconic, and memorable 'scream queen'
Updated: Jan 30
A shallow dive into Justin Long's career in horror movies. Making an overall argument that Justin Long is not only a horror icon but transcends the slightly less prestigious title of 'scream king' and is actually as influential as a 'scream queen' for his generation.
Barbarian took a sharp turn into ‘what-the-fuck metropolis’ early on when we cut away from who we assumed to be the main characters, Georgina Campbell and Bill Skarsgård, to Justin Long driving on the highway along the ocean with his top down. Seeing Justin Long appear immediately got me on board to find out what the hell is going on. All of the great Justin Long performances in horror movies combined with recent TikTok videos and various Reddit threads on the subject made it a no-brainer to pay some homage to someone I think is an underrated ‘scream queen’ who’s making a comeback onto the scene.
Scream Queens of the past and now
According to the ever useful Wikipedia, ”a scream queen is an actress who is prominent and influential in horror films, either through a notable appearance or recurring roles” and even references a “scream king” as a name for the male counterpart, which I am disregarding in this article. Scream king feels diminishing to the power that those gentlemen bring to the movies, it doesn’t have that same “oomph” that scream queen does. I’m holding up Justin Long to the masters themselves, the true scream queens, because I consider him that good and influential in the genre.
Women in particular have always been common in horror movies, usually the victim of the monster or awful event that the movie is about. The horror they experience, often shown to the audience through screaming (especially in earlier movies) is usually the horror aspect itself. The scenes are used in trailers, advertisements, and reviews of horror movies, a staple in the ecosystem.
Horror wouldn't be what it is today without scenes of screaming actresses running from chainsaw laden murderous maniacs seeking vengeance. Despite 'scream queens' often being innocent people in the wrong place at the wrong time they are who we remember from the movies, who we mention in relation to the movie monters. Every other character is mentioned by archetype only, whereas the scream queen characters get name recognition. From Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween, The Fog, Prom Night, and Terror Train to Jenna Ortega in X and Scream (2022), scream queens can make (or break) a horror movie.
Justin Long is a Millennial and older Gen z pop culture staple. Middle child that he is, Long finds himself in a variety of genres and pops up where you least expect him to be. His career began in one of my personal favorites, Galaxy Quest, a satire and homage to sci-fi, specifically Star Trek, that came out in 1999 playing a Galaxy Quest super fan. Less than two years later in 2001 Long played Darry Jenner in Jeepers Creepers, leading to a Saturn Award nomination for Best Performance by a Young Actor.
Long’s upward trajectory didn’t stop there, in fact he has over 100 IMDB credits and three currently upcoming as one of my favorite podcast hosts would say, “he’s booked and busy” working in the industry. Just last year in 2022 he had two horror movies alone that came out, Barbarian and House of Darkness, both of which he crushes his performance in.
For no other reason than I just happened to I previously associated Justin Long solely with comedies, and often thought of his performances as DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story, Pineapple Express, He’s Just Not That Into You, and other comedy movies he’s featured in. It didn’t click for me that he’s in Tusk, a movie I’m more familiar with than I’d like to be, until about a month ago.
I had seen posts about Justin Long being a scream queen and finally during a conversation about it I connected that Long is in so, so, so many good horror movies, often as one of, or the only, protagonists. Not only that, but a lot of them are damn good movies.
Like mentioned before, Long is one of the two protagonists in Jeepers Creepers. A movie that is an instant horror classic, breaking box office records for Labor Day opening weekend. From start to finish I find it terrifying but critics have proclaimed that the second half crumbles and is ultimately a dud.
Justin Long is hunted by the murdering demon thing, the Creeper, that awakens every so many years and is ultimately taken for his eyes by the aforementioned Creeper. His performance is a standout in the film and carries throughout despite the harsher criticism about the second half.
Following the success of the first movie Justin Long returned with a cameo in the sequel, Jeepers Creepers 2, and in my opinion is still the scariest storyline of the franchise. Later in 2009 he had a main role as Clay Dalton in Drag Me to Hell, another underrated horror film. As the love interest to the main character, Alison Lohman as Christine Brown, he’s more of a scream queen by-proxy but the only surviving character at the end nonetheless.
Unfortunately now I must address Tusk, a “horror comedy” I’ve seen very few say is funny, but rather only horrifying. The premise of this film is Justin Long’s character, a podcaster named Wallace Bryton, who is captured by a retired seaman that wishes to turn him into a walrus due to his obsession with one named, Mr. Tusk. It is just as disturbing as it sounds, culminating into a confusing and bizarre ending.
The reviews for this movie on Rotten Tomatoes is one of the funniest review sections I’ve ever seen, I highly recommend checking it out. It is half praise for the film whether that is on behalf of the acting performances or special effects and the other half is rage filled rants speckled with hilariously creative insults.
Polarization aside, I believe Justin Long’s performance in Tusk is great, too great in fact, far too realistic for my liking. Him screaming at the table with the haunting man who turns him into a walrus turning into his girlfriend’s monologue is wickedly disturbing.
Wallace does survive at the end kind of sort of so I suppose it also moves him to that hallowed upper tier (in yet another movie) of a surviving scream queen.
After spending the next seven or so years doing mostly comedy films Justin Long returned to the scream queen screen as Hap Jackson in House of Darkness in 2022. House of Darkness is a slow burn like Hereditary. Most of the plot is tension filled with a few red herring scares leading up to the big plot reveal. After that the last ten-ish minutes are pure insanity.
The plot reveal for House of Darkness took so long I started to question if I had even put on a horror movie but once it did come things escalated very quickly with a lot of gore and carnage. There isn’t time after the big events to catch your thoughts so you’re left with a “that’s the end?!” moment as the credits start to roll.
Long gives a good performance as a “nice guy” similar to the vibe in Promising Young Woman. He could be either a fine enough guy or an evil, incel maniac waiting to reveal himself at the slightest hint of rejection or embarrassment. That tension is built throughout the movie as Mina, played by Kate Bosworth, toys with Hap, intending to teach him a “morality lesson” like she and her sisters have done to sexual predators for a very long time.
Though traditional screaming isn’t common in this film, Justin Long’s performance is full of a rollercoaster of fearful moments and a man’s want to hook up blinding him. Until it’s too late of course, when they straight up tell him their story only to kill him brutally directly after.
Long’s current, and still growing, scream queen career led to him starring in Barbarian alongside Georgina Campbell and Bill Skarsgård late last year. Without saying too much Barbarian takes many turns and has both jump scares and emotional shocks throughout. Ultimately I finished Barbarian yelling at my screen and glad the ride had come to a stop so I could catch my breath.
Justin Long is an underrated scream queen of the 2000’s, 2010’s and so far the 2020’s, that deserves his flowers. There isn’t a year since his career began in 1999 that he hasn’t had a project release, most years he has more projects come out than it seems possible to.
Long is cast to play a supporting role in Dear David, a supernatural thriller, and Goosebumps, a TV series based on the iconic book series of the same title, both projects with unannounced release dates.
Despite his busy schedule he has given audiences some truly stellar performances in horror movies both blockbuster and cult-classic. He’s more than a scream king, he’s a scream queen and based on his two recent performances its only up from here.