Winona Ryder: Halloween Queen

Synonymous with the spooky celebration, Winona Ryder’s weird and wonderful roles over the years still rank highly as some of our favourite characters today.

So to celebrate all things spooky, I’m revisiting the Halloween Queen’s best roles over the last twenty years and taking a closer look at how you can recreate some of those incredible costumes.  


Lydia – Beetlejuice (1988)

Winona’s first major feature film Beetlejuice is the one that framed her as Halloween’s poster child for years to come. 

Husband and wife, Adam and Barbara die suddenly, but they’re not quite ready to hand over their wonderful home to the obnoxious Charles and Delia. To help them scare away the new inhabitants, the couple recruit the equally as obnoxious, Betelgeuse (pronounced “Beetlejuice”). Winona plays Lydia – daughter of Charles and Delia. Noticeably ‘different’ and seemingly mortified by her parents’ mere existence, Lydia is the only one who can see the ghostly spirits of Adam and Barbara and offers to help them.

Tim Burton’s vision paired with Winona’s raw talent is a match made in heaven – with realms of quotable dialogue, memorable mise-en-scène and hilarious musical numbers.

As Halloween films go, it’s one of the best and is still being shown in cinemas in 2018 – long live loveable goth Lydia and her witchy ensemble.


Lydia Deetz costume:




Heathers – Veronica Sawyer (1988)

“I just killed my best friend.”

“And your worst enemy.”

“Same difference.”

Fresh off the back of Beetlejuice, Winona threw herself into something completely different, but ultimately just as unique and strange. Box office flop turned cult success, Heathers is a high-school horror story with dangerously dark subject matter.

Straight A student, Veronica Sawyer is desperate to rid herself of the Heathers – the awful, bitchy girls (coincidentally all named Heather) she’s found herself stuck with, day in day out. Ironically, in order to regain her good-girl status, Veronica teams up with new bad boy J.D and plots to kill the cool kids. But what starts out as hypothetical fun, turns into a spree of Heather-killing, leaving you questioning, who’s the bad guy after all?

At its heart, Heathers is a killer comedy with a wicked edge. Famous for its quotable dialogue (Did you have a brain tumour for breakfast?), enviable and symbolic costume design and its knack for tackling subjects such as suicide, murder and sex deftly, Heathers is rooted firmly at the top of the comedy/horror genre.

Like every role she takes on, Ryder acts as if she was born to play Veronica Sawyer. And arguably, it’s difficult to imagine anyone else doing it justice. It’s also worth noting, Ryder had just turned 16 while filming but gives the performance of someone with decades of experience. Denise Di Novi, producer of Heathers talked about Ryder’s skill: “Winona was so smart. She was fifteen, she turned sixteen on the movie. She was a prodigy. From a very young age, she was an old soul. She really got the words and the imagery. She had watched tons of old movies. She was really sophisticated intellectually. She had the beauty of Veronica. She had the intelligence. She was just the perfect anti-Heather.”

Proving to be everyone’s favourite cult classic, Heathers was turned into a successful musical across America in 2010 and is now a West End show too.

Veronica Sawyer costume:

  • grey cardigan
  • black crop top
  • blue skirt
  • black/blue tights
  • blue scrunchie (crucial)
  • a pack of Marlboros



Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) – Mina Harker (née Murray) / Elisabeta

Favoured for its costume and set design over a frankly, weak narrative, Bram Stoker’s Dracula sees Ryder play both an English rose and gothic vampire – seemingly, what she does best. Starring alongside a stellar cast of Gary Oldman, Anthony Hopkins, Keanu Reeves and Richard E. Grant, on the drawing board, it should have been perfect. And if we’re talking about authenticity it was – Francis Ford Coppola’s creation won three Academy Awards: Best Costume Design, Best Sound Editing and Best Makeup. But when it comes to accents, acting and story, it fell flat – with the casting of Keanu Reeves being a sticking point for most.

Interestingly, the atmosphere on set was supposedly sour – Coppola confirmed Ryder and Oldman had ‘fallen out’. Ryder would then go on to say of Oldman’s demeanor: “Maybe it’s his way of working, but I felt there was a danger.”

Whether it was the frostiness of the working conditions, the casting of Keanu Reeves or the poor translation of novel to film, it seems that as of 2018, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is nothing but a guilty pleasure.

And why shouldn’t it be?

Ryder plays both Mina Murray and Elisabeta wonderfully, proving herself against the intimidatingly-good Oldman. Plus with the level of intricate, beguiling mise-en-scène, costumes and sheer smolder throughout, who needs story?


Mina Harker (née Murray) costume:

  • an extra af, long, blood red dress
  • silver pendant
  • vampy makeup


Stranger Things – Joyce Byers (2016)

Legend has it, if you chant ‘Winona Ryder’ three times while looking into a mirror, she’ll appear before you, open her mouth and bellow…


Stranger Things entered our lives in 2016 and it’s hard to imagine what we even watched before it. Set in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana, we follow a group of friends and trusted adults searching for missing local boy, Will Byers. Doused in mystery with dollops of 80s pop culture and a healthy serving of sci-fi, Stranger Things was an instant hit and fans are already eagerly awaiting season three.

Winona plays Joyce Byers, mother of Will and Jonathan. Joyce is a single mum who just manages to make ends meet each month. But no matter her struggles, one thing’s for certain: she loves her kids and will do literally anything to make sure they’re safe – including alienating everyone around her and destroying the family home.

Stranger Things acted as Winona’s acting resurrection – her last memorable feature was Black Swan in 2010 and arguably before that, Girl, Interrupted. Her decision to take on the role of Joyce saw her return to her sci-fi/horror/thriller roots, of which she fits perfectly. Her ‘new-found’ fame in ST was coined by Marie Claire as the ‘Winonaissance’.

Winona shines as Joyce because it seems she’s not too dissimilar – she uses her maternal instincts and sheer determination to get Will home. Noah Schnapp who plays Will told The Guardian“She’s amazing, she’s like my second mother.”

From her emotional scenes with her son’s friends to her suggested admiration of Hopper, we could watch Joyce Byers all day. Luckily, she’s confirmed to be featured in season three and we can’t wait.

And if you’re wanting a low maintenance Halloween costume, look no further.

Joyce Byers costume:

  • khaki jacket
  • stripy top
  • an axe (please make it plastic)
  • a string of fairy lights

Realising people would dressing as her every October, Winona said: “I keep hearing that people are dressing up like me. I’m like, ‘What?'”

Still wearing the gothic crown 30 years later, Winona Ryder’s career is like Halloween itself: unpredictable, haunting and different – but ultimately, incredible.


by Shannon Watson

Shannon is a creative writing and film & television graduate. She loves lists (take a look at her Letterboxd profile), cats, Cillian Murphy and going to the cinema. When she’s not watching films, she’s writing about them on her website or over on Twitter @shazzzzakhan.

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