Jamie Lee Curtis On Halloween's Undying Horror, Trauma, & The Final Girl Myth

Photo: Courtesy of Universal Pictures.
Photo: Moviestore Collection/REX/Shutterstock.
In 1978, Jamie Lee Curtis made her film debut John Carpenter’s Halloween – which became not only a blockbuster smash, but a seminal work of horror cinema. As written by screenwriter Debra Hill, Curtis’ character Laurie Strode was the girl-next-door, leading a wholesome teenage life when Michael Myers decided to stalk her fateful one October 31st. He killed Laurie’s friends, but not her. Instead, Laurie became the final girl, and Curtis — the daughter of Psycho’s own Janet Leigh — a bona fide scream queen.
Flashforward 40 years and 10 Halloween sequels and remakes later (only four of which Curtis was an integral part of) and 2018’s Halloween — which ignores all of those films save for Carpenter’s first — presents a very different Laurie. The shy, relatable babysitter is long gone, and in her place is a woman scarred by trauma. Survivalist Laurie has one goal in life, and that’s to kill Michael not just to get her revenge, but so she can finally rest.
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It’s hard not to watch Halloween through a post-#MeToo lens. Throughout the film, Laurie is constantly gaslit by her family, who insists that the threat of Michael is imaginary: They want Laurie to get over what happened to her. To be fair, these people don’t know that they are living within a horror movie or that Michael waits to kill Laurie the way she waits for him. Still, in a world in which so many survivors of trauma need to hear things like “We believe you” and “Your trauma is valid,” Laurie never fails to speak her truth loudly, even when she’s told, repeatedly, to shut up.
The Halloween franchise, which sparked a booming subgenre of slasher horror that’s endured over the decades (Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream are just a few of its descendants) wasn’t always heralded as feminist. In fact, it was often criticized for being moralist in its kills — which meant conservative in its views of what women can or cannot do on screen. Does Laurie embody the “Final Girl” trope, the last young woman left standing because she avoided sex, drugs, alcohol, and anything that people might see as less-than-pure? Curtis doesn’t buy it.
According to Curtis, Halloween always had feminist roots — thanks, in part, to the late writer Hill, who would go on to become a bit of a heroine of the horror genre. Over the phone, Curtis talked about the legacy of the slasher movie and why now felt like the perfect time to return to Haddonfield.
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Refinery29: You’re a producer on the movie as well as its star. What was important for you to show audiences this time around?
Jamie Lee Curtis: “This is really [director and co-writer] David Gordon Green’s movie, and it was my job to be an actor and its cheerleader. What I wanted to do was keep the integrity of Laurie’s trauma very much alive and honest in the midst of a funny, scary retelling of the Halloween tale. The movie centers around generational trauma, and it’s my job to make sure that throughline is carried. I was very happy to see that be the case.”
I saw a natural connection to the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements in this movie. Did you see that as well?
“There’s a natural connection, and yet you have to remember that the movie was written before #MeToo. That first Harvey Weinstein article was written [in fall of 2017]. This movie was written prior to that. So clearly, there was something in the air. But: There’s a movement of women taking back their life narrative from their perpetrators. There’s the brave [survivors of Larry Nassar sexual abuse] honored at the [ESPY awards], the women who came forward in the first Ronan Farrow article, the ones who have spoken out about these pillars of people in television who have [abused] their position of power. The contributions of those brave women clearly made its way into the script and into the performances, even though the intention for the movie was not that from the beginning.
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“We’ve seen it earlier in pop culture. Wonder Woman [was released before the] #MeToo movement, and it was in the works for years before that. So there is something in the air about women taking back their narratives, and owning their narratives. Music and art and movies and television are going to explore [social issues] often in advance of the actual movement itself. It’s like an overture. There was an overture, but it was subtle and quiet and delicate, but it was there. There’s something beautifully kismet about the whole thing.
The original Halloween has received criticism, like many slasher movies have, about having a moral agenda in regards to its “final girl” trope. What do you think about that now?
Halloween probably sparked a thousand PhDs. It really did spark a lot of intellectualism. A lot of tropism. But the truth is that it [all came from] John Carpenter and Debra Hill. [John] wanted to direct a babysitter slasher movie. And Debra Hill — a feminist, feisty, sexy, smart, snarky girl from New Jersey — wrote, predominantly, these three women [babysitter Laurie and her friends Annie and Lynda]. Really, if you boil it down, [these women from the first Halloween] are all [different parts] of Debra. [The movie is about this] ubiquitous every town, with an every girl [at the center]. Audiences could recognize themselves in this dreamy, smart, girl. And in her, they would see themselves and they would see a life played out kind of boringly, so you could inject this terrible horror of this pure evil creature [into this “boring” life.]
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“You hang the movie on the fact that you cared about this girl. It had nothing to do with final girl tropes. It had nothing to do with that promiscuous girls get killed and virgins don’t. It was the choice of choosing a character to hang the movie on — and they named her Laurie Strode. Subsequently a lot has been written and talked and taught about it from an intellectual standpoint. But I’m telling you — and I guarantee you that John Carpenter will back it up and he is the source — that was never the point. It’s not a trope until it becomes one, and it becomes one through repetition and a replication of it."
You’ve made so many horror films besides Halloween (The Fog, Prom Night, Terror Train), and recently returned to the genre via the TV show Scream Queens. Do you love horror?
Jamie: I don’t! I don’t like to watch the genre because I don’t like to be frightened! [Laughs] I returned because of Laurie Strode and because of David Gordon Green. David Gordon Green wrote a script, and on the second page or third page my granddaughter [in the film]was running around her neighborhood, just on a jog. And she went up into her bedroom and she opened the sliding closet door and pulled a light that’s barebulbed. And the revisiting of that closet, so beautifully done 40 years later — in that moment, I was sold. Because I was going back in the closet 40 years later, but here was a brand new way of getting into it.”
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