Pin It
Jamie Lee Curtis Halloween

This Halloween, Jamie Lee Curtis wants you to feel scared shitless

The iconic Final Girl fills in the blanks across 40 years of John Carpenter’s classic horror

Jamie Lee Curtis is bringing us back to the bare bones of John Carpenter’s original film, Halloween. Slashing away the sequels and the rickety reboot plot chaff, the latest movie picks up 40 years later once again with Laurie Strode (Curtis) and her matriarchal line to fight the boogeyman.

The 1978 original brought us Laurie Strode, the virginal, innocent babysitter and iconic ‘Final Girl’, who collides and faces off with violent murderer, Michael Myers. Carpenter’s Halloween gave us a stunning, visceral horror soundtrack, a disturbing genre template for decades to come, and the unsettling concept of pure evil in human form. The 2018 sequel zones in on an older, traumatised Strode, her daughter and granddaughter burdened with her fears and extensive training drills in case Myers ever returns. But this film is as much about the wide, insiduous web of trauma as it is about terrifying you. Strode no longer cowers in the closet – she’s setting the traps and ready to destroy him. 

We meet Curtis in a central London hotel, with a big, genuine hug. “Powerful-looking women in here, doing what we gotta do,” she says, remarking at us both wearing bright red. The actor, author, activist and philanthropist is dressed in a fire engine red power suit and heels. The original movie was Curtis’ breakout role aged 19, untrained and nervous that she was going to monumentally “fuck things up”. 40 years later, she’s a renowned multi-genre actor that’s sailed through cult horrors as an undisputed scream queen and given comedy gold elsewhere, from Freaky Friday and My Girl, to The Fog and Scream Queens. Curtis knows the deal, and she’s thoughtful, articulate and curious even at the end of a prolonged promo run.

Below, we speak to Curtis about facing pure evil, the weaponising of women’s trauma to fight it, and classic horror that scares you shitless.

It’s been 40 years since we last saw Laurie Strode. How much of that time in between have you actively filled in?

Jamie Lee Curtis: She was an innocent with her life ahead of her, and then she became a freak immediately the day after. Michael attacked her, she fought back, she survived, and I think her parents sent her to school the next day and said, ‘you’re okay’. She arrived back at school as an outsider, a weirdo. Now, all of a sudden she would walk down the hall and people would stare at her, point, and whisper. The lack of support led to a veneer of ‘I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine’. She stopped raising her hand in class, her grades dropped, she barely graduated rather than graduating at the top of her class. I think she just slowly lost everything, and the only thing that kept her alive was just this constant belief that Michael Myers would come back for her. 

I’m not a big method actor and I don't have to write (clicks fingers) five volumes of journals of what happened to Laurie Strode. I know what happened to Laurie Strode. I know she had a child and couldn't even see the child because she kept looking past the child. Every time the child would try to connect, Laurie would break off and make sure nobody was coming. That’s what I know. 

How much of your sense of self is tied up in Laurie?

Jamie Lee Curtis: I think a lot of it – she’s the character that changed everything for me, starting out. With her continued story… I’ve been a parent twice, and I’ve been a working parent. I have been bifurcated by being a parent – trying to do one job, then another, usually at the same time. That juggling is what all we women do. I thought about that when approaching her this time. I may not have ever survived the kind of trauma that she has, but I am in her a lot, and she in me.

“There’s been a great re-shaping of the genre over the years to confront its misogyny, and a nice push and pull between the comedic and the traumatic”

Women in horror have had an agency that’s quite special – do you think that it's cathartic that Halloween is coming at a time where women are challenging their abusers?

Jamie Lee Curtis: I think it's interesting and curious that it was written before all the current movement started appearing. I’ve been thinking a lot about what came first, if you will, the activism or the art? In this case, the art came first. David Gordon Green imagined Laurie’s fight and trauma 40 years ago and the trauma, and now we see her take back the narrative. Her focus on being ready for him coming back, her plan, we can learn from. 

What do you make of being a classed ‘Final Girl’?

Jamie Lee Curtis: I mean, it’s cool that people have put this careful thought and feminist analysis into a lineage I’ve been a part of. Truthfully I didn’t know about it as a phrase until maybe five or six years ago.

Horror has at times being a genre that lacks wider legitimacy, but if feels like a great genre to explore emotional trauma and PTSD, like Halloween does. 

Jamie Lee Curtis: Yeah, I mean genres ‘anything’ dies if it becomes calcified and impenetrable. It’s got to be fluid and have a pulse and ability to grow. You can’t have the social paradigm shift brought on by women who have felt oppression and violence without a shift in art. We’ve seen it in politics and society. There’s been a great re-shaping of the genre over the years to confront its misogyny, and a nice push and pull between the comedic and the traumatic. Excuse the pun ‘re-shaping’... ‘the Shape’ is the name of the bad guy in the first movie! 

The film is also dedicated to the late Moustapha Akkad, who produced the first movie. Did you think about him a lot? 

Jamie Lee Curtis: Very much. It was an arduous road to get us all to make the movie, with so many people involved in the rights and, creatively, it was like a tangled web. To have the freedom to tell the story we wanted to tell took a long time. It almost didn't happen, like really. It was a Gordian knot I never thought would unravel.

When I arrived on set as Laurie the crew had been shooting for two weeks. The first person I saw was Malek Akkad (Moutstapha’s son). I locked eyes with him first. He and his family suffered real trauma and horror when he was blown up in a bomb with his daughter – she was a mommy too. That connection, that the first person I saw was Malek Akkad… I was toast. It was very moving.

How much was the late Debra Hill’s voice through this production?

Jamie Lee Curtis: Debra Hill’s contribution to the original movie was invaluable. Her voice is imbued in every word these girls say here. She was the feminine voice in the storytelling. Our three characters are all Debra Hill, Allyson and Karen and Laurie. I carried Debra throughout the movie.

How physically taxing was this film?

Jamie Lee Curtis: I cracked a rib and got beaten up, but that's just the nature of what we were doing. It’s what I have to do.

How much has the concept of pure evil shifted for you over the years?

Jamie Lee Curtis: It’s John’s (Carpenter) concept – he created the character that is pure evil. I’m a mother, a daughter and a sister, I have a lot of women friends, and evil means a lot of things to a lot of people, especially right now. I think what is evil is someone who lies, who says one thing but really means another, because it’s destabilising. The ground you stand on where you don’t know where you are. When there are people in power, who say one thing but mean another, and people buy it, then that’s when the bells start going off for me that we are all in a lot of danger... when people who should be believed, aren’t. 

This is Andi’s (Andi Matichak plays her granddaughter Allyson Nelson) debut feature, as the original was yours – how did you help her find her feet?

Jamie Lee Curtis: She and I really bonded. It’s funny, because I'm supposed to be in conflict with Judy’s character, and Judy and I just didn’t get a real chance to spend much time together because of schedules. But Andi and I were able to spend time together. We have very similar backgrounds, we were both discovered and untrained, and both of our first movies were these horror movies. Our firsts were Halloweens! She's a terrific, beautiful human being. 

And finally, what’s your hopes for this film?

Jamie Lee Curtis: I want people to be scared shitless, just like I was! Scared shitless, but also feeling empathy for Laurie and this trauma, and be a little moved. In that order!

Halloween is out in cinemas now