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Curtis stood on the red carpet for the premiere of Halloween, the 2018 follow-up to filmmaker John Carpenter’s 1978 horror film classic — in which she reprises the role of Laurie Strode — with an actor dressed as the masked, murderous Michael Myers looming over her shoulder on a recreation of the front porch of the Myers home in the forecourt of Hollywood’s TCL Chinese Theater. And when The Hollywood Reporter asked if she’d revisited her younger self with a re-viewing of her breakout role, Curtis shook her head — “not one second” — then recalled something remarkable from shooting the new version for director David Gordon Green.
“When David said that he was going to do the call-back scene of my granddaughter in the classroom, he was trying to remember what the dialogue was, and just like this, I said to him, ‘Oh, you mean the scene where I said: ‘Costaine wrote that fate was somehow related only to religion, where Samuels felt that fate was more like a natural element like earth, air, fire and water,’” she recalled, reciting a verbatim passage from the screenplay by Carpenter and his then-wife and producing partner Debra Hill. “And he looked at me and he went, ‘You remembered that dialogue?’ I was like, ‘I remember every word of that movie.’ Every word. Every second of that movie I remember.”
Halloween carved a special niche in her memory, she says, because, at the cusp of 20 years old, it offered the daughter of movie idols Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis her first entree into film acting, setting the course for her early career as a horror staple “scream queen” and an evolution, over the course of four decades, into an actress known for her onscreen versatility and her offscreen candor.
“It was the most powerful moment of my life,” she says. “I had been fired from a TV series. I was under contract at Universal. I thought I might get fired any day. To have a script where I was the lead in the movie was extraordinary.”
What it didn’t do at the time, she notes, was resonate in any marked way for her and her mother Leigh, who as a crucial central character in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho was a prototypical scream queen herself. “It’s funny, that isn’t how it works,” Curtis said. “There isn’t a lot of family meetings about it. You’re just doing your thing. And then later on, in retrospect you look back and go, ‘Oh – that was cool.’”
Curtis takes issue with the oft-floated notion that she embodied the first slasher flick heroine to find agency and fight back against her pursuer. “Everybody fights back,” she offered. “Every human being who’s aggressed, every human being who has violence perpetrated on them fights back. Every single one. They just unfortunately, in these movies, don’t succeed. But I think the human desire to be alive is alive in everybody. Laurie Strode fought back and survived, and she is just one of the lucky ones … I think if you look back at that original movie, everybody who is killed tried to save their own lives.”
In the new film, after decades of intense preparation, Laurie may pose as deadly a threat to Michael Myers as he does to her. “I liked the idea that she was ready, that she had spent her life preparing for it — and, by the way, to every loss that you can have,” Curtis said. “She lost her daughter, she lost her relationships, all of her friends, and she lived in total isolation for 40 years, waiting for him to escape. And guess what?”
The original Halloween had a lasting effect on director/co-screenwriter Green as well: he can recall his first viewing vividly. “I was at a sleepover party when I was 11 or 12 and I’d been forbidden from watching it,” he told THR. “And I remember watching it at my friend’s house and being so terrified that I don’t even think I finished the film. I think I got sick and went home — called my mom to come get me!”
I remember that I wasn’t allowed to watch it for the longest time,” remembered Green’s longtime collaborator, co-writer and producer Danny McBride. “So for awhile I just had to imagine why I wasn’t allowed to watch a movie called Halloween, and what does Michael Myers do that my parents don’t approve of? And then I saw it and I was like, ‘Oh. This is why.’”
It was important to the filmmakers to have the blessing of Carpenter, who served as a consultant on the project (and composer of the now-iconic theme music, which returns as well). “None of us were interested in doing it unless John was going to be into the idea,” said McBride. “We didn’t want to ruffle any feathers or do something that would dishonor the franchise. So we pitched it to him and made sure that we were on the right track.”
“Early in the script stage, he said, ‘Keep it simple and keep it relentless,’” Green added. “I thought that was really good navigational advice on this journey.” Green hoped to pay tribute to Carpenter’s signature imprint while also serving his own cinematic style. “From start to finish this was trying to honor the movie he’d made in 1978,” said the filmmaker. “At the same time we’ve gotta acknowledge a new time period and the way you put new movies together and the technical capabilities of making horror films and things like that. So inevitably there was gonna be somewhat of an evolution. It was personal just by the nature of me getting to be involved in these iconic characters.”
Executive producer Jason Blum — who wore a color-coordinated black tee and suit in “Hollywood orange, which is orange with a fancy sheen on it” — said what really inspired fear on his end was successfully fusing Blumhouse Productions wildly successful approach to contemporary terror to one of the crown jewel franchises of the horror firm pantheon.
“We have a very specific way that we approach, specifically, to scary movie-making,” said Blum. “We had never really applied it to IP that’s this iconic and has been around for this long, so I was really into the challenge of what it would be like to run Halloween through the Blumhouse system. I’m very proud of the result, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t tough and very stressful along the way. I would definitely say it was one of the harder movies we’ve ever done — if not the hardest to actually get off the ground.”
“We’re used to making movies that are small,” Blum added. “There are two decision-makers, usually: me and the director. When a movie’s been around this long, when there have been 10 of them before, they’re a lot of people, so you got to build consensus. It’s like normal filmmaking, it’s a whole different thing, which feels more like TV. We do that in television — we don’t do that so much in movies, but it’s really exciting to be here. I’m very happy with the result.”
Actress Andi Matichak, who plays Strode’s granddaughter Allyson, said even prior to her casting that she’d viewed the first film in the franchise multiple times, drawn by its enduring elements: the chilling randomness of Myers’ attacks, Curtis’ compelling performance and the durable core concept.
“Michael Myers was just this emotional, emotionless killing shark that for no given reason is going to kill whoever he decides,” said Matichak. “Jamie Lee Curtis’ performance, she is so strong, but she’s so vulnerable at the same time and I found it really relatable. And, Debra Hill and John Carpenter just came up with kind of this just epic idea of the babysitter murders. In 1978 it was something that was new and never seen, but when I saw it many years later, it was still something that I never seen. it holds up!”
Indeed, being slain by the franchise’s unstoppable Shape has become a badge of honor for young actors today, says Virginia Gardner, who — spoiler alert — meets a bloody end at the killer’s hands. “For the rest of my life, I can say ‘I got killed by Michael Myers’ — that’s pretty cool!” laughed Gardner. “I mean, except for the fact that I’m afraid of my own closet now, it was great.”
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