When it comes to horror icons, there is really only one woman that…ugh..screams Scream Queen. This month, I tackle the one, the only, the ultimate iconic lady of horror, Jamie Lee Curtis.
Born on November 2, 1958 to two iconic actors, Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis, Jamie was destined to be a movie star. With her mother’s good looks and her father’s charm, Jamie was determined to stamp her own mark on Hollywood. (Side Note: Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis divorced in 1962)
Jamie Lee attended Westlake School in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills High School. She graduated from Choate Rosemary Hall. Returning to California in ’76, Jamie attended the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California. (Fun Fact: Jamie originally planned to major in social work, but quit after just one semester to pursue an acting career)
In 1977, Jamie Lee had some minor television appearances in Quincy M.E, The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries and Columbo. (Fun Fact: In The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries, Jamie Lee worked with another Horror Icon, Robert Englund)
In 1978, at the tender age of nineteen, a fresh-faced Jamie Lee was given her chance to shine in John Carpenter’s Halloween. Halloween was a small, independent movie (which would eventually go on to be one of the highest grossing independent movies of all time) about a babysitter and an unstoppable force of evil. Carpenter took a chance on Curtis, casting her as the movies heroine, Laurie Strode. The rest, as they say, is history.
Halloween moved into cult classic status, launching Jamie Lee (and the movie villain, Michael Myers) onto unsuspecting cinema goers. Laurie Strode was such a refreshing character. Quiet, shy, and somewhat unsure of herself, Laurie found herself pitted against pure evil. Jamie Lee played Laurie to her strengths making her sweet, caring, considerate of others and above all, strong. I don’t mean strong as in an abundance of muscles, but rather mentally strong. Even during times of crisis, Laurie’s first priority was the children she was looking after.
Combining her talents with Carpenter’s menacing score and script (co-written by Debra Hill) proved successful and because of her role in Halloween, Jamie Lee was subsequently cast in several horror films which in turn gave her the nickname and well deserved title of Scream Queen. (Fun Fact: In Halloween, as Laurie is speaking with Sheriff Leigh Brackett after a sudden scare, a wisp of smoke passes by the camera lens - this smoke is actually from John Carpenter’s cigarette)
The Fog in 1980 not only starred Curtis but was also helmed by Halloween director John Carpenter. Mixed reviews followed the release but the box office takings was strong. The Fog also saw a link between horror of old and new as Jamie starred alongside her mother, Janet Leigh. (Side Note: The Fog has since been remade, but nothing beats the original)
Ironic that 1980 would also bring about two other horror films, Terror Train and Prom Night.
Prom Night is one of my guilty pleasures. The story concerns a group of high school seniors who are targeted by an unknown killer in revenge for their culpability in the accidental death of a young girl. The anniversary of the incident falls on their high school’s prom night and sees the sister of the victim being crowned. Curtis plays Kim Hammond and delivers a fun performance.
Terror Train is a Canadian horror film directed by Roger Spottiswoode. Curtis starred alongside magician David Copperfield, Hart Bochner (Die Hard, Urban Legends Final Cut) and Ben Johnson. Now, I enjoyed Terror Train, but a close friend of mine is constantly comparing it to Halloween, often remarking that it was shot for shot of Halloween (an opinion that has been echoed by some backers of Halloween). In any case, Terror Train grossed an estimate $8,000,000 at box office upon its release in October 1980.
In 1981, Curtis returned to Haddonfield, home of Michael Myers and continued her battle with one of horror’s ultimate icons. Reprising her role as Laurie Strode, Halloween II also saw the return of John Carpenter and Debra Hill as writers. (Fun Fact: John Carpenter actually directed some scenes of Halloween II after deeming what had been film originally “too tame and not scary enough”)
Halloween II saw Rick Rosenthal (who would later go on to direct the 2002 sequel Halloween: Resurrection) get behind the camera and lead us on a continuation of the original Halloween. Taking place straight after the original film, we see Michael lumber his way through the Halloween decorated streets of Haddonfield before finding out via a boombox that someone has survived his attack and is being transported to Haddonfield Memorial Hospital. Cue the insanity as Michael makes his way to the hospital, killing the graveyard shift staff, showing off his brute strength (he stabs a nurse in the back with a scalpel before lifting her off the ground with one hand) before being blown to bits in a fiery explosion…or has he? (Fun Fact: Jamie’s long hair in Halloween II is actually a wig as she had cut her hair for another role)
Curtis played Laurie with the same enthusiasm that she had for the original film back in ’78. She was the same character and even though three years had passed, the way she handled the character, the way she made the audience feel for her, sympathize with her and above all cheer for her was something that one would assume would be reserved for someone like Donald Pleasence. (Fun Fact: Jamie Lee also appeared in Halloween III: Season Of The Witch….as the voice for the phone operator) For a sequel, Halloween II is one of the best. Spine chilling, maniacal fun and Curtis is captivating.
Roadgames also surfaced in 1981. I’m flying the Aussie flag with pride here as it is an Australian film directed by Richard Franklin and stars Stacy Keach alongside Curtis, who puts her lung power to the test playing a hitch hiker in the outback.
The story is as follows: A truck driver (Keach) discovers a green van in various places along his journey. When he learns of a serial killer in the area, he begins to theorize that the killer must own the van. Cue Curtis who is a young hitch hiker that Keach picks up. They begin to discuss the possibilities of the serial killer when they arrive at a petrol (gas) station to see the green van parked off to the side. Curtis investigates the van while the driver investigates the rest room…. I won’t spoil the rest for you, but I do recommend this movie. It’s fantastic. Filled with suspense and drama, it’s no wonder that Roadgames was nominated for AFI awards in four categories.
In 1983 Curtis shocked audience by ditching her horror roots and appearing in Trading Place alongside Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd. (Fun Fact: Curtis has gone on the record to say that Aykroyd was the best kisser she’s ever worked with) Trading Places is a light hearted comedy that sees a well to do commodities broker (Aykroyd) fall from grace and be replaced by a homeless street hustler (Murphy) all because of a bet. It’s kind of a modern take on Mark Twain’s classic novel The Prince And The Pauper. Jamie Lee shows off her assists as Ophelia, a hooker who gets roped into the bet and ends up being part of Aykroyd and Murphy’s plan to beat the men who placed the initial bet at their own game.
Fast forward five years to 1988 and Curtis showed off her comedy chops again starring alongside John Cleese, Michael Palin and Kevin Kline in A Fish Called Wanda. This is by far one of my favorite Jamie Lee Curtis movies….OK, I was watching it for Kevin Kline who actually was nominated and won the Academy Award For Best Supporting Actor for his performance as Otto.
A Fish Called Wanda is about a jewel heist planned by London-based gangster George Thompson (Tom Georgeson) and his right-hand man, Ken (Palin) who has a terrible stutter and loves animals. They bring in two American’s to help: an alluring con artist, Wanda Gershwitz (Curtis) and their ‘weapons man’ Otto (Kline). Wanda and Otto are lovers, a fact that they hide from the others, pretending to be brother and sister instead.
The robbery goes well but Wanda and Otto betray George and he is arrested. Hilarity ensures when Wanda, who was planning to double cross Otto as well, strikes up a seductive relationship with George’s unhappily married attorney, Archie Leach (Cleese). If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favour and run out and get it. It is a brilliant film and Curtis is mesmerizing as Wanda.
In 1989 Curtis jumped into the action, thriller genre with Blue Steel which saw her play a rookie cop who guns down a criminal in the act. But when his weapon is picked up from the crime scene by a psychopath, Curtis’ character is accused of shooting and killing an unarmed man. She then spends the rest of the film tracking down the man that is now on a killing spree as well as trying to prove her innocence and prove that the man she killed was in fact armed and dangerous.
Blue Steel saw Curtis team up with Ron Silver, Clancy Brown and Tom Sizemore as the robber that she shoots and kills in the opening sequence. Fun film that is worth watching.
Now we’ve reached the early 1990’s and Jamie moved into the family friendly genre with appearances in both My Girl and My Girl 2. But it was her performance in 1994 True Lies that Jamie, herself, dubs her favourite roll. (Fun Fact: At the time when True Lies was released, Jamie appeared in a series of commercials for L’Eggs Pantyhose. The company also took out an insurance policy for her legs which are still insured for $2,000,000)
While she wears her Halloween pin with pride, Jamie Lee has stated that True Lies has been her favourite role to date. True Lies was a fun role, a departure from all that had come before it. Let’s face it, does anyone remember anything else from the movie aside from her strip tease?
The mid-nineties saw Curtis stick to comedy with movies like House Arrest and Fierce Creatures, which, while not a direct sequel to A Fish Called Wanda, it did star the same cast.
Jamie Lee has proved influential and a voice of reason so when she made a suggestion that her arch nemesis Michael Myers should return to the big screen upon the twenty year anniversary of Halloween producers took note of Curtis’ comment and in 1998 both Laurie Strode and Michael Myers returned with Halloween H20.
Twenty years after the first attacks by Michael, Laurie has done quite well for herself. She is still plagued by nightmares, however she now the headmistress at a posh, secluded school in northern California, hoping and praying every year that her brother won’t find her. (Fun Fact: As said on Halloween: 25 Years of Terror, Halloween H20 had scenes re-shot due to complaints of the Myers mask used in the film. Scenes that could not be re-shot had a CGI mask replace them frame by frame. Four masks were made for the film)
H20 was met with mixed reviews, however audiences loved it. The dynamic relationship between Laurie and Michael was something cinema goers were starved of since ’81 and the movie quickly became the highest grossing film in the original Halloween franchise (this is now second highest grossing after Rob Zombie’s Halloween version on 2007). Janet Leigh even made a cameo appearance as Norma, the receptionist. (Fun Fact: Janet Leigh’s character was named after ‘Mother’ in Psycho. She also makes a reference to “the drains in the girls shower room are clogged again” as well as driving off in the same car she was buried in – all referencing her role in Psycho, 1960)
H20 saw Laurie grow up from a victim into a strong heroine that sends her son and his girlfriend (Josh Hartnett and Michelle Williams) away, choosing to stay behind and face Michael once and for all in a final showdown. Laurie’s determination to gather some small fragment of her life back was played perfectly with some critics deeming H20 to be the best sequel in the series. Some have even gone as far as to say H20 rivals the original Halloween and stands up to the legacy that was created twenty years prior.
The end of H20 seemed pretty conclusional. Laurie steals the coroner’s van with Michael’s body, knowing full well that he’s impossible to kill. She rolls the van down the side of a hill before decapitating him. Surely no head means no more killer, right. Right?
In 1999, Jamie Lee starred with Donald Southerland in Virus, a science-fiction horror film which was based on a Dark Horse comic book of the same name by Chuck Pfarrer. Also starring William Baldwin, Virus is about the crew of an American tugboat that boards an abandoned Russian research vessel. There’s an alien life form aboard that regards them as a virus which must be destroyed. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favour and hire it out. Not the greatest of films, but it is fun. It’s not a film that’s too be taken seriously and seems to be a combination of the X-Files and Alien smooshed together. Entertaining, but not top five material.
In 2002, Jamie Lee took one last crack at her evil enemy in Michael Myers, when she signed on for one last turn at being Laurie Strode in Halloween: Resurrection. Fed up, tired and just generally irritated by the mere thought of her brother, Laurie is institutionalized, waiting, knowing that Michael will return. (It is stated that at the end of H20, Laurie didn’t behead Michael, but rather a paramedic – Michael, being the cleaver silent stalker he is, switched places with a paramedic that checked him over) Sure enough he does, killing two bumbling idiot guards before stalking the institution in search of his sister. He finds her on the roof and she manages to get him to stand with his foot in looped rope that hangs his body over the side of the building.
Michael grabs at his mask, causing Laurie some doubt as the screen flashes back to H20 to see ‘Michael’ grab his face while pinned by the car against a tree. Reaching for the mask, Michael grabs her, pulling her towards him and somehow manages to stab her in the back. Laurie kisses him and says “I’ll see you in hell,” before falling to her death. Jamie Lee has left Haddonfield for good this time, her body falling a couple of stories, landing in the same position that Michael’s did when he went off the balcony in the original Halloween.
2003 saw Jamie Lee switch bodies with Lindsay Lohan. I don’t mean that literally of course. But I am referring to the remake of Freaky Friday in which Jamie Lee plays Lindsay’s mother.
Freaky Friday was a decent film that is perfect for families. Curtis for me, steals the limelight away from Lohan, acting like a spoiled brat while Lohan acts like a mature woman. The storyline is pretty simple. In order to get back into their own bodies, they have to understand each other. A feel good movie that I highly recommend.
In 2004 I was delighted to hear that Jamie Lee had teamed up with Tim Allen. I was a huge fan of Home Improvement and I’ve adored Tim Allen since then. However, I was skeptical at him starring in another Christmas movie.
Christmas With The Kranks was one of the funniest films I had seen in a long time. Tim and Jamie Lee are a married couple who do the same Christmas routine every year. This year, while their grown up daughter is away, they decide that they’re not going to do Christmas this year. Hilarity follows as Tim Allen experiments with Botox, Jamie Lee gets a faux tan and their plans of a cruise around the islands falls through when their daughter calls saying she’s coming home for Christmas and can’t wait to show her new man all their wonderful traditions. It’s a must see film, one that I would recommend strongly around Christmas time, however because I laughed so hard the first hundred times I saw it, I recommend it at any time of the year.
In 2010 Jamie Lee teamed up with Alien star Sigourney Weaver in You Again. Now this film gets bashed a fair bit, but I loved it. It was fun. Granted, I will class it as a chick-flick. Also starring Kristen Bell, who plays Jamie’s daughter, Odette Yustman and everybody’s favorite grandmother, Betty White. A fun story that sees two generations fighting against the same people from high school that made their lives hell.
Aside from acting, Jamie Lee is also an accomplished writer. Working with illustrator Laura Cornell, Curtis has written a number of children’s books – a far cry from her Scream Queen status.
Whether she’s making us laugh, educating our children through her writing or causing us to scream at the television or big screen, Jamie Lee Curtis is the ideal actress and one of my personal favourites. Her sultry voice, her body, that tentative smile and those lungs have made her a household name. And what I love most about her is how she always speaks so highly of Halloween, praising it as the launch pad for her career, but also for breaking new ground and creating what we know today as the slasher genre. (Fun Fact: Jamie Lee doesn’t actually like watching horror movies, citing that they terrify her)
She was once quoted as saying “I’m Laurie Strode’s guardian angel” and she’s right. For the Halloween series would have been nothing if it wasn’t for her.
Thirty years from now audiences will still be mesmerized by her powerful on screen presence, not just in Halloween, but in all her works. We’ll be hypnotized by her ability to be innocent and sweet one minute and a fiery vixen the next. She is enchanting. She is exciting to watch. She is someone who we would love to have on our side. She is the reason why Michael Myers is still running around…come to think of it, after she fell from the roof, we never saw Laurie again, nor was it mentioned that she had been murdered…Hmm that does leave it open for a possible return…
In any event, she is the ultimate Scream Queen. She is Jamie Lee Curtis.