LEADING LADIES: JAMIE LEE CURTIS

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jamie lee curtis halloween 1978

Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode in HALLOWEEN (1978)

Welcome back to LEADING LADIES, that column where we look at the careers of leading ladies in the movies, especially horror movies.

Up today it’s Jamie Lee Curtis.

Curtis of course burst onto the horror movie scene with her signature role of terrorized babysitter Laurie Strode in John Carpenter’s groundbreaking classic, HALLOWEEN (1978). And with some perfect symmetry, Curtis’ most recent role is once again Laurie Strode in the latest entry in the HALLOWEEN universe, once more titled, curiously enough, HALLOWEEN (2018). Curtis’ career has come full circle. Of course, she still has a whole lot more acting to do.

In HALLOWEEN (1978), Curtis was so memorable as Laurie Strode not because she screamed a lot.  She did not scream her way to fame a la Fay Wray fifty-five years earlier in KING KONG (1933). No, Curtis’ performance was noteworthy because she created in Laurie a vulnerable yet resilient character who faced doubts about dating and boys but was more than up to the task of protecting the children she babysat from masked killer Michael Myers.

The original HALLOWEEN is famous because of John Carpenter’s outstanding direction, along with his now iconic music score. I was 14 when HALLOWEEN came out, and I still remember all the hype and excitement surrounding it.  Sold out showings, and long lines of people waiting to see it, often spilling outside the theater into the parking lot. I also remember Siskel and Ebert’s initial review of the movie, a review in which they both praised Carpenter’s phenomenal direction. I don’t remember how at 14 my friends and I were able to buy tickets to this R rated feature, but somehow we did, as we saw this one at the theater.

I remember the theater erupting in screams during the movie. I also remember Jamie Lee Curtis.  When the movie was done, and I had returned home, I couldn’t get Carpenter’s music out of my head, and I recalled all the scares, and the image of Michael Myers with his now iconic mask, and this actress named Jamie Lee Curtis.  There was something about her that really resonated with me.  The best way I can describe it is I felt as if Laurie Strode was someone I knew in real life. As I’ve watched and re-watched HALLOWEEN over the years, I’ve attributed this feeling I had back in 1978 to a very authentic performance by Curtis.  I felt like I knew her because she acted like a real person.

Here’s a partial look at Curtis’ career, as we examine some of her 74 screen credits:

HALLOWEEN (1978) – Laurie Strode – Curtis’ signature film role was also her film debut.  She had appeared in numerous TV shows before this, including COLUMBO (1977) and CHARLIE’S ANGELS (1978) but this was the first time she appeared on the big screen. And she has never looked back.  Quite the film debut. In addition to the top-notch direction and music score by John Carpenter, and the presence of Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis is easily one of the best parts of HALLOWEEN (1978).

THE FOG (1980) – Elizabeth Solley – Curtis stars in John Carpenter’s next horror movie following HALLOWEEN. At the time, Carpenter was a victim of his own success. THE FOG was not well-received by critics in 1980. Siskel and Ebert expressed their disappointment, citing that the film lacked a definitive threat, a la Michael Meyers. However, the movie’s reputation has strengthened over the decades. It’s now considered one of Carpenter’s best films. Not only that, but it’s high on a lot of people’s lists for best horror movies period.  I definitely like this one a lot.  I still prefer HALLOWEEN though. Curtis, for her part, is fine here, but her role is not the lead, and she makes much less of an impact than she did in HALLOWEEN.

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Jamie Lee Curtis in THE FOG (1980)

PROM NIGHT (1980) – Kim – John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN gave birth to the slasher movie, and suddenly everyone and their grandmother was making horror movies with masked knife-wielding killers terrorizing teenagers. This one’s not directed by Carpenter, but does star Jamie Lee Curtis. It did well on its initial release and has established a reputation as a decent slasher flick, but this one never did anything for me.  For me, not even the presence of Jamie Lee Curtis could save this HALLOWEEN rip-off.

TERROR TRAIN (1980) – Alana – another crazed killer attacking teenagers, this time on a train.

ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981) – Narrator/Computer Voice (uncredited) – An uncredited Curtis provides the voice of the narrator and computer in this exciting futuristic crime thriller by John Carpenter, notable also for Kurt Russell’s memorable performance as Snake Plissken.

HALLOWEEN II (1981) – Laurie Strode – Inferior sequel to HALLOWEEN. Rick Rosenthal takes over the directing duties from John Carpenter, and his vision here is far less impressive.  Curtis is okay, but sadly, spends most of the movie confined to a hospital bed and in and out of a medicated stupor.  While this really is not a good movie, it is actually better than most of the later HALLOWEEN films, some of which are really, really bad.

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With Donald Pleasence in HALLOWEEN II (1981)

HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1983) – Curfew Announcer/Telephone Operator (uncredited) – A disaster upon its initial release, this was part of John Carpenter’s vision to create a HALLOWEEN series featuring different horror stories each year and not necessarily be about Michael Myers, but film audiences wanted Myers and didn’t really accept this movie. That being said, this one has enjoyed a growing reputation over the decades, and there are some (not me) who consider this to be the best of all the HALLOWEEN movies.

TRADING PLACES (1983) – Ophelia – This funny comedy by director John Landis stars Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy. Murphy, who was insanely popular at the time due to his stint on Saturday Night Live, is the main reason to see this one, but Jamie Lee Curtis is also hilarious in her role as prostitute Ophelia. She makes the jump into a non-horror movie quite nicely.

GRANDVIEW U.S.A. (1984) – Michelle “Mike” Cody – Drama in which Curtis co-stars with C. Thomas Howell and Patrick Swayze that asks the question, can the young folks from Grandview U.S.A. pursue their dreams and shed their small town roots? Nothing special.

A FISH CALLED WANDA (1988) – Wanda Gershwitz – co-stars with John Cleese, Kevin Kline, and Michael Palin in this uproarious comedy written by Cleese. Kline won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

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Michael Palin, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Kevin Kline in A FISH CALLED WANDA (1988)

FOREVER YOUNG (1992) – Claire Cooper – co-stars with Mel Gibson who plays a 1939 pilot awoken from a cryogenic sleep in 1992. Written by J.J. Abrams.

TRUE LIES (1994) – Helen Tasker – plays the wife of a spy, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, in this entertaining action comedy by director James Cameron.

FIERCE CREATURES (1997) – Willa Weston – Reunited with her co-stars from A FISH CALLED WANDA, John Cleese, Kevin Kline, and Michael Palin, this time with lesser results.

HALLOWEEN H20 – TWENTY YEARS LATER (1998) -Laurie Strode- Curtis returns to the HALLOWEEN series after a three film hiatus, and the emphasis returns to Laurie Strode, still dealing with the trauma caused by Michael Myers twenty years earlier. The masked killer of course once more sets his sights on terrorizing Laurie. Some girls have all the fun. This film was well-received when it first came out, but it hasn’t aged all that well. That being said, I still like this one a lot.

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Facing fear in HALLOWEEN H20 (1998)

HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION (2002)- Laurie Strode – Curtis returns as Laurie Strode for about two seconds before her character is abruptly killed by Michael Myers in the most undramatic and anticlimactic of ways. By far, the absolute worst of all the HALLOWEEN movies.

FREAKY FRIDAY (2003) – Tess Coleman – co-stars with Lindsay Lohan in this remake of the Disney classic.

SCREAM QUEENS (TV Series) (2015-2016) – Dean Cathy Munsch- TV horror/comedy series about a— you got it— a crazed serial killer terrorizing, among other places, a college campus.

HALLOWEEN (2018) – Laurie Strode – Curtis comes full circle, playing Laurie Strode once again, this time in a movie that ignores every other HALLOWEEN movie in the series except the original. Lots of hype and box office success, but ultimately this one was a letdown. Curtis’ scenes and storyline are the best parts, as she is once again still dealing with the trauma from Michael Myer’s original attack, now forty years earlier. Everything else in this film is pretty bad. A major disappointment.

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Taking on Michael Myers yet again in HALLOWEEN (2018)

And that wraps things up for this edition of LEADING LADIES.

Join me again next time when we check out the career of another Leading Lady.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

 

 

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IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: HALLOWEEN H20: 20 YEARS LATER (1998)

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Here’s my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, on HALLOWEEN H20:  20 YEARS LATER (1998), one of the better films in the HALLOWEEN series.  This column is currently being published in the November 2015 issue of the HWA NEWSLETTER.

Enjoy!

—Michael

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHThalloween-h20-poster

BY

MICHAEL ARRUDA

HALLOWEEN H20:  20 YEARS LATER (1998), in spite of its ridiculous title, is a pretty good horror movie.

It’s one of the better films in the HALLOWEEN franchise and it’s how the original series should have ended.  The powers that be should have quit while they were ahead, but unfortunately, they didn’t, and there would be one more movie, HALLOWEEN:  RESURRECTION (2002), which is the worst film in the series.

But HALLOWEEN H20:  20 YEARS LATER once you get past its title is one of the best films in the series.

It has a solid, logical story, which basically asks the question, how would Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) be handling life twenty years after the events of HALLOWEEN (1978).  What would her psychological and emotional state be like?  The answer, as you might expect is “not too good.”

Yes, it’s twenty years after the events of the first movie, and Laurie Strode is now the proud owner of a new identity.  She goes by the name of Keri Tate and is the dean of a private high school in California.  It’s a boarding school, and she lives there with her son John (Josh Hartnett), who goes to the school.  Laurie/Keri is also in a relationship with the school psychologist, Will Brennan (Adam Arkin), and all is well, except— it’s not well.  Laurie suffers from ongoing nightmares about Michael Myers, and she’s constantly worried that Myers will find her and her son John.

Trouble is, she’s right.  The film opens with Marion (Nancy Stephens), the nurse and Dr. Loomis’s (Donald Pleasance) assistant from the original HALLOWEEN, coming home to an intruder, none other than Michael Myers, who promptly kills her in a pre-credit sequence, but not before finding his sister Laurie’s file and learning where she’s been keeping herself the past twenty years.

It doesn’t take long for Michael to travel across the country— how does a guy who walks so slowly move so quickly?— and before you can say “Dr. Loomis” he’s at the school ready to wreak havoc with his sister once again.

HALLOWEEN H20:  20 YEARS LATER has one of the finer casts in the entire series.

Jamie Lee Curtis returns to the series after missing the previous four films, and it’s her best performance since the first movie.  A young Josh Hartnett plays her son John, and playing his girlfriend Molly is a young Michelle Williams, who would go on to star in the TV series DAWSON’S CREEK (1998-2003) and would later be nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her role as Marilyn Monroe in MY WEEK WITH MARILYN (2011).

Adam Arkin is solid as psychologist Will Brennan, and LL Cool J hams it up as a wannabe writer security guard.  And yes, that is Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the pre-credit sequence as Jimmy, the neighbor who tries but fails to come to Nurse Marion’s assistance.

And for good measure Janet Leigh even shows up as her real life daughter Jamie Lee Curtis’ secretary, Norma, and there’s a nice PSYCHO homage for sharp viewers in Leigh’s final scene, involving the car she’s driving, its license plate, and the background music being played.

All the actors show up and do a phenomenal job in this one, but none more than Jamie Lee Curtis.  She takes this role seriously, and she’s the one who drives this movie along.  It’s her best performance since the first movie.

This is also the first of the Michael Myers HALLOWEEN films not to feature Donald Pleasance as Dr. Loomis, as Pleasance passed away during the filming of HALLOWEEN 6:  THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS (1995).  And while Pleasance is definitely missed here, it was somewhat refreshing to see this film take a different direction, as truth be told, there are only so many times you can watch Pleasance run around in his signature trench coat calling “Michael!  Michael!”  And Curtis’ performance here goes a long way in helping the audience move on from Pleasance.

HALLOWEEN H20:  20 YEARS LATER has a smart and on the money script by Robert Zappia and Matt Greenberg.  It’s also very aware of what kind of movie it is, and it seems to have been influenced by the snappy self-aware style of SCREAM (1996) which had been released two years earlier.

Director Steve Miner gives this film lots of visual style and it contains some of the best cinematography in the series since John Carpenter’s work in the original.  It’s polished and slick.

One thing, however, that HALLOWEEN H20:  20 YEARS LATER is not is scary, and that’s always been a knock on this film for me.  It has its suspenseful moments, but scares?  Hardly.  Michael Myers barely makes an impact in this one.  HALLOWEEN H20:  20 YEARS LATER is pretty much Laurie Strode/Jamie Lee Curtis’ movie.  Don’t get me wrong, Curtis is excellent, and she more than carries this film to higher places than a film this late in a series deserves, but in terms of horror, it falls short, which is too bad because it has the makings of a classic.

Speaking of Michael Myers, he looks kind of goofy in this movie.  His mask looks like it’s been stretched out, and he’s just not as imposing a figure as he’s been in earlier movies.  He’s supposed to be older here—twenty years have passed, after all, and so he’d be 41- but it’s not like he’s an old man.  It’s just not a very intense performance.

HALLOWEEN H20:  20 YEARS LATER is a more literate chapter in the Halloween saga, and it boasts some of the series’ best acting.

Wish you could still have Halloween in November?  Well, you can.  Just check out HALLOWEEN H20:  20 YEARS LATER, and the best part is you don’t have to wait twenty years to do it.

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