When horror scholars and film critics talk about the "Final Girl," they're almost always talking about some variation of Laurie Strode. When the slasher movie was a nascent low-budget movie notion, John Carpenter and Debra Hill wrote a smart, capable heroine amidst peers that were more concerned with goofing off and getting laid. As the slasher boom took off in the 1980s, female leads became the norm, and other filmmakers made the virginal, often tomboyish character even more of a contrast to a supporting cast of often-nude knife bait. Laurie's impact has everything to do with Jamie Lee Curtis.
Curtis has played Laurie in the original Halloween, its 1981 sequel, the 1998 movie Halloween H20 and its sequel Halloween Resurrection, which ignored everything in the timeline after Halloween II. Now, on a tiny street in Charleston, SC, subbing in for Pasadena, CA as the new Haddonfield, Curtis has returned to the role in David Gordon Green's 40th anniversary film sequel, which ignores everything after the original. This is effectively the third different Halloween timeline, something which isn't lost on the franchise's star.
"The truth of the matter is, I did Halloween II because it picked up exactly where Halloween left off," Curtis told a group of journalists, huddled into a house on an idyllic Charleston street. "I felt I owed it to the people who loved the original movie, that it picks up the second the last one ends. I felt as the face of the movie, it was my responsibility. But I also recognized by then--I had already done Prom Night, Terror Train, kind of a bad thriller called Road Games in Australia, and then I did Halloween II--that it was time to say no more because if I hadn’t, I would never have been able to do anything more."
But she did return, a few times. Curtis came back for Halloween: H20, the 20th anniversary film. "The idea of that movie was to kind of complete the story, but of course, with the Halloween movies there’s a completion and there’s a completion. I wanted to end that movie the way we ended the movie. I wanted a concrete ending; when Laurie turns her back at that gate with that ax in her hand, she is saying 'it’s you or me because I’m not running anymore, I’ve been running my whole life, I’m not running, so it’s you or me, it’s us.'" But as we know, you can't let a good franchise die, so the story was amended so that Laurie had actually killed an innocent man and Michael Myers was still alive. "I said I will come in and finish my version of Laurie’s story; that was the reason I was in Resurrection."
But having effectively finished her run as Laurie Strode twice, why would Jamie Lee Curtis come back to do yet another entry that changes the story again? She feels an unending sense of responsibility to the story that started her career. Curtis knows how important Laurie and the Strode name are to horror fans.
The day we were on set, she was not shooting, but still went through hair, makeup, and wardrobe so that we could see what Laurie Strode looks like now. In a world where Michael Myers isn't her brother, she's been hiding her for 40 years, damaging--if not ruining--her relationships with family along the way.
The family in this case are her estranged daughter Karen, played by Judy Greer, and her granddaughter Allyson, played by Andi Matichak. Curtis refers to the characters as the "Three Tall Strode Women," though each deals with Michael Myers' eventual return in a different way. For Laurie, it's been about waiting, and training, and remaining doggedly, obsessively vigilant. "That level of trauma had an effect on this woman who is now 58 years old," Curtis explained, "and that trauma for her is this persevering sense of eventuality that he will come back and that every day of her life has been in preparation for that meeting." In the storyline, Michael was caught following his escape at the end of Halloween and returned to Smith's Grove Sanitarium, but only Laurie knows the danger he poses every moment he's alive.
Curtis explained the abrasiveness that characterizes this version of Laurie. "She slammed into people, institutions, law enforcement, and they hate her because she calls the police every day. She says "do you have somebody patrolling Smith’s Grove? Why aren’t you treating him with the respect that you should treat him? That’s the level of perseverating she has done."
Naturally this form of living makes it hard on any relationship, especially a maternal or grand-maternal one. To better understand the family dynamic we sat down with the three generations of Strode women.
Jamie Lee Curtis: Laurie Strode I believe, doesn’t even know who the father of her daughter is. We believe the man who raised her, my ex-husband, adopted Karen when she was a year or two old, when I met him, then we made a relationship, and that ended very quickly but he adopted her legally.
Judy Greer: My relationship with my mom is very estranged; we would be estranged completely if she didn’t constantly try to reach out, and by reaching out I mean check up on us to make sure that we’re always safe. She feels like a real watchdog over me and my daughter, so I try then to protect my daughter from this crazy woman who raised me, and try to do things differently myself.
Andi Matichak: I’m kind of caught in between since I’ve been a kid and like any kid, you do want a relationship with everyone in your family, and if Laurie’s making an effort, which she has been since I’ve been born, I’ve always wanted to have some sort of peace, so I think it’s made me more of an older soul as a child, to have to kind of mediate.
Curtis: I think with her own daughter, she was dysfunctional in her raising of her because of this obsession of safety. But because her granddaughter wasn’t raised by her, she can connect to the granddaughter. What did Laurie give her daughter when she found out she was going to have a child? A car seat. Laurie is going to buy the safety item, that is who Laurie is going to be as a grandma.
Greer: What’s nice about the character of Allyson that Andi plays is that seeing her at this age, she’s her own woman; she can reach out to her grandma whenever she wants. If we were finding her at eleven or twelve that’s something but now she has access to phones and can say screw you mom, I want to talk to my grandma, I want to have her at this event, I want to have a relationship with her.
Matichak: That event [40 years ago] really shaped Laurie's life and drove her to be the woman she is now. I took a lot away from her in the first one. Her performance and her approach, I feel like Allyson is kind of a spawn of Laurie at 17 as well. I think she sees a lot of herself in me and that’s part of the reason she and I are trying to have a relationship.
Greer: One of the things I responded to immediately about the script was the character of Laurie Strode being the star of the movie. I was just really happy because sometimes with a situation like this, it’s like a cameo, and what I thought was so badass about what the screenwriters did was they made it a multi-generational, female-empowered movie and Jamie Lee Curtis’s character is again the star of the movie.
Curtis: Laurie Strode is a survivor. She survived by her wits, even though she made stupid errors, like throwing the knife away twice. Laurie wasn’t a badass, she’s smart and she survived and in that ways she’s badass, but [fighting Michael] was just an instinct, and in this movie, I also don’t want her to be a badass, I want her to be prepared. She was strong because she was smart. Education I think gives you strength, it’s not muscles, it’s brains.
It's not a coincidence that all of the best Halloween movies star or feature Laurie Strode. Jamie Lee Curtis set the template for strong yet vulnerable horror heroines, and making her the troubled matriarch of a clan of strong women is the perfect way to bring a bit of the ol' Girl Scout to a 40-year-old series.
Halloween will be released on October 19.
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