‘Halloween’ 40 Years Later: Jamie Lee Curtis and John Carpenter on the Film’s Legacy (Exclusive)
By Rande Iaboni
“It’s Halloween; everyone’s entitled to one good scare.” --Sheriff Brackett
“I’m going to be 60 years old in November, I’m standing on the set of a movie I made 40 years ago and I am playing the same character!” Jamie Lee Curtis told ET in disbelief at the full-circle moment for her career. The actress stood on the South Carolina set of Halloween in full costume, including a wavy blonde wig eerily reminiscent of her natural hair when she first played Laurie Strode.
It was October of 1978 when the now-infamous masked killer Michael Myers first stalked the streets of Haddonfield, looking for babysitters, particularly Laurie -- Curtis’ debut film role -- in a new kind of horror film.
Halloween, written and directed by John Carpenter, is one of the most (if not the most) iconic films of the horror industry, grossing $47 million in the U.S. off a shoestring budget of just $325,000. It not only launched Curtis’ film career, it also spawned the wildly successful slasher genre, with Michael as one of the most terrifying faces in cinematic history.
The ever-modest Curtis had no idea just how popular the film would become, even when ET sat down with her in 1983, two years after her return in Halloween II. “I think classics are classics. I think Halloween could be one,” the actress said at the time. “If they are classics, it’s just because they were able to keep you in suspense without making you throw up, and I think [Halloween] did that.”
Ultimately, the film spawned a franchise that includes seven sequels, with Curtis reprising her role in three films, and a two-film reboot from director Rob Zombie. In total, the franchise has grossed over $300 million. Now, Michael and Laurie will be making the ultimate return home in a new installment, Halloween -- the franchise’s 11th overall -- in theaters Oct. 19.
To say the franchise’s timeline got confusing would be an understatement, but thankfully, this new iteration will be a direct sequel to the original. “It would be as if you saw Halloween and 40 years later you are seeing this,” Curtis said.
Not only are some of the franchise’s weaker installments -- Halloween III didn’t even feature Michael -- ignored, but the Halloween II revelation that Laurie and Michael are siblings will no longer be part of the narrative. “It's a separate movie, it's a separate idea,” Curtis continued. “No other movie that we have made, either that I've been in or I haven't been in, has any relevance to this movie.”
Carpenter supports the creative decision to start anew, so to speak, with this sequel. “I thought it was great. I love it,” Carpenter beamed. “I never thought there was any more story to this after the first one. Boy, was I wrong.”
Now 70, Carpenter has returned to the franchise for the first time since 1982, this time serving as executive producer as well as composer, providing a follow-up to the original film’s iconic score. “I wanted to be able to contribute something to the movie,” he said.
Also returning is Nick Castle -- the actor who first portrayed Michael Myers -- marking the first time he has had any involvement in the series since the 1978 original. “This is so hilarious to be back on set doing this movie 40 years later,” Castle, 70, said. “John Carpenter and I were just talking about how absolutely nuts this is.”
“Forty years later -- that’s a lifetime! And yet here we are,” Curtis mused about the trio’s reunion, which was monumental to witness as they embraced in warm hugs and shared stories, capping it off by posing for a photo with the original clapboard slate from the 1978 film.
“The first day of shooting I started sobbing,” Curtis admitted. “We all want to carry on our families’ legacies. We are carrying on a legacy here, 40 years later, of Halloween.”
“Death has come to your little town, Sheriff.” --Dr. Loomis
Originally filmed in 20 days on location in Southern California, Halloween “was made very quickly by a bunch of best friends,” Curtis said, referring to Carpenter and Castle.
The 2018 set relocated to Charleston, South Carolina, where they recreated the sleepy Midwestern suburb of Haddonfield, Illinois. Filmmakers rented out multiple homes in one neighborhood, decking them out with homemade decorations -- ghosts dangling from trees, carved pumpkins, painted signs that read “Beware!” -- the quaint Southern block now overrun by all things Halloween. Combined with the colorful leaves falling in the chilly February air, being on set was like stepping into a time machine back to the original film.
Despite the geographical difference, the similarities between both sets were not lost on Curtis, who found herself reminiscing about the original production.
Jamie Lee Curtis Demonstrates the Perfect Jump Scare in 1983 'Halloween' Interview (Flashback)
“When I was 19 years old, I was tired one afternoon and I laid a grip blanket down and took a nap under a tree in West Hollywood, California,” recalled the actress, who spent 18 days on set filming the sequel. “Yesterday, I laid a blanket out on the grass over there and I lay down just like I did then.”
Much like the first, the new Halloween was the result of “young people -- best friends -- coming together,” she said. This time, the film was directed by David Gordon Green, who co-wrote the film with Jeff Fradley and longtime friend Danny McBride.
Green and McBride, who have previously teamed up on projects like Pineapple Express and the HBO series Eastbound & Down, might have sounded like surprising choices to take over Halloween when it was first announced. But the duo’s devotion to the franchise (and the horror genre in general) was evident on the set.
“We’ve always wanted to challenge ourselves to try and break out of any sort of expectations we have for ourselves,” said Green, who recalled the first time he saw Halloween: “My parents were very strict and wouldn’t allow me to see it, and then I snuck seeing it at a friend’s sleepover party and I was so scared I had to go home.”
The new film, Green added, is “an opportunity to conquer our demons and the nightmares we had as children.”
So how exactly did Green and McBride convince Curtis to sign on to their film? “It really had to do with the way the story is being told,” the actress revealed. “It was the writing from the opening scene, just the way it opens; I knew exactly what they were doing. It is a retelling of Halloween 40 years later, done in a very interesting way.”
“We actually wrote it thinking, There is no way she will do it,” Green admitted, later revealing that when Curtis agreed to sign on for the film, he was “dancing in the streets.”
“Having [Curtis] in it elevates the entire thing. I think it connects it to the original in such a cool way,” McBride added.
“I think it’s just the greatest. Without her, Halloween is not as important. She’s it,” Carpenter marveled.
“Do as I say!” --Laurie Strode
The portrayal of Laurie in this film was crucial to Curtis; after four decades, the actress had a clear vision of who her character has become. “Laurie was the oppressed, intelligent virgin and she fought back,” Curtis recalled.
“I hope that we don’t create an idea that women need to have big shields and muscles to be strong; I think strength is intelligence,” added Curtis, who at 59 years old -- her birthday is Nov. 22 -- said that “you’re gonna see my 60-year-old woman arms. It’s not about that; it’s about intelligence and vulnerability.”
For the actress, playing this role -- especially in keeping with the vision she’s had of Laurie -- has been an honor. “If it wasn’t for Laurie Strode, I don’t think I’d be standing here with you today. It was the most singular moment of my professional career,” she reveled.
Following the first Halloween, Curtis became widely known as Hollywood’s seminal scream queen during the Golden Age of slasher films, which saw the actress starring in Halloween II, The Fog, Prom Night and Terror Train in the four years that followed her breakout. In the decades since, she has won a Golden Globe for Anything But Love and earned acclaim for roles in A Fish Called Wanda, Freaky Friday and True Lies.
“As an actress, your joy is when an audience identifies with you and your characters, and goes out to see you,” Curtis told ET back in 1983. “If horror films have given me what people have described as ‘cult status,’ all that tells me is that there’s a group of people who’ve liked the films I’ve made, and have maybe liked me.… That’s all we’re supposed to do: try to get an audience to like you.”
On the set of the new Halloween, 35 years after that interview, Curtis echoed that sentiment. “The audience for this movie has given me my life,” she said. “Halloween is the root of my career and I will always go back to it.”
“Was that the boogeyman?” --Laurie Strode
While the specifics of the new film’s plot have been kept tightly under wraps, “we’re following the story of one woman who suffered a terrible trauma when she was a young girl,” Curtis explained.
What we do know is that 40 years after the original, Laurie is now mother to Karen Strode (Judy Greer) and grandmother to Allyson Strode (Andi Matichak). The younger two generations will eventually come face-to-face with Michael on Halloween night, and it will be up to Laurie to save them.
“Laurie is hardened and she’s tough and angry and out for protection, but really, she is gonna end this,” Greer promised, with Matichak adding that Curtis “has an incredible ability to be vulnerable and strong at the same time.”
When asked what brings Michael back to Haddonfield, Curtis had this to offer: “Watch the first movie and listen to what Laurie says. What she says brings him back here.”
With the movie’s theater debut just days away, anticipation is at a fever pitch, with momentum that has been building since Curtis first confirmed she was returning to the franchise in September of last year. But none of that pressure was visible when ET was on set. “The expectations now are enormous, but I believe we all started this movie and said, ‘Forget the expectations, let’s make a movie and if the movie is great, it’ll do great,’” Curtis said at the time.
Early reviews that have come out of the Toronto International Film Festival, where the film premiered, seem to live up to Curtis’ promise. Variety states that the film succeeds in “tying up the mythology that Carpenter and company established, while delivering plenty of fresh suspense.”.
When asked on set if Curtis, who returned for the franchise’s 20th anniversary in Halloween H20: 20 Years Later and is now back again for the 40th, would be back for another milestone year in the franchise, she remained steadfast. “Let’s just enjoy the idea that we’re going to rejoin Laurie Strode in Haddonfield on Halloween night 40 years later and see where we go from there.”