‘Halloween’ 40 Years Later: Why Jamie Lee Curtis Is Still the Ultimate Scream Queen

Jamie Lee Curtis Halloween
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ET looks back at our time with the original scream queen before the return of Michael Myers.

The mask. The music. The sequels. There are many memorable things about the Halloween franchise, but none of them have had quite the same impact as a then-20-year-old Jamie Lee Curtis, daughter of Hollywood royalty, who created an everygirl so iconic, she’s returning to the role 40 years after the original.

In 1978, Curtis made her film debut as resilient teenage babysitter Laurie Strode in Halloween. It’s a simple enough story: A young man, Michael Myers, kills his sister on Halloween in 1963 and is locked away in an institution. Fifteen years later, he escapes and returns to his hometown, where he terrorizes and kills a group of teenagers one by one, until he’s stopped (or at least slowed down) by Laurie.

What makes Laurie iconic is the sense of realness Curtis imbues her with. It’s not just that she’s the typical example of the “final girl” horror movie trope, or even that she fights back against the “boogeyman.” It’s that she feels like a real person, a real friend you would count on in a situation like a masked killer stalking through town.

That charm and charisma -- the good girl who’s not a bore -- launched her career and helped Curtis become the multifaceted star she is today. 

After Halloween, she essentially became the face of the horror genre, starring in The Fog, Prom Night, Terror Train and Road Games before returning to the franchise with Halloween II -- something she was hesitant to do.

“I made a conscious decision before Halloween II was decided to be made to not do another horror film. I felt I'd given myself to the genre, so to speak,” Curtis told ET in 1981, not long after the sequel had wrapped production.

Halloween II was another success, but by that point, Curtis was moving on with comedies like Trading Places and A Fish Called Wanda.

“I never calculated doing horror films, I don't calculate now doing just comedies. You don't have that luxury,” Curtis said in 1983 of her career transition. “And being young and an actress and female, you don't have that luxury of being able to pick the sort of rainbow of roles... and be able to be completely diverse and show every angle and every color that you have. You take the jobs that come along and are lucky that you get them,” she added.

Curtis was openly thankful, though, for the boost horror films gave her career.

“As an actress, your joy is when an audience identifies with you and your characters and goes out to see you,” she said. “Now, if horror films have given me what people have called or described as a '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 -- and if they liked me then, they're going to like me again.”

Jamie Lee Curtis In 'Halloween H20: 20 Years Later.' - Dimension Films/Getty Images

The Halloween franchise continued without her, spawning four more sequels. But in 1998, 20 years after the original, Curtis was eager to return to the series in Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later. “It wasn't even ‘bring me back,’” she said about reprising the role on set in 1998. “It was actually a call that I made, saying, ‘Well, why aren't we doing that?’”

The movie also had a special appearance from Curtis’ mom, Janet Leigh, the original scream queen from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, which Curtis said was “the scariest movie ever made. And so, obviously the connection between us is great,” she reflected. 

“She's my mother and we both have established ourselves in a career where what you would call the high point or the pinnacle of the career was a horror movie… So, when we were coming back to do this as this sort of homage movie, it seemed correct to include her,” Curtis added.

ET also spoke with Leigh on set, where she said she was thrilled to be working with her daughter. “It's great fun for us because this Halloween is the summation for Jamie,” the Hollywood icon said at the time.

Leigh, who died at age 77 on Oct. 3, 2004, also elaborated on how she and her daughter embraced the horror genre and the title of “scream queen.” “It's interesting that, sometimes people put down what happened when they started,” she said. “And I don't think that's true... I think that genre has its place and serves its purpose and gives everyone a good scare.”

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.”

Before the film’s release, Curtis explained why it was so important to create a person that audiences root for -- a strong woman who fights back and faces the fear that’s been haunting her for two decades. “So then at the moment in the movie when she can escape and she doesn't and she turns around and faces him knowing that she might die facing Michael Myers, but even in death, she will have saved her soul. That's a movie!” she said.

Four years later, in 2002, Curtis made what was thought to be her final appearance in the franchise: Halloween: Resurrection, where Laurie seemingly dies at the hands of Michael Myers.

As her time on the franchise wrapped, she revealed what the series meant to her as an actress and a person. “I owe everything I have today, on a material career level, to the movie Halloween,” she said. “There is no dot that does not connect up to the movie Halloween in 1978. So, that's why I'm here, I'm here because I owe John [Carpenter], Debra [Hill] and every person who's ever been to one of these horror movies.”

Curtis also explained why Laurie has continued to survive and hold a place in fans’ hearts. “She's never afraid. That's the thing I like about these movies -- not to paint the picture of these movies too profoundly, but I think what's special about the fact that I'm still doing it and that this character is still around is that this woman has fought back,” she said.

While Curtis had a long and varied career at this point, following Resurrection with a Golden Globe-nominated turn as Lindsay Lohan’s mom in 2003 remake of Freaky Friday, horror called again -- this time with a dark sense of humor. In 2015, Curtis was announced as one of the stars of Ryan Murphy’s new series, Scream Queens, as Dean Munsch, a stern school leader with a unique desire to educate the next generation.

The young cast, led by Emma Roberts, a budding scream queen thanks to her work on Murphy’s American Horror Story and Scream 4, gushed about working with the original on set. “I was just freaked out because she's amazing,” Roberts said.

“She's a legend. I mean she is just, she really is, like, one of the coolest people I've ever met and just so smart and so interesting and she's so good in this role. It's something you've never seen her do before and she's so funny!”

Now, the legend has returned once more to the franchise that made her a star in 2018’s Halloween. “Same porch. Same clothes. Same issues. Forty years later," she captioned an image of herself standing on the infamous porch, with Michael Myers looming in the background. "Headed back to Haddonfield one last time for Halloween.”

In the new film directed by David Gordon Green, Strode “comes to her final confrontation with Michael Myers, the masked figure who has haunted her since she narrowly escaped his killing spree on Halloween night four decades ago.” It's a direct sequel to the first film, ignoring the events of subsequent installments and the series’ 2007 reboot.

“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!” Curtis told ET from the set of the new film, in disbelief at the full-circle moment for her career. “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.”