"I'm Laurie Strode's guardian angel." - JAMIE LEE CURTIS
So how many of you bowed the icy throne of Fox's Scream Queens last week? Well, one of the many pleasant things about the show so far is how great homage is paid to the entire notion of scream queens, with no better evidence then the inspired casting of one Jamie Lee Curtis. As we know, since her run in the late 70s and 80s, Curtis has been apotheosized as the definitive scream queen of her generation - The High Priestess of Horror - one who undoubtedly sits squarely on the Mt. Rushmore of such heralded horror dames. The grand irony, of course, is that Jamie Lee descends from a ripe lineage of, ahem, huge-lunged screamers. Remember, Janet Leigh let loose a hell of a high-pitch in what's arguably the first slasher joint ever laid down, Hitchcock's masterpiece PSYCHO (along with PEEPING TOM).
Anyway, we thought it only right, as Scream Queens coincides with this year's Halloween season, that we wholeheartedly fete the fecund genre career of Ms. Jamie Lee Curtis. Yup folks, we're attempting to pull off what Michael Myers could not for well over two decades...we're fixing to Dissect Jamie Lee Curtis once and for all!
Please. No one in their right mind would consider any role other than that of Laurie Strode in John Carpenter's seminal HALLOWEEN franchise as Jamie Lee's most iconic. Think about it. At the time of production, HALLOWEEN marked Curtis' first real feature film credit, having only done stints of television prior to. And not only did the low-budget horror hit introduce the world to Jamie Lee, it also fortified the prototype of a horror heroine...wholesome, levelheaded, sensitive, strong, and no matter what physical rigors she's put through, remains completely unflappable.
It's true. As far as slasher flicks are concerned, the paradigmatic mold of a final girl started with Jamie Lee, a character curriculum that has persisted ever since. Okay, so she did hit the herb early in the day with PJ Soles character in HALLOWEEN, but remember the rules Randy so eloquently laid down in SCREAM, which also paid homage to Curtis - no sex, no alcohol, no proclaiming they'll be right back, etc. Curtis as Laurie Strode snuggly fits the bill, and clearly laid the groundwork for decades of duplicates and mimetic final girls that lend pure pathos to the grisly proceedings of a slasher joint.
And not just others, her own as well. As you'll recall, after appearing in HALLOWEEN, Curtis appeared in Carpenter's follow up film THE FOG, as well as reprised her Scream Queen charisma in less effective but equally entertaining slasher knockoffs, PROM NIGHT and TERROR TRAIN. This only solidified Curtis as the go-to Scream Queen of her day, and through her performance, only perpetuated the paradigm for other to follow. But as always, Curtis' persona is inimitable, both in her vulnerability and will to survive. For proof, we can adduce HALLOWEEN II and Laurie's dogged determination to fight off her baleful brother's relentless homicidal advances...in a hospital no less. Call it life imitating art, or vise versa, but it's quite astounding how after all this time, it's just as hard to kill off Jamie Lee's immortal onscreen scream queen persona as it is (was) to killer Laurie Strode herself. The two are inextricably linked!
But by the same token, you can start to see diminishing returns when going to the well too many times. Call it overstaying your welcome if you want, but the very role that established Curtis as a major player in the horror realm, is the same that grew a bit stale after 20 years. In all honesty, we think Curtis' decision to opt out of the HALLOWEEN franchise after part 2 was the correct one. But hey, when the studio throws you piles of dough to reprise the role 20 years on...in effete chapters meant only to cash in...well, it's cynical, but you can hardly blame Curtis for capitalizing. Perhaps pairing her with Busta Rhymes and LL Cool Jay didn't help the cause. Or Josh Hartnett for that matter. Sheesh. Really, the less said about H20 and HALLOWEE: RESURRECTION the better, particularly the way in which, as surely agreed upon by Curtis, how her character Laure Strode finally meet her gruesome end. 13 years later, and no one Scream Queen has yet replaced the giant footsteps left in Curtis' wake.
Also, not for nothing, but Jamie Lee did a generic movie in 1999 that isn't very good called VIRUS. I mean, when Billy Baldwin is your male co-lead, you're in for a world of hurt. Hell, not even the great Donald Sutherland could rescue what amounts to a cheap ALIEN rip-off. Strange timing too, for it's the first horror flick (aside from H20) that Curtis chose to do in a good decade or more. Poor choice to say the least. To say the most, here's what Jamie Lee once told IGN:
"Rob Reiner for his 40th birthday had a bad show business party where everybody brought show business clips. Rob's was playing a hippie on Gomer Pyle: USMC (1964) singing 'Blowin' in the Wind'. Virus (1999) is so bad that it's shocking. That would be the all time piece of shit. It's just dreadful. That's the only good reason to be in bad movies. Then when your friends have [bad] movies you can say 'Ahhhh, I've got the best one. I'm bringing Virus (1999).'"
Really though, what more can I add?!
In tandem with her perfectly contoured stems (insured for $2 million), deep voice and sultry athletic build, Jamie Lee Curtis has to be best known for exactly what we're celebrating her for today...her androgynous scream queen status. That said, we don't want to be reductive, and to that end we'd be remiss to omit her underrated comedic chops (TRADING PLACES, A FISH CALLED WANDA, TRUE LIES). But for our heart-pulsing purposes, indeed, it's Curtis' tried and true traits as the prototypical final girl...both masculine and feminine, replete with swollen chest and requisite vocal range...that we believe will be one of the highlights on her epitaph. And frankly, not to be redundant, but it's for some of the reasons mentioned above. Few actresses have the ability to aptly polish both sides of the coin...to be a soft, sexy, vulnerable girl in peril on one hand and a hardened, indomitably spirited kick-ass heroine on the other. Many girls can play one or other, but not both simultaneously. Curtis has the chops to play both sides, and through her impressive 40 year genre career, has proven it time and time again.
When you get canonized and anointed queen for your work in such venerated genre classics as HALLOWEEN, THE FOG, PROM NIGHT, TERROR TRAIN and HALLOWEEN II, you bet your balls it's easy to overlook the few credits that happen to fall in between. But don't get it twisted friends, there's a pair of Curtis gems (well aside from those Double-D's) we feel worthy of excavating. The first the Hitchcokian automotive Aussie thriller ROAD GAMES, and the other is the shamefully forgotten Eric Red scripted, Kathryn Bigelow directed cat-and-mouse-thriller BLUE STEEL. See them both!
At the time, ROAD GAMES was the most expensive movie made in Australia ($1.3 million), though that hardly elevates it beyond a terrifyingly pulpy piece of Ozploitation. This is no high-brow piece of art. That said, the flick boasts a really cool premise about a grizzled truck driver (played by the great Stacy Keach) that gets into a lethal pissing match with an enigmatic serial killer who in turn uses a young female hitchhiker (Curtis) to lure roadside strangers into his murderous death-grip. It's an odd turn for Curtis, who plays both harried victim and reluctant accomplice in her attempt to survive. She finds an interesting gray area that makes her character more than just the one-dimensional damsel in distress her early slasher work would indicate. Here she gets to play a more complex, compromised character that has to make choices that not only keep herself out of harm's way, but random stragglers who the killer lifts with lethal intentions. Moreover, her character is named Hitch, not just as a play on hitchhiker, but for the obvious tribute paid to the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock. It makes me think our good pal Eric Red saw this one and found a little inspiration for THE HITCHER, released 5 years after ROAD GAMES.
Speaking of Eric Red, who's seen the 1989 crime-thriller BLUE STEEL? Well, do so ASAP if you've not, as you'll not regret it. Co-written by Red with the now Oscar winning director Kathryn Bigelow (their follow up collaboration to NEAR DARK), in BLUE STEEL Curtis plays the rookie police officer and object of obsession for a psychotically unhinged madman with a loaded pistol and a vengeful plot in mind. See, when a work mishap results in her suspension, we soon learn the real reason for the blunder wasn't her fault at all, that instead, a serial killer has been targeting her all along. And not just any sicko, Ron Silver! Seriously, check this one out if you can, as you'll see Curtis give one of her more nuanced turns as a person of power whose emotional state is stripped bare and laid vulnerable. Besides, you'll get a character actor showdown with the likes of Clancy Brown, Tom Sizemore, Kevin Dunn, Richard Jenkins and two all time screen femmes, Louise Fletcher and the late Elizabeth Pena. F*ck Zoolander yo, this is the real BLUE STEEL!
While it's no doubt a bummer Jamie Lee only has a single feature that we know of in the works - a spy comedy written by longtime pal Tom Arnold - we should all rejoice at the juicy role Curtis has been given in the biting and bloody new series Scream Queens. Hell, it only makes sense right. I mean, you can't credibly calculate a show called Scream Queens without at least bowing to throne of Curtis. And thankfully, what I've seen so far from the first two episodes (lumped together as one) is just how plum a role Curtis is sure to have, instead of just rocking a glorified cameo. But before we lace you with specifics, peep the official synopsis of the show, courtesy of Fox:
Wallace University is rocked by a string of murders. Kappa House, the most sought-after sorority for pledges, is ruled with an iron fist (in a pink glove) by its Queen Bitch, Chanel Oberlin (Emma Roberts). But when anti-Kappa Dean Cathy Munsch (Jamie Lee Curtis) decrees that sorority pledging must be open to all students, and not just the school's silver-spooned elite, all hell is about to break loose, as a devil-clad killer begins wreaking havoc, claiming one victim, one episode at a time. Part black comedy, part slasher flick, SCREAM QUEENS is a modern take on the classic whodunit, in which every character has a motive for murder... Or could easily be the next blood-soaked casualty.
Really though, how cool is that? And to make things even chillier, Jamie Lee is playing against type as an uptight authoritative harridan...the embattled school Dean Cathy Munsch. In our short sampling thus far, we can tell she is not only an icy figure in her own right, but a potential suspect like every other character. She lived through the horrors of a university slaughtering 20 years prior, yet still seems to have very little answers on how to stop it...outside of puffing doobies and blackmailing young strapping college lads for randy roll-around trysts and the like. Dirty birdie!
While I think it would be a kind of poetic justice if Curtis ended up being the killer of the series, in effect cyclically acting as the OG Scream Queen who fosters an entire new generation of identically voiced damsels in distress, but I suppose the irony might be too rich for it all to play out that way. Regardless, it's a joy to see Curtis back in the horror realm and poking fun at her own cemented screen image while doing so. Stay posted as we recount every episode of Scream Queen from now through January. It's gonna be a motherf*cking gas!
To say Jamie Lee Curtis is a first ballot Scream Queen Hall of Famer is an absolute understatement. A real "no shit, Sherlock" utterance. But hopefully, after Dissecting her long legs and bodacious bust-line in this here examination, the reasons for such have become a little clearer. Since making us all wildly root for her character Laurie Strode to survive back in 1978, Jamie Lee Curtis has made a career of ducking and dispatching boogeymen of all forms. Whether it's her work with John Carpenter (HALLOWEEN, THE FOG), or PROM NIGHT, TERROR TRAIN, HALLOWEEN II, ROAD GAMES, BLUE STEEL, and now coming full circle to Fox's Scream Queens...Jamie Lee's status as one of the all time greats has been firmly cemented. You're the best Jamie!