Jamie Lee Curtis: Scream Queen
by David Grove
Bear Manor Media – 2010
$32.95, 510 pages
Author David Grove puts his powerful magnifying glass over Jamie Lee Curtis’ career between 1978 and 1982 to focus on her scream queen years. This was a glorious period of time where the actress used her talent and considerable charm to make five horror films and a suspense-thriller.
Grove not only hones in on Curtis, but provides the most comprehensive literature I’ve read about the making of Halloween, The Fog, Prom Night, Terror Train, Road Games and Halloween II. Thank goodness he did this because I was more than interested about all of them.
Reading about Jamie Lee Curtis’ upbringing shed light into her somewhat fragile psyche during her teenage years. Not only was she the daughter of a famous Hollywood couple (Janet Leigh & Tony Curtis) but she was self conscious of her gray colored, crooked teeth. Because of this she never felt beautiful like her mother and felt out of place in high school. Plus she did not have a close relationship with her father, which certainly left an emotional void in her heart.
But of her emotional make-up and her unconventional good looks actually contributed immensely to her break-through role as Laurie Strode in John Carpenter’s Halloween. It’s kind of like the movie god shun its light down upon this little production with a cine-magic combination of new star, rest of the cast, hard-working talented crew and a visionary director. John Carpenter was looking to make a cinematic mark. Debra Hill contributed greatly to the screenplay and was perfect at overseeing the production. The charismatic cast spotlighted Jamie Lee and Donald Pleasance, but PJ Soles, Nancy Loomis and Nick Castle’s performance as “The Boogeyman” were just as important. Add Charles Bornstein & Tommy Lee Wallace’s ace editing and a music score that’s recognized the world-over and you have one of the all-time great films. Groves takes us back to when Halloween was put together. You get to experience principal photography by the shooting schedule, with cast & crew comments along the way.
You would think that being in a film as financially successful and critically acclaimed as Halloween would have had Hollywood knocking on Jamie Lee Curtis’ door. But that didn’t happen. The first film she was offered was to re-team with John Carpenter & Debra Hill for The Fog. Curtis really liked how the role of Elizabeth Solley was different than Laurie Strode and that she would get the chance to work with her mother, though they only share one scene.
Grove tells how Curtis actually sought out the role in Prom Night. This makes sense and was actually a smart move because she didn’t have anything going and it afforded her the opportunity to work out of the country in Canada.
I thoroughly enjoyed Grove’s detailed coverage on how Terror Train was made. Jamie Lee made it shortly after finishing Prom Night. It was great hearing about how they made the film in Montreal, Canada with first-time director Roger Spottiswoode.
The author describes how Road Games was the actress’ first step at breaking away from the scream queen roles she had been playing. He tells how she enjoyed going down under to film in Australia, even though there was a local backlash towards her after the producers of that film had Curtis replace the original Australian actress for the role. Jamie Lee enjoyed working with director Richard Franklin (who was friends with John Carpenter at from their USC days) enough that they who later discussed about possibly doing Psycho II together, but both ultimately decided against it.
Even thought Curtis wanted desperately to make a clean break from being a scream queen, she did Halloween II because she felt she owed it to Carpenter & Hill for giving her a career. Plus she felt responsible to play Laurie Strode for all the fans. Little did she or anyone else know it would be the last time that she would work with John Carpenter & Debra Hill.
Grove does talk about the television work Jamie Lee did before Halloween and the roles she would perform after Halloween II, but really it’s her scream queen years that are rightfully this book’s focus.
If you have any affinity for Jamie Lee Curtis and her scream queen films, you will be thrilled with the wealth of information this book provides. For those who aren’t familiar, this tome will educate you about the best scream queen to ever grace the screen.
Through David Grove’s intricate research and massive scale interviews, he’s put together the puzzle pieces of how these movies were made over three decades ago. He spends a considerable amount of time detailing the making of each movie and for this reason; this book is worth the price of admission. Since Halloween is my favorite film, while reading the many pages about that masterpiece film had me glued to this book and gave me great satisfaction.
Because the way the movie climate has chanced, I doubt we will ever see another actress take away the crown Jamie Lee Curtis will forever own as Scream Queen.