Jamie Lee Curtis: Scream Queen


Jamie Lee Curtis: Scream Queen

by David Grove

Bear Manor Media – 2010
ISBN: 978-1593936082
$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.


On Location in Blairstown: The Making of Friday The 13th

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On Location in Blairstown: The Making of Friday The 13th
By David Grove

AuthorMike Dark Ink – 2013
ISBN: 978-0988446823
$24.99, 226 pages

Crystal Lake Memories was a big beautiful book about the entire Friday The 13th movie series.  I loved it.  But if you are a true fan of the box office killing first film Friday The 13th, then you positively must get this new book On Location in Blairstown: The Making of Friday The 13th.

David Grove (who’s written a bunch of other books, including the outstanding Jamie Lee Curtis: Scream Queen) pulls out all the stops to tell the full production story of Sean S. Cunningham’s hugely successful slasher.  If you are like me, I can never get too much information on how a film was made, especially one as dear to my heart as Friday The 13th.

Grove has somehow tracked down most of the cast and crew, including investors & distributor personnel to compile the history of this often copied film.  He tells exactly what happened before, during and after the Blairstown, New Jersey shoot.  He takes you not only to Camp-No-Be-Bo-Sco but downtown Blairstown and the surrounding shooting locations.  You’ll be transported back inside the hotels, restaurants where the cast and crew were lodged.  The author chronicles the relationships made during the shoot and their interaction since.

You’ll read about how the initial idea came to Sean Cunningham.  You’ll discover the development of the script and exactly who was responsible for writing it.

One of the things I found most interesting about this tome was that in no way was this film a creative endeavor for Sean Cunningham.  After coming off the luke-warm performance of two children-oriented family films, Cunningham needed something to be successful.  He re-mortgaged his house and put all his chips on the table for this film. I’ve always said a desperate director is dangerous because they put everything into making it a success.

Cunningham didn’t really want to work again with the three investors from Boston (originally called Hallmark Releasing then Georgetown Productions).  But there was nobody else that was willing to fund the project.  In fact, at one crucial point Cunningham decided not to work with them, only to change his mind the next morning (after a sleepless night) and caught them right before they were going to invest their money into another venture.

Grove then takes you through the location scouting and casting of the movie. Betsy Palmer came aboard mid-way through the shoot after the first four actresses either couldn’t commit or come to a financial agreement.  This is particularly noteworthy because Palmer knocked the role out of the park and it became the most identifiable performance of her long career.

Cunningham’s choice to re-team with Director of Photography Barry Abrams (who had shot Cunningham’s previous films Manny’s Orphans & Here Come the Tigers) was probably one of the top-five things he did in terms of how good the film turned out.  Finding Camp No-Be-Bo-Sco proved the perfect place to set the counselors up for fun times and later isolated terror.

Hiring Tom Savini, fresh off his work on George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, was critically an important move on the filmmaker’s part.  Savini ended up creating ingenious splatter effects that have terrorized a worldwide audience ever since.  Not only that but Savini crafted the iconic mongoloid look of young Jason Voorhees and even gave the low-budget film a big shot in the arm with stunt work it could not have afforded otherwise.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the intricate details of the entire principal photography phase.  What scenes were shot on what day-week (the shooting schedule and some of the script comes as a bonus) was invaluable to me.  About 10 years ago, I visited Blairstown and the Boy Scout camp, so I have first had knowledge of the locations.  While reading about the shoot, I could imagine where the cast & crew made this movie.  This volume is the closest thing to being there thirty-four years after the fact.

The wealth of information about cast and crew on set provides for some fascinating stories, most of which I’ve never seen or heard in any other media platform.  On Location in Blairstown: The Making of Friday The 13th is easily the most comprehensive authority on the history of how Friday The 13th as made.

Grove updates us with what everyone has gone on to do since making this classic.

This is a lightning quick read.  In fact, the quickest written work I’ve read this year.  On a scaled to one to ten, with ten being the best, this would get the max score.

If you only purchase one book the rest of this year, then I’d make On Location in Blairstown: The Making of Friday The 13th your choice.  The fact the book will hit stores on Friday September 13th is totally cool and wise date by the publisher.


The Friedkin Connection – A Memoir


The Friedkin Connection – A Memoir

By William Friedkin

Harper – 2013
ISBN: 978-0061775123
512 Pages, $29.99

Back in the mid-80s I caught a late night show (I think if was Charlie Rose) interview with William Friedkin, where the filmmaker spoke in detail about what a film director does.  To this day, I consider it to be the single best explanation of film directing I’ve ever heard.

For years Friedkin has refused to write a book about his career.  Thank goodness he finally decided to do it.  This memoir is easily the most engaging read I’ve had this year.  It’s a killer combination of William Friedkin’s incredibly diverse life and the way he communicates it through his words.

What I love most about The Friedkin Connection is how Friedkin tells it like it is.  Unlike Hollywood, he doesn’t have to be politically correct or sugar coat the truth.  Like his reality-based gritty directorial approach on The French Connection and The Exorcist, he shares his life story with cold hard facts, even admitting his shortcomings.

Friedkin’s failures are just as fascinating as his success stories.  It’s honestly miraculous that he actually got to direct The Exorcist because Warner Bros. didn’t want him.  They had a select list of five directors and Friedkin wasn’t on it.  The only reason he got the chance was because William Peter Blatty was in the room when Friedkin told Bake Edwards the negative opinion about a screenplay Edwards was considering Friedkin directing.  This was a situation where if he would have played nice, he would have got the job but instead he told his true feelings that the script stunk.  As Friedkin was walking away from the meeting, Blatty chased him down and let him know that Friedkin was right about the script.  Blatty didn’t forget this and after his novel became a best-seller, Blatty earned the right to help pick the person to make the film and he was Blatty’s choice because of this.

Only after the studio brass saw The French Connection (Friedkin was the youngest director to win an Academy Award) did they agree to let him helm the movie.  But that was not the only battle Friedkin had to endure to make the movie.  After Friedkin excitingly read Blatty’s first draft of the script he told Blatty, “Bill you wouldn’t give this to your worst enemy” and that it needed a page one rewrite.  Surprisingly, this is after Blatty went to bat for him and helped him get the job.  There is a hilarious story of what Friedkin experienced casting Ellen Burstyn in her first lead role.  For Jason Miller, Friedkin had a hunch to consider him after seeing Miller’s Broadway written play That Championship Season.  But after screen testing him, Friedkin was unimpressed.  It was only after Miller read the novel and paid his own way to Hollywood (by bus because he was afraid to fly) for a second screen test was Friedkin convinced.  The story he tells about how he cast Linda Blair is classic Friedkin and should have you laughing.  There were so many more skirmishes between what Friedkin and Blatty wanted versus the studio.  Warner Bros. didn’t want it shot in Georgetown, New York and especially the opening in Iraq to name a few but in each case they got their locale and we all better because of it..

The things Friedkin had to do to make The French Connection, Sorcerer and Cruising all should be considered legendary in filmmaking lore.

The info you learn about Friedkin’s “Nightcrawlers” episode in the mid-80s The Twilight Zone, To Live and Die in L.A., Rampage and Blue Chips most certainly increases your filmmaking knowledge.

William Friedkin is an uncompromising voice in film who has directed not only feature films, but documentaries (where he got his start), TV shows, music videos, award shows and even operas.  He is married to one of the most powerful accomplished ladies in Hollywood history (Sherry Lansing), has battled some serious health issues and lives to tell about it in this brilliant book.

If you are a film director then it’s absolutely essential to read this.  If you are a fan of any of his movies, you won’t want to miss out on hearing how those movies where made.  If you are none of the above but just want to read a page turner, than The Friedkin Connection is a book you must get.