For four decades, she has lit up screens, as likably down-to-earth as she is gutsy and laugh-out-loud funny. As Jamie Lee Curtis returns to her most iconic role as bogeyman-busting Laurie Strode in this year’s Halloween, we delved into the Curtis back catalogue to uncover the Scream Queen’s best ever on-screen moments…
Let me in! – Halloween (1978)
In her breakout role as babysitter Laurie Strode, Jamie Lee Curtis brought a quiet intelligence to the American girl next door. Not easily shaken, even when she spots a spooky white-masked figure in Mr Riddle’s backyard, she’s the perfect foil for the embodiment of pure evil when Michael Myers comes to Haddonfield.
Curtis’s shining moment arrives in the final act when, having discovered her friends butchered in a neighbour’s house, she pegs it back across the street to the Doyle house. Big problem – she’s being pursued by Michael Myers, and the front door’s locked. In one of the film’s most nerve-shredding (and copycatted) sequences, Laurie screams at the kids to let her in while Michael glides closer, and Curtis milks the set-up for every drop of terror.
Mommy dearest – The Fog (1980)
Reuniting with her Halloween director John Carpenter, Curtis plays an older kind of everywoman in this atmospheric tale of ghosts invading a small fishing town. She nails the humour (“Are you weird?” she asks Tom Atkins when she hitchhikes with him) and delivers the requisite blood-curdling screams when a body pops out of a boat locker.
She’s also more than happy to share her horror crown in a film that features FOUR Final Girls. They include Adrienne Barbeau, Curtis’s Halloween buddy Nancy Loomis and, most thrillingly, Curtis’s own mother, the horror legend that is Janet Leigh (of Psycho shower fame). Appearing together on-screen for the first time, the duo meet in the final act, holing up in a church as murderous undead pirates (oh yes) attack. It’s a bone-shaking sequence that gives horror fans extra thrills and chills as mother and daughter work together to vanquish the evil.
Dance the night away – Prom Night (1980)
By this point in the 1980s, Curtis was well and truly a Scream Queen, but she wasn’t coasting – her heroine, Kim, in this date-specific slasher is nothing like Laurie Strode, as we discover in the jubilant dance number that comes in the film’s third act.
Prom Night is very much of its decade, which means disco dancing was in – as were big hair and glitter balls. And Curtis is resplendent in a disco dance sequence that unspools over a gloriously unbroken three minutes and sees her shaking a tail feather with Casey Stevens. Who needs Dirty Dancing?
Inga – Trading Places (1983)
Proving she could do comedy as well as cowering, Curtis shrugged off both her horror image and her girl-next-door rep with this cult chuckler. She plays a world-wise prostitute who agrees to help Dan Aykroyd’s investor when he’s framed as a thief and loses all of his money.
It’s a stock role that Curtis imbues with wit, warmth and gum-chewing no-nonsense, and her performance was so unexpectedly charming that it won her a BAFTA. Curtis’s funniest moment comes when, during a briefcase-swapping operation on a train, she dresses up in lederhosen and pigtails and declares she is “Inga from Sweden”. It’s a scene that perfectly sums up her shifting image: after a string of horror hits, this is Curtis shrugging off her good girl rep and embracing her new role as a Hollywood sex symbol.
Don’t call him stupid – A Fish Called Wanda (1988)
“Oh my god. OH MY GOD! Ken! Somebody just called!” Another comedy, and this one gave Curtis not only the title role, but even more of a share in the laughs as she plays Wanda, a ruthless femme fatale who uses her innate cunning and charm to make fools of the men around her, namely John Cleese, Kevin Kline and Michael Palin.
There are almost too many great moments to count, but Curtis’s best bit comes when she knows exactly which buttons to push to enrage Kline. “To call you stupid would be an insult to stupid people,” she yells during a furious tirade. “I’ve known sheep that could outwit you…” If that wasn’t enough, she goes on to systematically correct every single thing he’s got wrong about philosophy (it’s a lot). Cutting and brilliant.
Grocery store – Blue Steel (1989)
After a series of horror movies, and breakout success in high-profile comedies, the next thing on Curtis’s to-do list was hard-hitting drama, and she blows the genre out of the water in this definitively 80s thriller, playing a rookie NYPD cop who kills a man during a grocery store hold-up.
That Sloan’s supermarket scene is the clear highlight. On her first day on the job, Curtis’s Megan spots Tom Sizemore’s looter ransacking a till while waving his pistol in his face of a checkout boy. Gun raised, edging down an aisle towards the criminal, Curtis perfectly captures the heart-hammering peril of the situation and, when she’s forced to shoot, we’re right there with her.
Dance with danger – True Lies (1994)
Arnold Schwarzenegger may have been the face on the poster of this bombastic thriller from director James Cameron, but it’s Curtis as his mousy stay-at-home wife, Helen, who goes on the biggest (and most thrilling) journey. After being duped by Bill Paxton’s snivelling conman, Helen is set up on a fake mission by spy hubby Harry, who resolves to give her a taste of the excitement he enjoys on a daily basis. Curtis’s big moment comes when she performs a dance for him in only her undies, which finally forces Harry to see her as more than just a meal delivery service.
Alright, so the sexual politics of a woman performing a strip tease as part of an undercover sting are a little wince-y in our newly woke age, but Curtis excels at playing up the physical comedy of the situation while also celebrating this as a demonstration of Helen coming into her own as a woman. Meanwhile, the scene catapults Helen into the action as she joins Harry on a dangerous mission to take out terrorists in Florida Keys.
Rude awakening – Freaky Friday (2003)
Playing the guitar (she was trained by a member of Orgy), believably mooning over Chad Michael Murray (well, who wouldn’t?), and latterly rocking a Stevie Nicks-inspired rock-chick look, Curtis proves she can she still play a teenager even though she’s now well into her 40s.
It doesn’t get any funnier than the initial body-swap scene, in which teenager Anna (Lindsay Lohan) wakes up in the middle-aged body of her dowdy super-mom (Curtis). Dressed in an ankle-skimming nightie, Curtis huffs and, like, slam-dunks the moody teen speak in one of her funniest ever scenes. “Get away you clone freak!” is her genius reaction to being confronted with Lohan and, when shown her own reflection, she gamely shrieks, “OH, I’M LIKE THE CRYPT KEEPER!” in one of the film’s killer zingers.
Shower time – Scream Queens (2015)
Okay, so this is technically television but the movie homage is clear for all to see. Reclaiming her horror crown after a break from the genre, Curtis came back fighting in Ryan Murphy’s loving TV ode to all things horror. Curtis plays Dean Cathy Munsch, the no-nonsense (and mysterious) head of Wallace University, which is being terrorised by slasher-killer the Red Devil.
But things get even more meta in episode eight of the first season, when Curtis acts out an almost shot-for-shot recreation of her mother Janet Leigh’s famous Psycho shower scene (complete with that perfect little smile). Of course, there’s a twist as, when the Red Devil tears aside the shower curtain, knife raised, he finds the shower empty – Dean Cathy’s smarter than that. “I saw that movie 50 times!” she gristles. Cue an epic, hilarious showdown packed with quotable one-liners and more than a few kick-ass fight moves on Curtis’s part.
Full circle – Halloween (2018)
It’s been 40 years since Curtis first took on her most iconic role, and she’s back with a bang in this new instalment, which is a direct sequel to John Carpenter’s terrifying original. Picking up with Laurie Strode four decades after she fought Michael Myers, we find her now an over-prepared grandma who knows Myers will one day come home for her, and she’s not going down without a fight.
We won’t spoil what happens, but suffice it to say Laurie’s even more badass than ever (she has her own underfloor garrison and is a dab hand with a pistol) and, when her final confrontation with Michael comes, you won’t have any nails left. Yep, she’s still got it.