I have a massive crush on Jamie Lee Curtis. To be honest, I think it started with either True Lies (don’t judge me), or A Fish Called Wanda. It’s that smile and that short hair. But there’s something about Jamie Lee Curtis doing the character of Laurie Strode that keeps drawing me in to each increasingly bad Halloween sequel.
There’s also something interesting in the way the character of Laurie Strode has developed over the years that I think speaks to the ways the role of the Last Girls has developed over the years. Even if the canon doesn’t agree to all the versions. Apart from the quality of some of the movies, I actually really love how the Halloween canon developed, but that’s a post for a whole other time. Possibly next October. It’s not as if my love for slasher films in general and the Halloween series, in particular, is going away anytime soon.
The Halloween timelines I mention here don’t line up and if you’re curious about how the timelines go, Paste’s Halloween Continuity Guide is a good resource.
The first Halloween started the trend for the Final Girl, and really, for the slasher genre. In it, Laurie Strode is the consummate virginal good girl. Like a lot of the women who would follow her, she is sometimes unforgivably naive. A guy in a creepy mask follows her around all day and when the kid she’s watching on Halloween says he saw the boogie man, she won’t even look. She screams like the Scream Queen she is, but she doesn’t put up much of a fight. Even the ending comes at the hands of Dr. Loomis while Laurie is essentially weeping helplessly with her back to the guy who just tried to kill her after killing a whole bunch of other people.
On the other hand, the trope this Laurie started gave us Scream, The Cabin in the Woods and so many other good movies. The first Halloween is some masterful moviemaking, but the character of Laurie is not necessarily part of that mastery.
H20 brings us Laurie Strode as a mother. She’s traumatized, of course she is, by the events of the previous movies, but she’s made a life for herself. She’s got a son she’s at odds with and she’s got the pills to prove it. But that doesn’t stop her from being a sex-kitten who has an affair with one of her employees, a guidance counselor working in the school she’s the headmistress of.
The trouble with Laurie’s character in H20 is that she doesn’t really exist outside of her relationships to the men around her, including Michael. To her son, John, she’s overbearing and overprotective. To her lover, she’s a slightly traumatized sex-kitten. And for Michael, she’s the chewy princess center inside of a bank of thorns.
By now Laurie’s a bit of a bad-ass and so she starts to hunt Michael. She basically goes face to face with him, driven by her emotions to revenge. Laurie, as so many of her contemporaries (I know What You Did Last Summer, anyone?) is inconsistent. Hypervigilant one moment, naive and dismissive the next, she only serves the plot. It’s not like that is the most hideous thing ever.
The Other One
The latest feature in the Halloween franchise has Laurie as – to quote Terry Pratchett – “The Other One”. Laurie has become hyper-vigilant, certain that Michael will someday get out of the maximum-security prison he’s in and come after her. Because of the timeline, he’s no longer her brother, just a random, completely, and utterly evil dude. Laurie has raised a daughter, Karen, under the oppressive atmosphere of needing to be ready for the Day. In the process, she’s not only pushed Karen away but given her PTSD of her very own. Karen’s own daughter is now a teenager who hardly even knows her grandmother.
Look, I know it’s a slasher film, with the teenage bodies to prove it, but it’s still one of the better explorations of generational trauma that I can remember seeing in a while. Especially since that’s never really the point in a slasher film. That’s relevant because all three of the women are clearly not only different people, they also react differently to the danger. Karen has spent a lot of time in therapy to make sure she doesn’t carry the paranoia with her. Laurie has fully embraced the paranoia, and Allyson, the teenager, still feels immortal in the way most teenagers do. Here, much more than in H20, even the teenagers seem more like people.
Laurie is single-minded but at times she tries to look like she isn’t. Hello trauma! Also, therapy would have been a great idea, but I can see how Laurie wouldn’t have wanted to go anywhere near any shrink anywhere. For me, the Laurie in this latest Halloween is clearly part of a movement of making characters more human. And I am here for it.
As more women enter into film making, I’m sure the Scream Queens and Final Girls will continue to evolve into new and unexpected tropes. But for now, I think I’ll keep returning to Laurie. She is the original, after all.