In the history of cinema, arguably the most nonhuman of all horror movie villains is Michael Myers. Freddy Krueger, Hannibal Lecter, Norman Bates, even Jason Voorhees, all at one point or another show signs of humanity, but never, in a film series that has lasted for more than thirty years, has Michael Myers been anything more than a blank, machine-like killer.
This iconic character, who killed his older sister with a butcher knife at the age of six and went on to murder and torment countless victims over the course of nine Halloween films, is such a nonhuman that even the mask that he wears is a white, emotionless face. It is an odd and eerie mask that “symbolizes Michael’s refusal to be looked at […] [he] has not passed beyond the mirror stage and cannot let anyone into his world as this would be destroy himself as narcissistic center of the world” (Humphries 140).
He never talks. He never cowers. He is a “madman, a force of disorder in the world,” and only in his victims do we see depictions of humanity (Cumbow 58). But what about the human after the human? What happens to a person who’s victimized, who’s so traumatized by a horrific event that she resorts to living her life in hiding? Laurie Strode, played by acclaimed actress Jamie Lee Curtis, is the character that shows the most growth in the Halloween series, as she, over the course of two-and-a-half decades and four different movies, goes from being a tortured and damaged non-human, to a strong and fearless human again.
Women in Horror
Women have played significant roles in all of horror cinema — victims like Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) in Psycho and Barbara (Judith O’Dea) in Night of the Living Dead, and monsters themselves like the Bride of Frankenstein (Elsa Lanchester) and Dracula’s daughter (Gloria Holden) — but in the seventies and eighties a new kind of female character came about in horror films: what historian Carol J. Clover coined as the Final Girl. This term refers to the last woman alive in a genre movie who “faces the daunting task of fighting a virtually indestructible attacker hell-bent on killing her, one who will not stay dead” (Pinedo 76).
Think of any slasher film made in the last five decades, and you will likely find a Final Girl as part of the narrative — Sally (Marilyn Burns) in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Alice (Adrienne King) in Friday the 13th, Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) in A Nightmare on Elm Street. These films depict women, rarely men, going up against the villain in the finale, and often, as in the cases of these three films, the women emerge victorious (at least for one movie).
Nancy, for instance, is dealing with recurring nightmares every night that feature a sadistic killer of teenagers named Freddy Krueger, and when her friends start to be picked off one by one, she has to resort to her intellect and ingenuity to face and defeat the monster in the end. Her best friend Tina (Amanda Wyss) can’t help her, as “in keeping with the theme that sex equates to death in horror movies, the first one to fall victim to Freddy is [her]” (Berardinelli). None in the men in her life can help her — not her boyfriend (Johnny Depp) or her father (John Saxon). It is up to the Final Girl to destroy Freddy Krueger once and for all. Indeed, each of these female characters “look death in the face, but she alone also finds the strength either to stay away from the killer long enough to be rescued (Ending A) or kill him herself (Ending B)” (Humphries 150).
The female protagonists in these horror films are not painted as stupid and helpless; they are the only ones who have the capabilities to take on the killer, and they are always the ones who audience members identify with the most. There has long been a conversation about how male actors are always given more complex three-dimensional roles in film than female actors, but in the last few decades of the horror genre, unlike any other, women have long ruled.
Even more fascinating in this genre is when the same actress reprises her character in future sequels of a series, not just so that an audience can merely watch her kick ass for another go-around, but also so that the actress can develop a character beyond the original movie, and show what a traumatic experience can actually do to a person. Sigourney Weaver, Neve Campbell, and Curtis are all examples of this welcome rarity in horror cinema, all of them having appeared in four films in their respective series.
Sigourney Weaver as Ripley
Weaver, for instance, shows courage and strength in all four of the Alien films (which are more science fiction in nature than horror, but all, especially the first two, have clear horror elements). In Ridley Scott’s Alien, Ellen Ripley is just one of the guys, a loner figure who doesn’t take crap from anyone around her and then resorts to the necessities for survival when a killer alien is set loose on her space travelling vessel. She is in every way the Final Girl in this film, as the men around her are all grotesquely destroyed from end to end, while Ripley manages to outthink the alien in more ways than one, leaving her in the finale the lone survivor.
James Cameron’s Aliens, released seven years later and picking up soon after the events of the first film, shows Ripley coming to terms with the loss of her crew and the reality of how much time has passed back on Earth, a whopping fifty-seven years. She is also suffering from nightmares, a trait that shows the dysfunction that comes with surviving such a terrifying massacre that left all her friends dead. However, what is special about her character’s arc in the sequel is not how she agrees to stand up against the aliens again and do everything in her power to take them down, but in how she comes to fight for more than herself — after discovering a human child in the wasteland of this alien-infested planet, she becomes in every way her protector. In the film’s harrowing conclusion, she inhabits the role of surrogate mother to the little girl Newt (Carrie Henn), and by having her act in this regard, “she is given a specific motherly femininity that was not necessarily present in the original Alien” (Caldwell).
Ripley has finally found something to care for that goes much deeper than merely herself, and so when at the beginning of David Fincher’s Alien 3 she wakes up again to find that Newt has perished in her space vessel, she spends the early scenes of the film in a state of delirium. In this underrated third film of the series, she is never able to fully recover from the loss of Newt and is therefore rendered a non-human, someone who can no longer find the life inside of her and has to ultimately jump into a pool of lava at the end to rid herself from the world she no longer feels a part of.
1997’s Alien: Resurrection, directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, takes the character of Ripley yet another step further by making her a clone of the original Ripley, so in the case of this last film in the series to date, Ripley is a literal non-human, no longer her true self but a mere replica of the strong warrior and protector she used to be.
Neve Campbell as Sidney Prescott
Even more in line with Curtis’ transformation in the Halloween films is Neve Campbell’s evolving character of Sidney Prescott, who shows how to take charge in all four of Wes Craven’s Scream films, with her character going from a deeply wounded figure in the first two movies to an ultimately heroic figure by the end of the third and fourth movies.
In the first Scream, released in 1996, Campbell finds her friends being killed off one by one by a mysterious madman, but what makes the horrific series of events even worse is that they take place on the one-year anniversary of her mother’s tragic murder. Unlike many other Final Girls, whose main sources of drama in their lives is too much homework or not enough time spent with their current boyfriends, Sidney is still trying to recover from the untimely death of her mother, all while a cheesy tabloid journalist Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) is preparing a book about the court case surrounding her mother’s homicide. Unlike the other Final Girls, Sidney is already wounded, and she has even more at stake when the killer comes for her. Scream was one of the freshest and most successful horror films of the 1990s, not just because it is a superbly entertaining slasher film, one that poked fun at the many tropes in the famous horror films of previous decades, but because it gives a Final Girl who is already traumatized from a previous event, and who has to climb out of the shell she’s currently in to conquer the monster.
In 1997’s Scream 2, Sidney is in college and trying to find a sense of normalcy in her life, difficult when Gale Weathers’ book becomes a huge hit and inspires a new movie called Stab. When two people are killed at the local opening night screening, Sidney finds herself once again dealing with a crazy person (or persons) out to destroy her once. In this first sequel, she shows a few signs that the events from the original film have traumatized her — she begs her friend Hallie (Elise Neal) to stay away from her, fearful she’ll lose another best friend to a knife-wielding killer — but they only have made her more hardened, as she lashes out even more at the villain and coldly puts a bullet in her head.
It’s in the beginning of Scream 3, released in 2000, that Sidney is in her most delicate state, living as a nonhuman in a secluded compound in California, working as an anonymous crisis counselor. She has severed all ties with most of her friends and family, scared that if she goes back to the life she’s left behind, she will be targeted yet again, or worse, have to see more of the ones closest to her brutally murdered. At one point her father says to her, “It’s as if you don’t exist,” and Sidney, without even a sense of remorse, answers, “That’s the idea. Psychos can’t kill what they can’t find.” Her vulnerability in the film’s early scenes make her inevitable return to public life especially powerful, her final showdown with this sequel’s villain all the more harrowing because to kill him means she can stop running, and stop living in hiding. Campbell really finds the voice of her character in Scream 3, as “she shows real ability, no longer just the cupcake about to be hacked with the phallic carving knife. She has developed as an actress; when her eyes go dark with concern and fear, she is nerve-racked and tormented, not play-acting” (Mitchell). When she returns to the compound in the film’s last scene, she is no longer a victim, no longer a wounded figure; she has become a renewed human again, faced with a promising and happy new chapter in her life.
Of course, no franchise that makes money can stay dormant forever — the first three Screams made more than 300 million combined — and in 2011, the late, great Wes Craven delivered his final film — the underrated Scream 4. Ten years have passed since the events of Scream 3, and Sidney is in a good place, travelling around the country on a book tour to support her new memoir, Out of Darkness, which tells of her journey trying to come to terms with her previous traumatic experiences. The Sidney in Scream 4 is an adult now — braver and wiser — and when a new killer starts to strike those around her, Sidney immediately takes charge, knowing exactly what she has to do to bring the villain (or villains) down. She’s not the frightened Final Girl she once was, after all; she’s in every way a Final Girl warrior now, with no patience for this copycat killer. Her best line in the film comes at the end, when she electrocutes the killer dead and becomes the victor once again: “You forgot the first rule of remakes, Jill. Don’t fuck with the original.”
Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode
Jamie Lee Curtis, like Weaver and Campbell, appeared in four of the films in her horror series (now a fifth as well directed by David Gordon Green), but her character is the most complex of all because twenty long years separated her first two Halloween movies from her second two Halloween movies, a gap that allowed the actress herself to evolve in her profession and show a different side to her character that no one ever could have expected.
Curtis has long been considered the original Scream Queen, and that’s not just because she’s currently a featured player on Fox’s 2015 television show of the same title. While Curtis has appeared in many beloved movies like Trading Places, A Fish Called Wanda, True Lies, and Freaky Friday, she started her acting career in horror films — six in all, including The Fog, Terror Train, and Prom Night — before she broke away from genre work in 1981. At a horror convention in Indianapolis in 2012, Curtis said to a crowd of fans that the day she finished shooting Halloween II, “I actually said the words out loud, ‘I am not going to do any more of those,’” but she also said that throughout her diverse career that she “still takes great pride in this work, and I’ve tried to uphold the dignity of this work for a long time” (Curtis). She went on to talk about how she felt she needed to abandon genre work to go after other opportunities and that if she had allowed herself to do a seventh horror movie, she felt she would never have never been able to break away from her title of Scream Queen.
As the years have gone by, though, she’s never thumbed her nose at her horror movie past and has often showed up at Halloween screenings and conventions, like in 2000 at a cast and crew screening at the El Capitan in Los Angeles, and in 2014 at a special screening at the American Cinemateque, director John Carpenter at her side for an hour-long Q&A. She has long said that she wears her hat as the ultimate Scream Queen “with great pride,” and of course it doesn’t hurt that her film debut, Carpenter’s 1978 classic Halloween, is to this day considered one of the landmark achievements in horror cinema (Curtis).
Up until being offered the lead role in the film, Curtis has done only television work, appearing as guest stars in Quincy M.E., The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries, Columbo, and Charlie’s Angels, as well as a series regular on Operation Petticoat for twenty-three episodes. She wasn’t a major star when in late 1977 she went to meet with Carpenter and producer Debra Hill, the latter of whom suggested Curtis for the part of Laurie Strode. Carpenter later said, “We read her and liked her instantly. It didn’t hurt that she was Janet Leigh’s daughter” (Boulenger 101). Yes, Curtis is the daughter of a film legend, the previous Scream Queen who was slashed to death in a shower in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 horror classic, Psycho. But Curtis’s participation in Halloween was not completely a decision that resulted from nepotism. She brings a crucial charisma and quiet intelligence to the part of Laurie, making her one of the most dynamic Final Girls in horror movie history.
The story of a child murderer who breaks out of a mental institution fifteen years to the day he murdered his sister and goes on a second killing spree on the night of October 31st, Halloween effectively gave birth to the slasher movie, and featured one of the earliest incarnations of the Final Girl in Laurie Strode. Of the three main female characters in Halloween — the other two of which are Annie (Nancy Loomis), the smart-mouth, and Lynda (P.J. Soles), the sexually active cheerleader — Laurie is who many have called, including Curtis herself, the repressed virgin of the trio, “the one who is always in pain and worries” (Boulenger 99). As David J. Hogan says in his book, Dark Romance: Sexuality in the Horror Film, “Laurie, unlike her friends, is serious and studious. She has no steady boyfriend, and seems only marginally interested in sex and dating” and she’s not necessarily the character you would expect to go mano a mano with the killer (250).
She doesn’t show a lot of strength in the early scenes. She sees a strange figure standing outside the school watching her, and she says nothing. She accidentally bumps into somebody’s chest and unleashes a bloodcurdling scream. If Michael were to attack her in the film’s early scenes, one would assume her to be an easy kill, but there’s one important trait to her character that her more bubbly and snarky friends Annie and Lynda never have: awareness of the evil itself. Annie and Lynda never have a clue anything dangerous is lurking in the bushes in their small town of Haddonfield, but Laurie sees early on that something isn’t right on this Halloween night, and when Michael finally strikes, she’s already prepared herself for survival mode.
It has been argued by many critics and scholars that the main reason Laurie survives and Annie and Lynda perish is due to Laurie’s lack of sexuality. Isabel Cristina Pinedo says in her book, Recreational Terror: Women and the Pleasures of Horror Film Viewing, “Like film noir, the slasher film regards female sexuality with a marked degree of fear and loathing” and in many horror films, like A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and Halloween, sex is equated to death (75). In the original Halloween, “we have not a hero but a heroine battling against overwhelming odds and saving, if not her [friends], at least herself and dispatching the monstrous killer […] one reason for her victory, it is argued, is that she is not promiscuous” (Humphries 150).
Many have said that Laurie being abstinent and not having a man in her life (even though she says at one point she is interested in a boy at school named Ben Tramer) allows her to live, and the other two being sexual cause them to die, as “in his major killings, Michael seems to associate sexuality with the need for punishment […] those who mess around — men or women — are insufficiently vigilant to protect themselves against death […] Laurie, by contrast, is able to protect herself” (Cumbow 58).
However, despite all these claims, Annie and Lynda don’t die simply because they’re sexualized teenagers; they die because they are too busy with their boyfriends, and they’re not paying attention to the evil surrounding them. It must be said that Laurie’s friends are never written as less than or dimwitted airheads; “Annie and Lynda are every bit as likeable as Laurie […] their deaths are not the result of their sexual habits, but of an unreasoning force that kills men and women with equal vigor” (Hogan 252). As interesting as Annie and Lynda are, though, the film’s lead female is in every way Laurie, acting as the heart and soul to this narrative and giving Michael an unexpectedly courageous and endlessly inventive foil to his madness.
In Halloween’s final twenty minutes, Laurie does everything in her power to survive the constant assault from Michael. She is not as strong here as Ellen Ripley in Alien or Sidney Prescott in Scream, but she puts up the best fight she can, as “in being left alone to face Michael, Laurie must rely on her intelligence and ingenuity to fend off his attacks, utilizing domestic items such as knitting needles and coat hangers as weapons. Although clearly terrified, she overcomes her fear in order to defend herself, demonstrating the courage and resilience that would become trademark characteristics of the Final Girl” (Short 52).
She’s not as careful as she could be — after sticking Michael in the neck with the needle, she drops his kitchen knife on the carpet and leaves the room, and after she stabs him with the same knife upstairs in a closet, she drops the knife again, and leaves the room again — but despite her mistakes, her vulnerability keeps the audience rooting for her, as “the camera remains close to Laurie, keeping the same distance from Michael as she does […] [director John] Carpenter keeps the size of the image constant as to reinforce identification with the protagonist” (Hall 74).
In the film’s final scene, she survives just long enough for Michael’s psychiatrist Dr. Loomis to arrive and shoot him off the upstairs balcony. She cries into her hands, thankful that the horror is finally over — but is it really over? We as an audience see that not even six bullets to the chest can slow Michael down, and in an ending that “apparently moves into the realm of the supernatural,” Michael is still breathing, still on the loose, still very much alive and on the hunt for his next victim — and still in every way a nonhuman (Humphries 141).
Halloween II (1981)
The depiction of Laurie as a nonhuman, in her case someone who’s fearful and weak and who literally checks out of public life, is hinted at in the 1981 sequel Halloween II, which picks up right after the first movie ends and shows Laurie for the majority of the film comatose in a hospital bed as she tries to make sense of the night’s life-changing assault. Curtis was initially hesitant to return to the Halloween series, particularly since Carpenter chose not to return to direct the sequel (although he did co-write the screenplay with Debra Hill).
In 2012 she said she didn’t so much want to do the movie but felt she had an obligation to do it, “because it was the direct sequel from the first movie and I felt that the people who had loved the [original] movie [wanted me to] do that, so I did that” (Curtis). Her disinterest in this film at the time, culminating in a definite lack of appreciation of it decades later — even when she says in her 2012 interview, “I was very proud to be in Halloween II,” she sounds disingenuous — makes sense due to Laurie’s lack of character development, despite her depiction as a nonhuman that grows even deeper in 1998’s Halloween: H20 (Curtis).
In Halloween II, released three years after the original and directed by Rick Rosenthal (who would go on to also direct 2002’s Halloween: Resurrection), Michael Myers is still on the prowl for his next victims, killing nearly half a dozen characters before the film reaches its midpoint. In many of these early scenes, Laurie is restricted to a hospital bed, scared to be put to sleep, paralyzed with enough fear to leave her totally mute. This story choice might be realistic given the horrors that Laurie just went through earlier in the night, but it also leaves her with nearly nothing to do; “in [Halloween], Laurie is alert and supremely brave, defending herself at one point with nothing but a straightened coat hanger and her wits. In [Halloween II], the girl is a mumbling sack of incoherence, allowed to whisper barely a dozen lines” (Hogan 252). In essence, Laurie is not as interesting or complex of a character in this sequel, her strength in Halloween’s final reel all but evaporated. Her comatose state doesn’t give her much to do until the film’s last twenty minutes, making for an occasionally frustrating experience.
Although Halloween received rave reviews from many important film critics, the sequel was all but blasted, with Roger Ebert, who claimed Halloween as one of the top ten films of 1978, giving Halloween II a mere one-and-a-half stars, stating in his review that “it is not a horror film but a geek show. It is technically a sequel, but it doesn’t even attempt to do justice to the original. Instead it tries to outdo all the other violent Halloween rip-offs […] the plot of Halloween II absolutely depends, of course, on our old friend the Idiot Plot, which requires that everyone in the movie behave at all times like an idiot” (Ebert).
While the film is better directed and acted and truer to the spirit of the original than the next four sequels — everything from Halloween III: Season of the Witch (which doesn’t even feature Michael Myers) to 1995’s Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, which was such a bomb critically and financially the series was nearly put to bed — there is a higher emphasis on gore that the original smartly avoided, and less of an emphasis on character growth. As Robert C. Cumbow says in his book, Order in the Universe: The Films of John Carpenter, “[Halloween II] is essentially a chase movie: Michael chases Laurie; Loomis chases Michael. Despite Laurie’s continued presence, mostly as a bandaged patient in a hospital bed, this film is really about Dr. Loomis and his growing obsession with Michael” (66). Donald Pleasance made the role of Dr. Loomis his own in the 1978 original, and he is indeed even more the focus this time around, as he does everything in his power to locate Michael a second time and destroy him once and for all. While Laurie is a featured part of the sequel’s finale, the true hero in the end is Loomis, as he stands up to Michael for (what feels like) the last time, lighting a match that causes a wing of the hospital to explode.
The one intriguing development of Halloween II is in the reveal halfway through that Laurie was not just another random victim of Michael’s madness, but that she is in fact Michael’s younger sister. Screenwriters Carpenter and Hill set up the idea that since Michael butchered his older sister as a young kid in 1963, he ultimately broke out of the sanitarium fifteen years later to try to butcher the other, despite the fact that Laurie was supposedly adopted by a different family soon after the 1963 tragedy and grew up having no idea who her real parents, or Michael, actually were. The idea is a little preposterous and doesn’t quite hold up when scrutinized, with some scholars calling Carpenter out for even attempting this late-minute twist; David J. Hogan says, “[In Halloween II, Carpenter reveals] that Michael Myers is Laurie’s long-lost brother. Who cares? The power of the first film lies in its believable characters and the appalling randomness of the violence that is directed against them. Murder without motivation is the most frightening sort, but Carpenter unaccountably betrayed this insight in Halloween II” (252–253).
Although many can criticize this story decision, however, this familial connection set up between Michael and Laurie allows for a slightly different tone in the final chase sequence, where Laurie runs down various hospital hallways, into a storage shed, into an elevator, and out into an empty parking lot where all the cars have had their tires slashed. She now has the knowledge (given to her through a dream) that Michael is her older brother, so in their final showdown in a gas-induced hospital wing, when faced with Michael coming straight for her with nowhere to go, she holds up a gun that Loomis handed her and says, in an authoritative, sisterly way, “Michael! Michael, stop!” Michael does stop, for a moment, and looks contemplatively at Laurie, like her face and voice may actually mean something to him. With a few seconds to spare, Laurie escapes down a long hallway, narrowly avoiding a massive explosion set off by Loomis, and it appears, for a moment, that Michael is dead, and the horror is over.
But just like in the original, Michael returns, as “the real Michael is burned, too, but he emerges from the flames still walking and he continues to haunt Laurie’s memories and dreams as the film ends” (Cumbow 66). Even though Michael collapses and seems to be dead for good in the film’s closing moment, Laurie’s face in the final shot seems not joyful nor exuberant, but scared; where is she going to go from here? 1988’s Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers shows the child protagonist Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris) discovering a newspaper clipping that says Laurie Strode died years earlier in a car accident, and then Laurie wasn’t even mentioned in 1989’s Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers or 1995’s Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers. While Michael lived, Laurie seemed to have died (Curtis refused to appear in the four sequels following Halloween II). However, in 1998, after the massive success of Scream and a return to popularity for big-screen horror, a small miracle occurred: Laurie, and Curtis, returned for another Halloween outing, the idea set up in Halloween II that Michael and Laurie are brother and sister allowing a dynamic to be explored in the sixth and arguably best sequel.
Halloween: H20 (1998)
The idea of the nonhuman is explored in the most detail of all in Steve Miner’s twentieth anniversary sequel Halloween: H20, which not only brought Curtis back to the horror film genre after a seventeen-year hiatus — 1994’s Mother’s Boys, starring Curtis as an obsessive mother figure, has horror elements, but is really more of a thriller — but also showed how the events of the original Halloween had so severely impacted the Laurie Strode character. Halloween: H20 is the best of the sequels, by far the most thought-provoking and exciting, with a story that actually needed to be told, rather than just recycling old clichés that audiences had previously seen a million times.
Most sequels are made purely for financial reasons, just for the studio’s bottom line. But in the case of Halloween: H20, the seventh film in the franchise, the idea came not from the longtime executive producer of the Halloween films, Moustapha Akkad, or any of the top executives at Miramax Films, who produced the sixth entry and secured the rights for a potential seventh movie. The idea, in fact, came from Curtis herself. She recognized in 1997 that the twentieth anniversary of Halloween was almost here, and how interesting it would be to revisit a character two decades after she was attacked and see what that trauma had done to her life. When asked about Halloween: H20 in an interview in Indianapolis in 2012, Curtis had this to say about Laurie’s state of mind at the beginning of the film: “The idea [was] it’s twenty years later, her life is a mess, because she’s been on the run, hiding from this potential threat. She’s an alcoholic, she’s a dope fiend. Her life is a wreck” (Curtis).
In the first two-thirds of Halloween: H20, Laurie truly is a nonhuman, starting in the most simplistic terms with her name itself. In her current job as headmistress of a posh, secluded private school in northern California, Laurie Strode goes by the name of Keri Tate. She reveals that she faked her death, took on a new identity, and has long been in hiding with her son John (Josh Hartnett), now a senior at the school. But no matter how safe she believes she is, the attack in 1978 still haunts her. The first time we see Laurie, after the opening prologue that sets up how Michael came to discover Laurie’s whereabouts, she awakens from a nightmare, screaming at the top of her lungs. She had yet another dream, likely one of thousands she’s endured in the last twenty years, about Michael trying to kill her. She asks her son John (Josh Hartnett, in his film debut) to get her the nightmare pills, and when he opens her medicine cabinet, he has to push past at least ten pill bottles just to find the one he’s looking for. In mere seconds we as an audience recognize how damaged she is, how much that lone traumatic night in 1978 has affected all ways of her life.
Not only is she addicted to prescription drugs, though; we then find out in a pair of scenes that she’s also an alcoholic. In a telling moment, after her boyfriend Will (Adam Arkin) steps away in a restaurant to go to the bathroom, Laurie asks the waiter to bring her a glass of chardonnay. He’s puzzled at first, since he looks down at her table and sees an already full glass of chardonnay. “Today,” Laurie says, and as soon as the waiter brings her a second glass, she guzzles all the chardonnay in her first and hands the waiter the empty glass before her boyfriend returns. You can see the pain in her, as she tries during all parts of the day to sneak her alcoholism around others who may not have a clue how sick she really is.
In addition, acting in this way keeps her boyfriend Will from ever getting too close to her. They are work colleagues and have to be quiet about their relationship, an element that already keeps Will at arm’s length from Laurie, but all of her secrets make it nearly impossible for Will to ever truly understand her true self, and particularly the inner demons she hasn’t been able to overcome. When she finally reveals to him late in the film her real identity and what happened to her as a teenager, Will listens in disbelief, having had no clue the kind of trauma that she has been trying to overcome for the past twenty years. Laurie doesn’t want to drop her guard in front of Will, especially because she’s worried that if Michael does return one of these days, he may be a potential victim, as could be anyone close to her; her fears become realized toward the end when she watches Will be gutted like a fish before she has an opportunity to save him.
Before Michael returns in the third act of the film, Laurie is living a nonhuman life, always hiding, not strong enough to step out from the dark cloud she feels she can never escape from. Worst of all is that she sees flashes of Michael in all parts of the day, sometimes with him creeping up behind her, other times with him staring at her from the nearest window. When she sees him near her or walking toward her, Laurie shuts her eyes tight, waits for about five seconds, and when she opens them again, Michael is gone. He’s such a part of her backstory that not only does she spend her time drinking too much alcohol and popping too many pills, but also trying to set her mind to anything else so that the image of him doesn’t hover in front of her when she wants to do something as simple as look out a window. Laurie is a mess in the first half of this film, and while this character trait gives the film its emotional core and impressive power, what’s astounding is that during the pre-production process, not everyone involved with the movie was on board with showing Laurie in such a negative light.
Curtis says on the 2014 audio commentary for Halloween: H20, moderated by Scream Factory’s Sean Clark and also featuring the film’s director Steve Miner, that there was resistance from the studio executives at Dimension Films to show Laurie in an unattractive, dismal state at the film’s beginning, with them wanting instead to focus more on the scares, kill scenes, and more obvious entertainment value of the piece. However, Curtis was able to convince the decision makers that establishing the harmful effects of Laurie’s past would make her transformation from nonhuman to human in the film’s finale a lot more effective, and give the movie more resonance for viewers. She says, “The whole thing hinges on […] that some part of her is dead, that it was killed by him, and that she’s basically marking time the way damaged people do […] The movie had to be that the result of terror is dysfunction, and that you needed someone in the throes of her dysfunction, and really a prisoner of her life [to bring the necessary emotional weight to the film]” (Curtis). Similarly, director Miner says in the commentary, “This has to be about a woman who’s damaged, who is a prisoner of her own past” (Miner).
And so for this film to work on a dramatic level, the audience not only has to sympathize with Laurie’s personal struggles, but they also need to experience a cathartic release when she finally gets the courage to face her fears. As Curtis says about the film’s ending, “This is what needed to happen, right here […] we now know it’s only her and him, locked in this place […] the whole movie leads you to this moment” (Curtis). Halloween: H20 delivers on showing a clear arc of a character who goes from a specific damaged state at the beginning to a specific heroic state at the end, and without Laurie’s dysfunction examined thoughtfully in the film’s opening forty minutes, the ending wouldn’t be nearly as successful.
Indeed, while Michael Myers remains a faceless, emotionless nonhuman in all of the Halloween movies, the power of Halloween: H20 is in Laurie’s reversal from a nonhuman like Michael to a human again. When Michael finds his way onto the school grounds and faces his sister for the first time in twenty years, Laurie resorts to being terrorized just like in the first film, her only objective to get her son John to safety. In her book Misfit Sisters: Screen Horror as Female Rites of Passage, author Sue Short says, “[it is] when [Laurie] is confronted by her demons, and physically under attack, does the old Laurie begin to re-emerge. She learns to fight, rather than evade her problems, rescuing John when Michael looms again on the scene” (59).
With Michael on her tail, Laurie manages to shove her son and his girlfriend into a car and drive them to the school’s front gate, the two teenagers in the back assuming she’s going to take them to the nearest police station. But this is the scene where Laurie does the unexpected, and ultimately what is necessary: she forces the two to go on without her, then locks herself inside the gate, breaks an ax out of a glass case, and stomps back toward the school, ready to fight her brother to the death. Curtis says,
“The structure of the movie was always, there has to be a point where Laurie Strode stops running — emotionally, spiritually, and physically — and faces him. [So we created a] scenario whereby [Laurie] turns the table and says, you know what, fuck it. If I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die clean, because the life I’m living now is no life. I am not alive in this life. When you’re running and afraid your whole life, you have no life. And there was a real deep message [in this film] of facing fear and living in truth. If you face the fear, you can live. If you don’t face the fear, you’re dead anyway” (Curtis).
And face the fear she does, when after she steps back into the school, she takes charge and flips the roles — Laurie is now the stalker of Michael, not the other way around. As actress Nancy Stephens — Nurse Marion in Halloween I, II, and H20 — says in Unmasking the Horror, a short documentary about Halloween: H20, “What’s interesting about [Laurie Strode in H20] is that when you think about women’s roles [in horror], this one shows the actual evolution of a very strong person, somebody who had to take hold of the tragedy of her life [and fight back]” (Stephens). In this suspense-filled sequence, Laurie fights back in every way, as she swings the ax against Michael’s shoulder, shoves a flagpole into his chest, kicks him in the groin, and stabs him countless times with two different knives.
But that’s not enough to kill him, of course; this is Michael Myers we’re talking about. In the film’s final scene, Laurie drives Michael off a cliff, which still doesn’t kill him, and when she finally faces him, after he’s been pinned to a tree by an ambulance van, she shows no mercy when she takes her trusty ax and chops off his head. In this violent act, Laurie not only kills her brother but destroys the virus that’s been eating away at her for twenty years — a virus that made her invisible, tortured, nonhuman. As she turns around and starts breathing heavily in the film’s final shot, she realizes she has won, that her brother is gone for good, and will never come back for her. This breathing is an obvious homage to Michael’s breathing at the end of the original Halloween, but at the end of that movie, Michael was breathing because he was still on the prowl, still trying to spread his tortured nonhuman soul to all who come near him. But in the case of Laurie at the end of Halloween: H20, she’s breathing because she has defeated her brother once and for all, and most importantly, she’s been given a renewed chance at life.
Halloween: Resurrection (2002)
Halloween: H20 was a huge box office success, striking “a crowdpleasing chord with audiences” and guaranteeing yet another Halloween sequel — but how could there be another sequel if Laurie decapitated Michael at the end of Halloween: H20? (Wilkinson 147). Naturally studio executives with dollar signs on the brain always manage to find a way, especially in the horror genre, and so in 2002, Halloween: Resurrection was unleashed onto the masses. This universally panned Halloween sequel — Dave Kehr in the New York Times rightly said, “audiences [for this film] will indeed sit open-mouthed before the screen, not screaming, but yawning” — explains in the opening prologue that Laurie actually killed an imposter at the end of Halloween: H20 and was committed to a mental institution when she found out she murdered the wrong guy (Kehr).
Curtis, wanting out of the franchise for good, asked the screenwriters to kill her character off, but as she said in a 2015 interview about Halloween: Resurrection, “I wanted to make sure that if we were going to end [Laurie’s] story, we were going to end it correctly” (Curtis). She appears in the film’s opening ten minutes, in which Michael stabs her in the back and throws her off a balcony to her death, but while fans of the series were dismayed that Laurie ultimately had to die at the hands of Michael, “her demise is inevitable, and seemingly needed to reiterate the fact that, despite the remarkable qualities displayed by all Final Girls [in horror cinema], they are also all too human” (Short 60). She is human, after all, unlike her brother, and before she dies, she stands up for herself, verbalizing to Michael what he took away, and what she finally gained back, when she tells him on the roof of the mental institution, “You failed Michael. You want to know why? Because I’m not afraid of you.”
In the end, it doesn’t matter that he kills her. He has lost, and she has won. After living in fear from her brother for twenty years, the human in her has re-emerged, and Laurie Strode is finally free.
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