Horror movie will ‘scare your ass off’
JAMIE Lee Curtis stands on an all-American suburban street surrounded by carved pumpkins.
Her trademark pixie cut is nowhere to be found. Instead she wears shoulder-length locks, jeans and a denim button-up shirt. Her cheeky, bubbly personality has been replaced by a hardened gaze.
Forty years after taking on the role that defined her career, Curtis has stepped back into the shoes of Laurie Strode, the bookish babysitter who survived the murderous rampage of horror icon Michael Myers back in 1978.
The original Halloween remains an icon. An unknown man wearing a white mask stalks and slays unsuspecting high-schoolers in suburban Illinois. Laurie was the only one of her friends to make it out alive.
The first in the franchise was shot over about three weeks for a meagre $300,000. It went on to rake in about $70 million at the box office and spawn nine sequels.
On Thursday, a new Halloween flick will invite moviegoers to ignore everything that happened in the nine movies that followed and consider the new movie as a direct sequel to the first, four decades later.
The reboot will return to the characters and spirit of the original - a classic that remains unbearably suspenseful and frightening, even to today's viewers who are desensitised to violence and know horror movie tropes backwards.
The casting of Curtis in the original was a masterstroke, given she is the daughter of Janet Leigh, who was famously bumped off by a knife-wielding killer in Psycho's iconic shower scene.
When Curtis was sent the new script, she had no hesitation in returning to her role as an "OG scream queen".
"This is me. Without this movie, I don't have a career. This movie gave me my life," Curtis tells news.com.au from the set of the new movie in Charleston, South Carolina.
"When I'm dead: 'Halloween actress dies.' Boom. My mother? 'Psycho actress dies.' It's what happens.
"You are known for the thing that you are known for, whether you like it or not. In my case, I like it."
Curtis, who proudly declares that she will turn 60 this year, considers her role as Laurie Strode as the "only acting job I've ever had". Instead of being given the role of the cheerleader or the smart alec, director John Carpenter cast the then 19-year-old as the "repressed, brainiac, introspective, virgin, intellectual" character.
"You guys know me. You would cast me as a f***ing cheerleader. I am a cheerleader! I was a cheerleader in high school. You would cast me as the smart alec. I am a smart alec!" Curtis says.
"But John cast me as Laurie. It was very far afield for me. And I just let go of Jamie completely.
"The modern trope of a young woman as a warrior is Wonder Woman, this Angela Bassett-armed badass, or Linda Hamilton in Terminator.
"But I think we've blown it a little. I don't really think that's what strength is. I think strength is intelligence and I think that's why Laurie survived, because she was smart.
"I've tried to preserve that girl. I've tried to bring that back as much as I can."
In the new movie, Laurie is still dealing with the Halloween massacre from 40 years earlier. And that trauma has strained the relationship with all those around her, including her daughter and 17-year-old granddaughter.
The movie will also play on modern audiences' obsession with sensational crime, with the story kicking off as a group of British documentarians investigate the original 1970s killings, in the style of addictive true crime productions Making a Murderer and Serial.
"It is not a crime in America that would just be forgotten. You would have film crews making documentaries about Michael Myers, as we have," Curtis says.
And while there are four decades of history to address, Curtis promises viewers will be hooked from the very beginning.
"From the opening shots of this movie you will completely go, 'Oh my God, that's amazing'," Curtis says, without giving anything away.
"It's visually so brilliant."
Director David Gordon Green says the concept of Halloween remains terrifying 40 years later because it is the idea of inserting inexplicable evil - a knife-wielding Michael Myers - into a relatable situation.
"We're not dealing with these fantastic monsters, we're dealing with someone that brings a very real terror with the simplicity of a knife," he says.
"So, it's not extraordinary in its scope. It's very intimate and personal.
"Is this a bogeyman? Is he supernatural or is he real? All these questions that I think audiences are hungry for answers for, oftentimes filmmakers are too hungry to appease that appetite and if we could just hold back some of the mystery, some of the essence of the fear and anxiety that Michael Myers inherently exhibits, it's a lot more frightening."
Gordon Green, who previously directed the comedy Pineapple Express, co-wrote the script with stoner movie funnyman Danny McBride, who was most recently seen in the Crocodile Dundee tourism ads. But don't expect to be laughing in this movie.
While every good horror movie has a gag or two to release the tension, Gordon Green and McBride promise that there is nothing to raise a smile about for at least the first 15 minutes.
"People are looking at us sceptically as the filmmakers for this one so (we thought) let's not give any jokes or anything to snicker about. Let's just play it relentless until we deserve to lighten up a little bit," Green says.
Much like the original, which barely showed any blood, the new movie will draw out the scares through suspense, rather than gore.
"Horror isn't always about more blood. It's about the horror of, 'What if this really happened?'," says Judy Greer, who plays Laurie's daughter Karen.
"Like when you're home alone and you're looking out the window, if there was all of a sudden, out of nowhere, a face at the window. That's the feeling you'll get through this whole film."
The film's third co-writer, Jeff Radley, says the horror is found not in the kills themselves, but in the lead-up to the inevitable violence.
"It was the idea that this could happen to anyone, taking the trash out," he said.
McBride says the key to unlocking the new story was focusing on what made the original so scary.
"Jaws scares you about going in the ocean. The Shining scared me for years; as a kid, I'd have to look behind the shower curtain to make sure there wasn't a decomposing old woman laying in the bathtub," he said.
"And so when we thought about Halloween, it's supposed to give you the idea that a stranger could be out there lurking, watching you that you're not aware of."
Curtis says the new film is "as reminiscent of that first movie as you could ever want", in that it is being produced on a small budget by artists passionate about the project.
"Let's just be crazy honest," Curtis says.
"Forty years ago we made the movie Halloween in 20-something days in 1978 in Los Angeles. And 40 years later we're making another one. That just doesn't really happen that often and if it does it's sort of these bigger, ginormous, Star Wars-ian, Blade Runn-ian pieces.
"And this? This is a low-budget, horror movie: a really stripped down, scare-your-ass-off retelling of a classic tale.
"And I think you will really, really love it."
Halloween will be released in Australia on Thursday.
- The journalist travelled to Charleston, South Carolina, courtesy of Universal Pictures.