The Final Girl Finally Gets Her Due

Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode, on the set of the original “Halloween”

I was probably around 9 when I saw John Carpenter’s “Halloween” for the first time. It was the most sustained experience of cinematic suspense I’d had up to that point. It was also so exhilarating it spawned an abiding love affair with horror cinema. It was an event for my other horror fiend friends and I when “Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers” was released in theaters in 1988, because it was the first of the films we’d get to see in theaters. Excited, but also cautious, I made my trek to the theater last year to see the latest film featuring Michael Meyers and Laurie Strode, “Halloween 2018.” I’ve been one of those saps shelling out money for a movie ticket for all of the films in between as well.

As the slasher genre goes, Michael Myers is my favorite of the villains. The lack of explanation for why or what Michael is who or what he is made the film better. The way John Carpenter showed Michael stalking the other characters added to the mystery. Was he killing all these people or whether he was just deranged or some kind of supernatural entity? It wasn’t Michael which got me hooked on the Halloween series and it’s characters though. It was Laurie, and the skill Carpenter had in creating suspense. The producers of the latest film, “Halloween 2018” as they referred to in the press, have said the franchise has become very much a “choose your own adventure” story, which is a good way to explain it. Sure, I stuck around in hopes of experiencing the suspense of Michael stalking characters for different sequels, but the Laurie Strode storyline is the one I’ve gone back to revisit most often.

Michael Myers has spawned damn near an entire genre of imitators. “Friday the 13th” gave us Jason Voorhees, years later, Wes Craven’s classic “Scream” would give us Ghostface, and an entire sequence detailing exactly how much “Halloween” had influenced the slasher genre and horror films more generally.

Even as it’s true that Michael became the template for the unstoppable killer hunting high schoolers or college co-eds in the slasher genre, Laurie Strode had a much wider impact on horror as a whole. Laurie wasn’t the first Final Girl, but she was the character around which the archetype cemented. She became the mold the rest were shaped from. The Final Girl would end up escaping the slasher sub genre into the whole of horror cinema because of the success of “Halloween” and Jamie Lee Curtis performance as Laurie Strode. Thanks to Debra Hill, whose credited with being the other creator of the characters, specifically because she worked on the characterization of Laurie and her friends, Annie and Linda. Debra Hill gave the film it’s heart and Carpenter gave the film it’s suspense, and “Halloween” works as well as it does because of the interplay between the two.

With the release of “Halloween 2018", there’s something else which makes Laurie an unusual character in movies more generally. How many other characters who didn’t originate in some other intellectual property (like comic books) have been portrayed in three different incarnations, representing different timelines, at different phases in the characters life, while also portraying the two of the most prominent cultural narratives related to a history of violent trauma? Through pure mistake and pure greed, Laurie Strode has become a lens through which to see some things about the way we think about violent trauma and portray it’s aftermath. Sure, the never ending sequels are a ridiculous concept by themselves, but through random chance, they’ve created an interesting way for a character to be viewed.

Following Laurie’s stories gets a little wonky, and there’s some explanation of the narrative continuums necessary to get to what makes Laurie Strode an important character in popular culture. Laurie’s stories are what’s important for the purposes of this piece, so for those of you who might not be as well acquainted, I’m going to go through quick synopsis of the films which make up the different stories of Lauri Strode. There’s a little bit of similarity in the “Halloween” films to the way comic books work. Different creators have taken different parts of the central mythology and changed them or completely ignored them as they pleased. If you are familiar with the franchise, you can skip the synopsis… I’ll put in a big bold SYNOPSIS FINISHED so you know where to pick it up again. I’m going to list them chronologically by release, because it’s less confusing for those new to the characters and their stories. I’m also going to put it all into what would normally be recognized as a quote, just to visually differentiate it. I’ll do the best I can to make it easy for you to skip through the synopsis of the sequels, and still give the uninitiated the information they need. If you want a real quick breakdown of which films belong to which timeline, Screen Rant put together a rundown right before the release of the 2018 Halloween film.

The “Halloween” films aren’t Oscar bait dramas, nor are they arthouse examinations of the human condition, and they aren’t meant to be. They’re a fun series of films trying to give us all a safe way to experience some tension, suspense and fear. Considering the impact they’ve had on pop culture though, it’s worth taking a look at what about these characters resonates with audiences, and why specifically, Laurie Strode is the one audiences will come back to see.

I’m going to go through the films chronologically, and it shouldn’t be too hard to follow, as long as you keep in mind these two things, “How do they relate to the original film, and do they relate to any of the films, other than the original?”

John Carpenter’s “Halloween” (1978)

Publicity still from “Halloween” 1978

If you haven’t seen the original 1978 “Halloween”, you should remedy that, but here’s the breakdown of what’s important for our purposes. There’s also a little bit of the larger discussion around horror and slasher films we have to take into account. Of all the “Halloween” films, this is the one general movie fans should see. This film is the reason Laurie Strode and Michael Myers are around 40 years later, showing up in a new trilogy. Everything about the film, other than Laurie Strode’s character, is an exercise in the strengths of minimalism to build suspense.

The film starts with a point of view shot, it’s showing us what a character is seeing. It outside a house, looking through a window. A teenage couple is necking on the couch as we see through the window. They make their way upstairs. We make our way to a back door, into a kitchen, and a hand reaches into a drawer, pulling out a large kitchen knife. We then make our way through the house toward the stairs we saw the teenagers ascend, and see the teenage boy head out the front door. Then we see a hand picking up a clown mask the teenage boy had been playing with. The mask is pulled down, and we’re looking through the eyes of the mask. We head up the stairs and see the teenage girl sitting topless at a vanity, brushing her hair, unaware of our presence. We start to approach her. When she realizes we’re there, she looks up and exclaims, “Michael!” Then she screams and through the holes in the mask, we see the kitchen knife ascending and descending as she begins screaming. It’s almost as if we’re watching the hand which holds the knife, detached from it being attached to the body we’re seeing out of. When she slumps to the floor, we go back down the stairs and out the front door, two adults head up the walkway toward us. “Michael?” one of them asks, they reach us, pull the mask up, and then the camera switches its focus. As it starts to pull back, we see a very young boy of six or seven, dressed in a child’s clown costume, staring ahead with a completely blank look, holding the blood covered knife we saw ascending and descending a minute before.

It’s an extremely effective opening sequence. It tells the audience a lot, in a very short time, while also immediately putting them in the unexpected and uncomfortable position of the killer’s point of view, and then going further to reveal the even more unthinkable fact that the killer is a child. The origin of Michael Meyer’s is important because of his role in Laurie’s stories. It’s part of establishing what it is she’s fighting.

The film immediately jumps to fifteen years later. A doctor is in a car with nurse. The nurse is driving. They’re having a conversation about picking up a patient for a hearing. The doctor is making it clear he never wants the patient to be released. The nurse is skeptical, and the doctor is played cold. It becomes clear they’re talking about the child, who’s been hospitalized for fifteen years. They come around a corner, there are patients everywhere, and it’s raining. The doctor is agitated, telling the nurse to pull up to a gate where he gets out to use a call box. Someone jumps on top of the car and starts trying to pull the nurse out. She manages to escape, and whoever was on top of the car drives away. Of course, the escapee is Michael Meyers, and he’s headed home to Haddonfield, where he killed his sister. This is also the introduction of Dr. Sam Loomis, played by Donald Pleasance, who spends five of the films trying to track down and capture or kill Michael. Loomis is the most entertaining character the franchised produced, and Donald Pleasance is a just incredibly fun to watch chewing the scenery yelling about The Evil and IT’S NOT A MAN!

Once this is all established, we’re introduced to Laurie Strode. She has to stop by a house to drop off a key for her real estate agent father. It ends up being the house which was formerly Michael Myers home, the one we witnessed him murder his sister in, through his eyes. A shot from inside the front door shows Michael barely step into frame, watching Laurie as she walks away from the porch. We get another shot of Laurie walking away down the sidewalk, and Michael stepping into the frame, watching her. From there, the film is Michael stalking Laurie as she does very usual teenage girl things with her girlfriends and then goes to her babysitting gig while her friends go about teenage hijinks on Halloween night. Long story short, her friends end up dead. Laurie and the kids she is babysitting survive. The climax of the film begins with Laurie entering a house across the street from where she’s babysitting, looking for her friends, one of whom dropped off her own babysitting charge to Laurie earlier in the film. Michael has put together a bit of a presentation for her, made up of her friends dead bodies, and his dead sisters headstone. It’s not particularly gory or grizzly, but it is shocking and disturbing. Michael isn’t just interested in killing Laurie. He wouldn’t have put together a show for her if that was all he wanted. He’s certainly interested in killing her, but it’s not the only thing driving him. In the ensuing chase, she suffers a hairline fracture her leg and a stab wound in her shoulder, not to mention a harrowing and seriously frightening encounter with a large man who seemingly walks away from six gun shot wounds, a crochet needle in the neck, a stab in the eye with a hanger, a stab in the gut with his own kitchen knife and a fall off a balcony.

There’s something else important to discuss about the first film, and it’s place in horror and the slasher sub genre. The slasher sub genre is often rightly accused of being intensely patriarchal and socially conservative. The number of films punishing young people, especially young women, for the sins of sex, drugs, and rock and roll is staggering. “Halloween” often gets lumped in there, but John Carpenter and Debra Hill both had very different ideas in mind. They were looking at it from a standpoint of pure practicality, not morality. Punishing the sins of premarital sex, drug use, drinking and the like never occurred to either of them.

Laurie is the bookish character. She is the character who is foregoing sex, drugs and rock and roll to babysit and the like. Both Debra Hill, who Carpenter credits with the characterization of the other girls in the film, and Carpenter himself have said Laurie’s survival is a function of pure practicality. She sees some warning signs where the others don’t because they’re concerned with their boyfriends and so on. It’s a function of characterization. Laurie is observant. There are two scenes which specifically speak to Laurie’s desire to have more of the things in her life which distract her friends and she’s also shown getting high on the way to her babysitting gig. This isn’t something you do with a character being held up as the picture of moral rectitude if the moral code you’re advocating or sticking to is what Halloween has so often been accused of employing. On a commentary track, Debra Hill talked about it as Laurie wanting everything to be safe. She wasn’t the risk taker, and part of the story was about the danger being there even though Laurie wasn’t taking the risks.

If there’s a morality involved with who survives and who doesn’t, it’s much more connected to the fact that both Linda and Annie, the two friends we see Laurie interact with are pretty insensitive toward her, and Laurie never treats either of them that way. The only real morality which can be laid on the question of who dies and who doesn’t seems much more involved with who it is Michael sees Laurie as emotionally connected to, and would be more about punishing Laurie for that connection. The moment Michael sees Laurie on the porch of his childhood home, the film is concerned with him stalking her. From the first that I encountered the idea that slasher films were extremely socially conservative in their morality, it made complete sense to me, and it is true more often than not, but that is much more a function of the films that imitated “Halloween”, and those film makers.

“Halloween II” (1979)

Still shot from “Halloween II”

The second film in this continuum picks up exactly where the first left off. It’s inferior in every way, but it advances the mythology some and isn’t terrible as an entry in the slasher genre. This is definitely much more of a traditional slasher film than the original, even as it tries to hold on to some of the originals flair.

Laurie is in a hospital for the entire film, and in a hospital bed for the first three quarters, so it doesn’t treat her very well, but considering what she’d been through just hours earlier, it is at least logically consistent. The advances in the mythology come in two forms. The first is that Michael is up and walking around. Between stabbed in the gut with a big ass kitchen knife, in the eye with a hanger, a crochet needle in the neck and shot six times, this suggests he’s more than just a killer in a mask. It’s also revealed toward the end of the film that Laurie is Michael’s surviving sister. His parents died in a car accident a few years after he murdered his older sister, and the younger surviving sister was adopted by the Strodes. Michael also writes “Samhain” in blood on a chalkboard at his former elementary school. There’s no real explanation of what the Samhain bit is supposed to mean, but it does give Donald Pleasance yet another reason to have a page or two of dialog about evil, the unconscious, and Druids. He was always engrossing and fun to watch, even when the scripts had him spouting the most inane soliloquy’s or repeating his schtick about Michael being “pure evil.” (As I’m writing this, I’m thinking there is a truly ridiculous and hilarious fan service post in detailing the number of times Loomis yells something about EVIL!)

There’s blood and guts (a good deal more than the original film, which is a pretty bloodless affair considering the genre it helped create), after being shot another 6 times, and getting up to kill a sheriff’s deputy in front of Laurie and Loomis, and the finale comes with Michael, Laurie and Loomis in what looks like an operating room. Laurie, wearing Loomis coat over her hospital gown, pulls out the gun stashed the coat pocket, and somehow expertly shoots Michael in both eyes, which allows Loomis to open all of the gas canisters in the room. Laurie escapes, and Loomis flicks a lighter. Explosion ensues. Cut to Laurie in a hallways further away, and a flaming figure stalks out of the fire, only to collapse. We presume Michael and Loomis are both dead, therefore, the saga of Michael and Laurie is over. John Carpenter wrote it that way, purposely. He’s on record saying he only had involvement in the sequel for the paycheck, and apparently, if they only knew how much they’d contributed to the script, he’d owe royalties to the Coor’s brewing company. He killed Michael because he wanted to turn the Halloween franchise into a kind of anthology, where each film would tell different stories, related to Halloween somehow.

NOTE: The third film in the Halloween franchise has no connection to any other film in the Halloween franchise. Carpenter got his wish. It’s fun in a bad, bad, bad movie way, but the real reason to see it is one of the greatest ear worms in the history of recorded sound. It is an unfortunate waste of what would have been a great villain in a better film. The jingle for the Silver Shamrock company that plays in the commercials during the film will haunt your memory forever. It’s the ear worm from hell.

“Halloween H20: 20 Years Later” (1998)

Laurie Strode, hunting Michael in “Halloween H20"

NOTE: Films four through six are a storyline about Michael stalking Laurie’s daughter, who’d been adopted after Laurie’s supposed death in a car crash. Instead of trying to protect Laurie, Loomis spends these three films running around trying to protect her daughter and ranting about The Evil while Michael kills a lot of people and is himself is dispatched in increasingly creative ways.

Laurie Strode and Jamie Lee Curtis return to the world of the “Halloween” films twenty years after “Halloween” 1978 (which is compromised of the first two films in the franchise, as the second is a continuation of that same night). “H20" seems to completely ignore the storyline of the fourth, fifth and sixth films. It basically treats those films as if they never happened.

This Laurie Strode is now the Headmistress of a posh private school in California. She’s changed her name, had a son, and as the film progresses, is pretty obviously dealing with hyper vigilance, alcoholism and a possible pill addiction. Changing her name apparently also involved faking her death, which is an interesting bit to include, if they were going to ignore the previous sequels anyway.

When “H20" picks up Laurie’s son is 17, attending the school where she works, and there are some obvious troubles resulting from the way Laurie’s experience has effected their relationship. He feels she’s been overprotective, seems to blame her for the divorce from his father etc. She has a relationship with a teacher at the school who wants something more, but Laurie is obviously holding him at a distance. It’s clear, Laurie only has any kind of meaningful emotional connection to her son and to him, it feels smothering and as if he’s her caretaker as much as her son.

This is all pretty standard stuff where trauma is portrayed in movies. For those who’ve seen the original film, it’s not so surprising Laurie is in the state she’s in. In more of the ways than not, she’s in pretty good shape by the usual social markers. She’s holding down a good job. She’s going about life in a way that portends some facility as an adult, not really bad at all.

In the context of how characters with past trauma are conveyed in popular culture, this isn’t absolutely terrible. There’s also some relative degree of realism. Hyper vigilance, substance abuse and issues with personal relationships are all very real things people who experience violent trauma often deal with.

This is the preferred narrative we tell about trauma survivors though, isn’t it? They may be struggling and their personal lives may be impacted, but they’re not so damaged as to not be able to still present themselves as “normal” etc. They can soldier on, and be an “inspiring example” to the rest of us, even if their personal lives are a disaster and not at all fulfilling for them.

When characters are portrayed to not be holding up a facade of “normalcy” or to not even be capable of the facade, the narrative is much different, right? It becomes a narrative about the character needing to find their inner strength, as if they were just somehow not willing to find that “hidden well of inner strength” or needed some kind of guru or new trauma to reveal it to them.

Here’s the other thing about Laurie’s character as “H20" portrays her. This is a portrayal of an emotionally damaged female character. All of these things are presented as being hindrances to her well being and to her relationships with other people. The entire reason we’re coming to this character, in this point in her life is because of the traumatic experience from the original film. The whole film is built around Laurie Strode and Jamie Lee Curtis returning to the “Halloween” universe. The film exists to capitalize on the 20th anniversary of the original.

This description of Laurie’s character, aside from the understanding of the trauma she comes to the film with from the original, could be made of 3/4 of the male hero characters in films from any genre. The difference is they’re portrayed as lovable screw ups or misunderstood moral paragons. Laurie is portrayed as a woman barely holding on to her grasp on reality and not a victim of nagging loved ones, but the source of their problems. Think about John McClain of “Die Hard,” pretty much any noir in all of film history. They’re not being portrayed as people attempting to navigate the after effects of trauma. With men, it’s just men being men. For women, trauma is the reason they’d have the same traits. At the very least, the trauma these men may have experienced isn’t seen as having been impactful enough for it to even be explained, but for women, it’s the thing that completely defines them.

At least with Laurie Strode, Jamie Lee Curtis and the rest of the “H20” film makers do a decent job of conveying that what’s driving the drinking, the relationship problems and the rest is the mostly unconscious, but sometimes conscious fear that the source of her trauma will be back and will be coming for her.

This is also a realistic concept, even if it’s not portrayed quite so realistically. For people who experience trauma as the result of violence, it is common for them to live with the fear of being victim to whoever or whatever was responsible the first time. Maybe especially for Laurie, there’s also survivors guilt. She was the only survivor, and still fears anyone around her is in danger by that proximity alone. With “Halloween II” adding in that Laurie is Michael’s sister and “H20” continuing that storyline, Michael was specifically stalking Laurie and that it wasn’t some kind of random chance that he fixated on her, it’s easy to see how she would take on that responsibility, even though no one would blame her for her friends deaths.

“H20" spends most of the film with Michael stalking various characters and then Laurie from some distance. There are some fan service callbacks which mimic the original film or turn it’s shots to a new perspective somehow, but what everyone was there to see was Laurie Strode facing off with Michael Myers.

Laurie’s son is one of a handful of students still at the school when the rest have left on a field trip. This handful of students are, of course, planning a secret Halloween party. Michael shows up, and the bloodshed begins. Laurie has a chance to escape, to drive away with her son, John, and his girlfriend. Instead, she puts John in the driver’s seat and tells him to go for help. Laurie, grabbing a fire axe, is intent on putting it all to an end. It’s the chance to put an end to being afraid and to get recompense. If Laurie kills Michael, she’s free. She’ll have no need to keep living in fear of his return. There doesn’t seem to be much of a plan on how to kill Michael, considering what he’s already lived through.

After a few more bodies are added to Michaels count, Laurie has a heroic showdown with him. Michael ends up in the back of an ambulance, apparently dead. Laurie steals a police officers gun, grabs the fire axe once again and then basically commits armed robbery by stealing the ambulance Michael’s body is in. When Michael wakes up/comes back to life in the back of the van, Laurie slams on the brakes, sending Michael through the windshield and drives the van straight at him. Michael ends up pinned between the van and a fallen tree. Laurie beheads him with the axe, and that’s the end of the film.

It would seem the makers of “H20"and Jamie Lee Curtis were intent on ending the Michael Myers/Laurie Strode saga there. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.

“Halloween: Resurrection”

Laurie Strode makes a brief appearance in this shit show, luckily for her and for Jamie Lee Curtis, the responsibility for the rest of the film is on someone else’s head. The film opens at an institution. We learn quickly from two nurses, that it’s three years after “H20" and they’re on the way to Laurie Strode’s room. It’s also through them (one of them being new and questioning the other) we’re told Laurie is in the institution because she beheaded the wrong man at the end of “H20.” The story is that Michael crushed the larynx of a paramedic as he strangled him, took the paramedics jacket and then put the mask on the barely able to breath paramedic, who of course passes out. When Laurie stole the ambulance, and crashed it, Michael was already gone from the entire scene. These nurses arrive in Laurie’s room, feed her some pills, say that she’s semi-catatonic, she’s been found on the roof numerous times, doctors think its due to guilt, probably contemplating suicide, and off our nurses go.

Laurie then spits out the pills, buries them in a hiding spot, and goes the window. The semi-catatonia (which would mirror Michaels state in his years institutionalized) is a ruse. We’re shown Laurie’s point of view out the window, and there on the lawn stands Michael.

Of course some hospital staff get killed, and off Michael goes after Laurie. She’s obviously been waiting for him, as she leads him to the roof, traps him in some kind of snare, hanging upside down off of the roof, having gotten his knife, then flashes back to having beheaded the wrong man, then reaches to pull the mask off. Michael grabs her, stabs her with the knife in the struggle, and drops her to the lawn. Laurie Strode is no more, and I’ll spare you the inanity the rest of the film subjected audiences to. It’s tragic that following the financial success of “H20,” this is the low budget cash grab producers decided to go with. It’s also the final film in this first franchise. The only other details you need to know are that surviving being burned alive, shot hundreds of times, stabbed dozens of times, and run over never killed Michael Myers. Contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t how horrible this sequel was which ended up killing The Shape either. It was the death of Laurie Strode which killed this iteration of the “Halloween” franchise, and Michael Myers.

That is where the first of Laurie Strode’s narrative continuums ends.

“Rob Zombie’s Halloween” and “Halloween 2”

(Left to right) Linda (Kristina Klebe), Annie (Daniel Harris) and Laurie (Scout Taylor Compton) in the Rob Zombie timeline.

*NOTE* Rob Zombie’s film and it’s sequel with the characters John Carpenter and Debra Hill created follow their own timeline, completely separate from the previous franchise.

In 2007, Rob Zombie would go on to remake the original Halloween. It was financially successful, bringing in twice what it cost to make, but it riled up the Halloween fanbase to a near frothing extreme. It was a significant departure from the original film, and it is fair to say it wasn’t even a remake, but a re-imagining of the Halloween mythology which radically altered what few aspects of the original film and mythology and jettisoned everything else. Laurie and her friends are definitely modern kids, and Scout Taylor Compton did a great job with what she was given, but the film just has some real issues, not the least of which is overcomplicating a story which succeeded in large part because of it’s simplicity.

It also got a sequel, which in it’s own way dealt with the ideas of the effects of violent trauma, but it not only strayed further from the original, it started veering into the genuinely surreal, getting much closer to starting to explore the question of whether or not Michael was indeed so severely mentally ill (which given what we learn about his home life in the first Rob Zombie film isn’t impossible to believe) or there is some kind of supernatural element to what makes him who and what he is. It doesn’t necessarily answer the question, but it does explore it more than any other Michael Myers film did. Unfortunately, even more than his first film with Michael Myers and Laurie Strode, fans of the original franchise were apoplectic, and the fan base Zombie had brought with him from his films prior were non-plussed by the surreal, slightly avant-garde aspects. He should be given credit for attempting something ambitious, and for taking those chances with a big franchise property that had stalled out. Personally, I disliked the first of these films, but was genuinely surprised by and respect the second film. The narrative of the second of these films is altogether more compelling and the addition of the surreal mystery aspect was enjoyable. I would like to see second film in this timeline again, now that some time has passed and the fervor has died down, just to find out if my reaction is any different.

“Halloween 2018"

Courtesy of /Film

After the Rob Zombie Halloween films, the only way any film makers were going to get fans to come back to theaters was by somehow bringing Jamie Lee Curtis back as Laurie Strode. The decision was made to write this film as if it were a direct sequel to John Carpenter’s 1978 Halloween, and to ignore all of the other films. That means no “Halloween II,” freeing them up from having to find some explanation for Michael having such an obsession for killing his sister.

This reconfiguring of the Halloween mythology starts off in a psychiatric institution, two “true crime” podcasters headed to try and see Michael. It’s through their interaction with Michaels new doctor we learn Michael was re-captured following the ending of the 1978 film. He’s been institutionalized for 40 years, hasn’t said a word, has been the subject of much interest, including dozens of psychiatrists who’ve made different diagnoses. We find out Michael is due to be transferred to a different institution as there’s no point in studying him anymore. He’s being sent to a privately run institution, because it’s less expensive to house patients there. When he’s re-introduced, Michael is in an outdoor space, chained to a block in the floor, and shows no sign of even hearing anyone speaking to him. Addressing Michael from behind, one of the podcasters explains he’s been given a gift by the attorney general’s office, he pulls out the iconic mask. There’s an almost imperceptible twitch as a reaction from Michael. The other inmates, chained to their own blocks in different parts of that outdoor area begin to get agitated, a guard dog begins to whine and slouch. It all seems to give the most vague suggestion of there being an energy or some kind of supernatural undercurrent at work. It’s an effectively creepy opening scene. It’s important to note we never see Michaels full face. We see a few which give us enough to know h has a grayed beard, but we never see his full face.

It’s through the same podcasters we catch up with Laurie Strode, apparently living deep in the woods just outside of Haddonfield. She has a serious security system, and she very much seems like she’s not going to let them in until they offer her $3,000.

One of the more interesting scenes in the film begins when they’re all shown sitting in Laurie’s living room. It’s very clear this Laurie Strode is savvy. She completely understands what’s happening and the narrative the people in her living room are attempting to weave together. She understands they’ve done all of their research and that some of their questions aren’t about getting answers, but are about gauging her reaction, and she’s having none of it. The conversation tells us how much the trauma of “Halloween” 1978 has effected her life. She’s been twice divorced. She lost custody of her daughter when the girl was 12, and never regained it. She’s in tough financial straits. There are definitely some similarities in the way this character is introduced, at first, to the Laurie Strode of “H20.”

This scene is written in a way that works really well for people who were invested in the version of Laurie Strode in the 1978 film. Both of these incarnations of Laurie are whip smart and observant. Where the Laurie in 1978 was somewhat naive, this Laurie has been through the experience of that film, and the years of being a news story, dealing with the fallout from the trauma and from being an object of prurient, sadistic voyeurism. The connections between the character in the two films are more than just in the dialogue references back to the original. It’s in the traits of the character, and how they’re still present, even as the years have changed who that character is. Laurie doesn’t “have everything together,” but she isn’t anyone’s pawn either. She sees what they want her to be, and knows that’s not who she is. The observant quality of the character from the 1978 film is still very much a part of this Laurie Strode. It’s the kind of character work which is so rare in the slasher sub genre, few people look for it. The Laurie Strode that Debra Hill strove to create, and that audiences responded so strongly to, is very much part of the Laurie in “Halloween 2018.”

We’re then introduced to Laurie’s daughter, Karen, and granddaughter, Alyson. Her granddaughter is accepting a national honor’s society award, and is inquiring about whether her mother has invited her grandmother. It’s clear in the conversation that Karen, Laurie’s daughter, isn’t comfortable with her mother, and it’s also clear Karen is not telling Alyson the truth. She lies about having spoken to and invited Laurie. It’s clear Karen wants to keep some distance between her mother and her daughter, and having become a psychologist, believes her mother is disturbed. Laurie spent her daughter’s childhood trying to prepare her for the likes of Michael Myers, and along with social service taking her from her mother, it’s obviously taken a significant toll.

When the scene cuts to Alyson with her friends, on the way to school, it’s revealed Alyson was testing Karen, and already knew her mother hadn’t invited her grandmother. It’s another interesting piece of character work. It’s in this sequence as she’s talking about the holiday Halloween and her families history with it, it’s revealed that in this timeline, the idea that Laurie is Michael’s sister is just a rumor spread in the kind of version of telephone which happens following horrible events, and is the result of the same variety of sadistic voyeurism Laurie faced and identified in the podcasters.

There’s a short scene between Laurie and Alyson, which is also telling. Laurie gives Alyson the $3,000 the podcasters gave her for her extremely short interview. She tells Alyson to do something fun with it, like go to Mexico. Alyson responds, “Can you imagine?,” and Jamie Lee Curtis delivers one small line, perfectly. She says, “I can,” in a way that tells us she has been imagining a whole other life. “Your mother won’t like it, but she’ll get over it,” Laurie says, and it’s impossible not to connect this sentiment to how Laurie feels about Karen as well. Laurie has imagined beaches in Mexico and being care free, and she can’t do that because she is still waiting, but she wants Alyson to have the life Laurie and Karen never did.

Later on, we learn Laurie lost custody of Karen because Laurie was essentially treating her as if she was in a survivalist camp. She’d learned to shoot a gun by the time she was 8, she’d been terrified of the basement in Laurie’s house, spending hours laboring down there as if it were some sort of prison. Karen spent years trying to overcome the paranoia her mother had done everything she could to instill in her.

From there we get to where we all knew it had to go at some point, during transport to the new facility, Michael escapes. The stalking, mayhem and murder ramp right up from there. Laurie, Karen and Alyson are all in danger and being stalked by The Shape, 40 years later.

From the moment Laurie finds out the bus carrying Michael has crashed, it becomes clear this is a different character than the one presented to us in “H20.” Laurie isn’t running and she isn’t hiding, it becomes clear how well she’s learned the lessons of her first encounter with Michael. She states directly to a deputy who had also been one of the men to capture Michael 40 years before, “ Every night, I prayed for him to escape.” When he asks why she would do that, her response is, “So I can kill him.” Like the Laurie of “Halloween” 1978, she goes first to protect her daughter and grand daughter, just as she went first to protect the children she was babysitting. It becomes clear quickly, Laurie was attempting to prepare Karen for this night, and Laurie has been preparing and waiting all those years.

It’s interesting to note that outside of the deputy, played by Will Patton, every male in the film is basically useless or a complete jack ass or some combination of the two. Laurie, Karen and Alyson, even as they are obviously in very different phases of life, are all very clearly more intelligent, capable, and in control than the men in their lives. In Alyson though, there are instances where it is very clear she is Laurie’s grand daughter, it’s in the way she interacts with her grandmother, who many other teenage girls would have written off as embarrassing or just too much trouble. Alyson speaks bluntly and directly to Laurie, but she’s also not willing to cast her aside like Karen is. Alyson is in no way without compassion for her grand mother and the struggle she’s lived with, but doesn’t recognize until the end of the movie that her own strength comes from Laurie.

Alyson’s interactions with the boys in her life also suggests she is a very different female character than the slasher sub genre usually produces. She is having none of their foolishness. The writers did a good job of melding the best of Laurie and the best of Karen into Alyson, and creating a resourceful, compassionate character who is no more a wilting flower than Laurie is, but isn’t just a retread of Laurie’s character.

By the end of the film, it’s also clear Karen didn’t forget everything Laurie tried to teach her as the three women are responsible for dispatching Michael together. This time, he’s burned alive in the basement of Laurie’s home. A basement she’d spent 40 years turning into and maintaining as the trap she’d been waiting for this night to spring. It’s this key fact which gives Karen a new understanding of what her mother has been doing for 40 years, and who her mother is. It’s explicitly stated at the end, Laurie hasn’t been building a cage to keep the world out. She’s been building a trap, and waiting for the day she had to spring it. It’s an effective pice of storytelling and dialogue.

This was the most financially successful Halloween film, making $96 million in it’s theatrical run. Last week, it was announced that there will be two more films in this timeline, Halloween Kills and Halloween Ends. I have no clue how they’re going to bring Michael back after the ending of this film, but like comic books, this is how it goes with horror franchises. You can’t count on anyone really being dead.

SYNOPSIS FINISHED

Halloween II set photo

We have two different Laurie Strode timelines, three if you include Rob Zombie’s version of the mythology. I’ll just quickly say that Rob Zombie’s version of Laurie in his second Halloween definitely gets a lot right about adults and young adults for whom the event which caused their trauma isn’t very far past. In the two timelines connected to the original 1978 “Halloween”, we don’t get to see Laurie in an intermittent period within a few years of her first encounter with Michael Myers. In Rob Zombie’s timeline, there’s a two year gap between Laurie’s horrific first encounter with Michael and her second encounter, and the film details the effect it’s had on her life, and the lives of a number of other characters. Jamie Lee Curtis’s Laurie Strode and her timelines which are related to the 1978 original are the more impactful though.

In the original 1978 film, the Laurie Strode we’re introduced to is a smart, determined, compassionate, resourceful young woman. The primary difference between herself and the friends of hers we’re introduced to is that Laurie does prefer to play it safe. It’s also clear that she’s observing her friends, and the world around her, and catching everything that’s going on. Laurie doesn’t miss anything. She’s quick and whip smart. It’s these traits and the ability to synthesize her observations which are what ultimately lead to her survival.

Where the arguments that suggest Halloween is driven by a kind of ultra-conservative morality get it wrong is that Michael is no less interested in killing Laurie than he is any of the others. If the film had been operating on that kind of ultra-conservative morality, it wouldn’t be determining Laurie’s survival by those standards, it would be determining Michael’s choice in potential victims. She has been the only one who has been aware something isn’t right, catching glimpses of the man stalking her and her friends. Laurie just isn’t as easy to dispatch, because he has to go through a much more elaborate set up to get close enough to her, which is the explanation for the entire presentation he puts on with the dead bodies of her friends and his older sisters headstone. He lays the trap, and still isn’t quite quick and close enough to strike a killing blow. The original film might introduce Michael Myers, but it’s Laurie Strode’s film and narrative. A film based on the morality Michael is operating on has no survivors. Michaels morality says these people all have to die, because they are in some way connected to Laurie.

The Laurie Strode of H20 is wrestling with those same character traits that saved her. To some degree, she’s used them to become successful, but she’s also a very lost person in the world she inhabits, despite putting up a good facade. Her relationship with her son is suffering from her focusing on it as one of the few areas in her life she has been able to exercise control. Her keeping distance between herself and a man who for all intents and purposes seems to think she’s incredible and who himself seems like a compassionate and caring human being suggests she’s not willing to enter into any relationship where she can’t exercise complete control. Her career as headmistress of the school even suggests being able to have power over her environment influences her driving ambition to succeed.

This Laurie in “H20" doesn’t seem to be at all at peace with any of this, which is the most striking difference between her and the Laurie Strode of “Halloween 2018.”

From an Entertainment Weekly photo shoot for “Halloween 2018”

From the first moment we’re introduced to the Laurie Strode of “Halloween 2018,” she’s might not seem at peace with who she is, but she is completely in control of her own narrative. As she’s “interviewed” by the podcasters, who seem to be doing something along the lines of a true crime podcast, she is razor sharp. Nothing slips by her, and far from the “investigative journalists” being in control of the interview, Laurie is in charge, even as they try to get her off balance with their questions.

It’s worth mentioning this is also the first indication we get that as “Halloween 2018” is concerned, the women are in charge, and they are the one’s who understand the situations they’re encountering better than the men in the scenes. Even with the podcasters, who are a woman and a man, the woman is obviously the one who has a better grasp of everything. She’s the one who has $3,000 at the ready to offer Laurie, that gets them in the door. The man puts up an argument about it, but as he’s getting nowhere with convincing Laurie to let them in, it’s his female partner who offers the money, at which point the gate opens.

Publicity still from “Halloween 2018”

This is another contrast to “H20.” In “H20,” Laurie doesn’t just seem to not be in control of her narrative or at peace, ultimately, Michael is the one who is driving the events of the film, which makes him in control of the narrative. In “Halloween 2018,” Michael is the center of the conflict in the narrative, but he is definitely not the one in control or the one ultimately driving it.

The Laurie of 2018 may not have herself together, in the way that the phrase is usually employed, but she’s not really interested in whether or not the world around her sees her as having it together. She has one singular concern, be ready because Michael will be coming for her and the people she cares about again. Her relationship with her daughter and her grand daughter have been sacrificed because she won’t let anyone or anything deter her from that goal.

The one time she seems to be at a loss is due to having watched Michael get loaded on a bus for transfer. It initially seems that seeing him is causing her a depth of emotional pain, and when she goes to see her daughter and grand daughter, she says, “I saw him, The Shape. I didn’t know what to do,” which does back up this perspective that Laurie is unbalanced. If we consider what comes later in the film, where she says she’s prayed for Michael to escape so she could kill him, and then when we later we realize she’s turned her entire house into a to trap Michael, it’s clearer. Laurie wasn’t upset at having seen Michael. Laurie was upset because she’d gotten that close, and he was right there, and she couldn’t see a way to be able to kill him. “I didn’t know what to do,” isn’t an expression of her loss of emotional control, it’s frustration and grief because she wasn’t able to take advantage of what might be her last chance to kill him.

The first thing Laurie does when she realizes the bus Michael was being transferred on has crashed, is to go to Karen. She wants Karen and Alyson with her, and she says, “I have a plan. You and Alyson have to come with me,” Laurie has had this plan for 40 years. When Karen refuses to listen to her, telling her she need to be in therapy (and let’s be clear, it is 100% understandable that this is Karen’s reaction). Laurie explicitly says, “Now, we have to hunt him.” She’s going to get to Michael before he can get to anyone else she cares about. When she goes after Michael, it might not even be to try and kill him, since she’s only carrying a revolver, which she has seen him survive, the chances are it’s just to let Michael see her so that he will come looking for her. She’s baiting the trap and she wants to be able to know where Karen and Alyson are so she can still have control of the situation.

Needless to say, she doesn’t have to keep hunting for long, and the rest of the film is concerned with the how and why Karen ends up agreeing to go to Laurie’s house and then how Alyson gets there.

Having been a fan of this franchise or at least Laurie Strode, Dr. Loomis and Michael Myers, I didn’t pick up on the fact that this plan has been driving Laurie’s actions throughout the entire film and that her plan is executed by the end of the film. I was initially seeing her as Karen and Alyson see her, being emotionally unstable, lost in her own grief and the like, and I think it’s meant to be read that way to give some more of a surprise to the ending. It was the second viewing which clued me in to what was actually happening, especially with Laurie breaking down after seeing Michael loaded onto the transfer bus, and her initial attempts to get Karen to go with her.

The original Halloween is different than the majority of it’s imitators in that is was interested in the characters other than Michael. A big reason the movie works and a big reason it has resonated over time is that Laurie is the center of the film. Michael isn’t the center of the film. The tension and suspense are all driven by Michael getting closer to Laurie and her friends. In this new film, that same dynamic is at work, which ends up playing into the idea that Laurie has the best grasp on the situation, however unhinged she seems to the other characters. From the moment Michael escapes, this film is about Laurie trying to get Michael close enough. Michael is the insect, and Laurie is the spider and this is her web.

The two films present Laurie and her response to the trauma she experienced in the two ways we most often see narratives presented around how people deal with trauma in the longer term.

Set photo “Halloween” 1978

One is the kind of emotional mess who is out of control. She may be conforming to the rest of the world’s expectations and trying to hide that trauma, but she’s unable to escape it. In trying to hide it and hide from it, it’s prevented her from feeling her own sense of control, the feeling that it’s inevitable that she will be a victim again.

The other is the survivor who is in complete control. It’s inevitable that she’s not going to be a victim again. For her, it’s inevitable that she is going to be able to end the source of her trauma, essentially getting her revenge. She’s planned her revenge, meticulously.

The Laurie of Halloween 2018 is the revenge fantasy of so many trauma survivors. She’s able to completely let go of how other people see her or look at her, what the consequences to her dedication to vengeance are, and she’s ultimately able to get the vengeance she’s been fantasizing about for 40 years. The ultimate difference between Laurie and the thousands of other protagonists we’ve seen who’ve had an almost identical journey is that Laurie is a woman.

This is something else about the difference between the way the two films present Laurie’s methods of trying to cope. The Laurie of H20 is a much more common representation for women in pop culture. The Laurie of Halloween 2018 is revealed to have a strength, dedication and patience which is almost superhuman or even more probably, the result of mental illness brought on by the trauma she experienced in 1978. The Laurie of H20 is perceived as having been weak and broken, until the moment she decides she is going to put it all to an end.

To some degree, the Laurie Strode of H20 is the more realistic, and not because substance abuse and relationship problems are often related to past trauma, but because one of her primary instincts has obviously been to hide that trauma. This is unfortunately the case with far too many people in real life. It’s a story older than the Halloween franchise, the shock of finding out someone we know or a celebrity or other public person has experienced some kind of violent trauma, “They seem so normal…”, the person who doesn’t seem to have any of the kinds of behaviors we associated with having survived some violent act.

It’s important to note that both of these characters, were written by men. Carpenter’s original had the benefit of Debra Hill being a co-creator, and Jamie Lee Curtis is clear about who was responsible for creating the female characters. It would be interesting to see how these characters might differ if written by a woman or even similar to the case of the original, had a woman who was a co-creator, overseeing how the women were represented with some honesty about how she sees the characters.

Going back to look at the box office returns for the entire franchise, the two highest grossing installments were those which brought Laurie back to the story, “H20" surpassed the original’s success, then last year “Halloween 2018” surpassed “H20”. The character Debra Hill was involved in creating is going to bring in the biggest audience. I know that’s going to rile some of the long time fans, but it’s there in the numbers, and it’s not a knock against Carpenter. It takes nothing away from his achievement to acknowledge Debra Hill. To my mind, it adds to his achievement that he understood where he was in need of someone else’s input to get the best movie he could make.

“Halloween” as a film franchise suffers when Laurie Strode isn’t the focus of the narrative. Not just in box office, but in the quality of the overall films. Laurie Strode is who the audience didn’t just identify with, but cared about. The mask is what makes Michael. Through the years, a dozen men have portrayed Michael, though it can be argued there was a certain physicality Nick Castle brought to the role which has yet to be recreated, and I’d agree with that. Laurie Strode though, Jamie Lee Curtis is Laurie Strode. Even as the Rob Zombie films were financially profitable, audiences came back to the series in greater numbers, for “H20” and for “Halloween 2018,” because they care about Laurie Strode, and to them, Jamie Lee Curtis is the only Laurie Strode.

The “choose your own adventure” aspect of the Laurie Strode timelines lends itself to one of the more fun things about film generally, but certainly horror fandom. We, as the audience, get to decide which we prefer and which speaks to us more. Neither of them are particularly clean. Laurie Strode isn’t a saint, no matter which version of the timeline one might prefer. Damaged? Sure. Beaten? Not yet.

Personally, I do prefer the version of Laurie Strode we find in “Halloween 2018.” She’s certainly a wreck, but she’s also in control of her own narrative. Michael isn’t calling the shots. Loomis isn’t calling the shots or coming to save her. Laurie isn’t just the character we’re following through the story. She’s the character who has the strongest grasp on what the story is, where it’s going and how to take advantage of her chance to direct it. In “Halloween 2018,” Laurie finally gets the respect to be a character standing on her own.

There’s also some optimism there. Laurie made it through “Halloween 2018,” reunited with her daughter and her grand daughter. It’s impossible for some degree of reparation to have come to her relationship with Karen, considering the turnabout in Karen’s character during the finale. Throughout the film, Alyson shows all the signs of being cast from the same mold as her grandmother. I would hope Laurie is able to get some time in her life where she’s able to just enjoy those relationships, and that she grows as a character as a result.

We’ll see though. Two sequels have already been announced, following the timeline of “Halloween 2018.” The next one is currently being called “Halloween Kills,” and the film makers seem to be trying to bring the entire thing to an end by calling the third in this trilogy of films, “Halloween Ends,” appropriately enough.

Here’s to hoping they continue to give Laurie Strode her due, making her a complex and interesting character, while also giving the audience more of the teeth gnashing suspense which has made the franchise a touchstone in pop culture.

Tired, weary human. Excavating the geography between trauma, masculinity, mental health, and their social expressions. Anti-racist, anti-sexist. Learning.

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