The Original Final Girl: An ode to Laurie Strode and the end of ‘Halloween’
Burn your Laura Dern in Jurassic Park costume, turn off Hocus Pocus and throw your candy in the damn river because Halloween Ends (ended?) on October 14. Ok, well, not the holiday, but definitely (probably) the closing chapter in the David Gordon Green-directed trilogy of the 45-year-old horror franchise. I’m sorry, I simply cannot bring myself to type the words “legacy sequel reboot requel” because we have to, as a people, draw the line somewhere.
This final installment concluded Laurie Strode’s storyline and Jamie Lee Curtis’s performance as the world’s most hunted former babysitter. After portraying the heroine in seven sequels across multiple timelines, Laurie Strode is finally hanging up her knitting needle.
The records speak for themselves: Jamie Lee Curtis has portrayed Laurie Strode in each of the last six consecutive decades, a feat surpassed by no other actor for a specific role. Halloween (2018) is also the highest opening weekend for a film starring a woman over 50. That combined with Knives Out and Everything Everywhere All At Once, has made Jamie Lee Curtis one of the most consistently bankable actors in Hollywood, nearly fifty years into her career.
Retiring this character means something. Contrarians and The Internet will argue about whether Laurie Strode is the original “Final Girl” (she is, at least in the way that matters) or not, but it’s undeniable that this character set the blueprint for what would become the standard formula for horror tropes for decades to come. So to properly pay tribute to a character who never should’ve dropped the knife but sure knows how to wield an axe, here is my ode to Laurie Strode.
Looking back now, before all the Fridays 13th and Nightmares Elm Street, we can see the template of Final Girls being forged when we first meet Laurie Strode in 1978’s Halloween. Among Laurie’s trio of friends, Annie is the sarcastic one, Lynda is the flaky one, and Laurie is the good one. Naturally, Laurie would survive. It’s a notion that seems obvious, almost quaint, now. We have watched these archetypal female characters live and die (or die and live) for generations of horror movies; in 1978, these archetypes didn’t exist. Enter Laurie Strode.
Thanks to Jamie Lee Curtis’s naturalistic performance (in her feature film debut) and the collaboration of director/producer/co-screenwriters John Carpenter and Debra Hill, Laurie has more depth than simply hating comic books but liking school books. She may not have much of an edge but she’s not a fun killer either. Laurie’s smoking weed alongside Annie before their babysitting gigs and ready to take in little Lindsay Wallace for the night so Annie can get laid. So few films lionize friends who help with the logistics of sex, a shame if you ask me.
Instead of Laurie being pious and virginal, Curtis makes her wildly relatable, an insecure teenager overshadowed by her more boisterous, more experienced best friends. Laurie isn’t clutching her pearls over Annie and Lynda’s Halloween sexcapades; you get the sense Laurie has a bit of yearning for something similar, even if she’s not ready for it yet. Laurie scolds Annie for telling Ben Tramer about her crush on him. A lesser movie, or one of the slasher films wrought from the success of Halloween, would’ve used this as an example of Laurie’s virtue. In Halloween, she’s simply mortified. “Guys think I’m too smart.” Laurie laments to Annie about why she doesn’t date, letting us in on the insecurity of this teenage girl just trying to survive high school.
You’ve probably noticed that I am three paragraphs deep about Halloween (1978) without mentioning Michael Myers (nee The Boogeyman, The Shape). That’s because while Laurie Stride is unlikely to return to the Halloween franchise (at least not the JLC version), Michael Myers will almost certainly make some kind of return to the silver screen. I don’t know when, I don’t know how, but I know work on another Michael Myers movie is happening right now. We rarely discuss these strong, iconic female horror movie characters without centering the man (or man-like creature) trying to kill them.
By the time Halloween II was released in 1981, Jamie Lee Curtis had starred in a series of horror films to varying degrees of success on her way to saying goodbye to the genre. In 1983, Curtis would co-star with Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd in the comedy hit, Trading Places, receive a BAFTA nomination, and leave her Scream Queen moniker behind for nearly 20 years. The sequels would continue to grow Laurie Strode’s legacy in the pantheon of horror protagonists, in no small part due to the coinciding rise in Jamie Lee Curtis’s fame.
Laurie Strode spends the bulk of Halloween II near-catatonic in a hospital as Michael Myers continues his rampage in Haddonfield, IL. Saddled with an iconically bad wig and with doctors who won’t believe her about the Boogeyman, Laurie Strode spends much of the film sedated or trying to convince people that she’s not crazy. To her credit, she does not sit around and wait for someone to save or believe her. The film gives Laurie back some agency in the final act, as she must rely on herself to survive. Summoning new reservoirs of inner strength would become a core Laurie Strode characteristic throughout this series.
(This film introduces the controversial idea of Michael and Laurie being siblings and his driving force to end his bloodline by killing his sister. Feelings vary wildly on this particular plot twist: It’s scarier for Michael Myers to simply be an unstoppable killing machine, obsessed with this random girl he saw on the street one day, but the sibling twist is the one I grew up watching so :: shoulders shrug emoji ::.)
Jamie Lee Curtis would take 17 years to be lured back to play Laurie Strode in Halloween: H20. In her time away, she missed four sequels which either involved possessed masks in place of Michael Myers, or Laurie’s daughter as the remaining member of the Myers bloodline, or lots of Cult of Thorn stuff (some had all these things). Curtis was severely missed – and so was Laurie Strode.
In 1998, thanks to Scream, horror movies were back! And more importantly, they were starting to shake some of the stigmas from back when Jamie Lee Curtis was starring in films like Terror Train. The return of Jamie Lee Curtis to the Halloween franchise was a capital-B, capital-D Big Deal. Fresh off her Golden Globe-winning, SAG-nominated, so-close-to-an-Oscar-nom-it-hurts role in the massive hit True Lies, Curtis was a huge star returning to the role that made her famous.
Set 20 years after the events of the original film and disregarding everything that happened in the franchise after Halloween II, H20 gives us a Laurie who has changed her name, faked her death, and is now the headmistress of a tony private school in California. She is a functioning alcoholic with a possible pill addiction. She’s divorced, has a frayed relationship with her teenage son, and has difficulty holding down a romantic relationship. Laurie feels like a person barely holding it together behind a mask of calm assuredness. This is my favorite iteration of Laurie Strode, hands down, and the best performance Curtis gives in the role.
In one moment, Laurie’s beginning to confess her trauma to her boyfriend; the next, she’s ordering a glass of wine to guzzle down while he’s in the bathroom. She’s still so unnerved by Halloween, despite her protests otherwise, that when she catches her son off-campus, she has a complete breakdown in the street, screaming: “Do you know what day it is?” It’s a complexity in a horror/genre film that brings to mind Alice Ripley in the Alien movies, but few others.
Lest you think the H20 version of Laurie is all emotional outbursts and valium, Laurie gets one whopper of a showdown with her brother, Michael Myers. After a long, protracted battle where she incapacitates the “man” stalking her for 20 years, Laurie is not interested in listening to those telling her it’s over. She must take matters into her own hands. What follows is, for my money, one of the most satisfying film endings – horror or otherwise. The film ends with Michael confused and scared, pinned against a tree, reaching out to Laurie, his sister. She reaches back out, teary-eyed, and their fingers barely touch for just a moment of kinship that is genuinely beautiful. And then she chops his damn head off with an axe. For 20-plus years, this would be the only time in the franchise that Michael is definitively killed.
Well, “definitively” is an elastic term in horror. Despite seeing Michael Myers decapitated, the Boogeyman is back just a few years later. Unfortunately, the success of Halloween: H20 necessitates Halloween: Resurrection, a contractually obligated and emotionally empty sequel. The good news: Laurie Strode doesn’t have to endure the indignities of a film shot mostly on webcam or Busta Rhymes kung fu fighting Michael Myers. The bad news: The ending of H20 gets a new spin, with Michael somehow slipping away before Laurie drives off with him. Racked with guilt for killing an innocent man, Laurie ends up in an insane asylum where Michael Myers finally catches up with her. She ensnares him in a trap, but he gets the better of her, unceremoniously killing the beating heart of this franchise. Even in a schlocky cash-grab sequel, possibly the worst in the franchise, Laurie is still clever, calculated and resourceful. The less said about this, the better.
In 2018, David Gordon Green and Danny McBride conspired to reboot the Halloween franchise and, with it, Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode. This version again resets the timeline, eliminating the Laurie-Michael sibling story and retconning everything that happens after the first film. In the world of David Gordon Green’s Halloween (2018), Michael was caught on Halloween Night, 1978, and has been held in captivity ever since.
Laurie, however, has lived a lifetime with the trauma of what happened to her and her friends 40 years prior. This film retreads much of the same territory as H20, giving us a Laurie who is even more debilitated by her PTSD. Laurie’s daughter, Karen, was taken away by the state and was raised to be a survivalist/doomsday prepper. Laurie’s an alcoholic and agoraphobe; She has a lot of mannequins used for target practice and, one assumes, conversation. Her relationship with her granddaughter is strained but hopeful. Surviving Michael Myers – and preparing to do so again – has defined and destroyed her life. And while the film isn’t always as successful as I’d like it to be, there is a sense that this is a more accurate depiction of how Laurie Strode would turn out. There is a sort of deranged strength to how she has handled her grief. At some point, Laurie decided that if she was going to be scared of every bump in the night, she would learn to fight each of them. That determination to survive and prepare has ultimately ruined her life, but if she and the people she loves are protected, does that matter? Laurie is going to survive – no matter what the cost.
Three years and one pandemic delay later, Halloween Kills showed up, continuing the tradition of sidelining Laurie Strode in a hospital bed for a sequel. This film focuses heavily on the effect Michael Myers’s second rampage has on the town of Haddonfield, IL. Famously, “Evil Dies Tonight!” as the townsfolk, including Tommy Doyle and Lindsay Wallace, Laurie’s original wards from the first film, gather their pitchforks to kill Michael Myers once and for all. Laurie is left to pontificate on the origins of evil. It’s…not great. An exciting thing this film does for Laurie is explore the idea that she is not what Michael Myers was after he escaped. She has spent her whole life expecting him to return, and he did, but not for her but rather because someone else put them in each other’s path. It’s an interesting wrinkle to the Laurie Strode mythology: She has spent her life obsessing about Michael Myers, but has Michael Myers spent much time thinking about her? It’s He’s Just Not That Into You, but with someone getting their head squashed like a grape.
That brings us to the most recent, and if it’s to be believed, closing chapter in Laurie Strode’s saga. While the film doesn’t always work for me, I think they stick the landing, wrapping up Laurie Strode’s storyline in a satisfying way for both Laurie and the audience. We get glimpses of the girl who didn’t know how to talk to boys in her awkward flirting with Deputy Hawkins and the caring, gentle babysitter who was ready to carve jack-o-lanterns and wanted her friends to have fun. Curtis imbues those throwback moments to the person Laurie used to be in a way only an actor who has lived with a character for four-plus decades can. It’s a rewarding acknowledgment of the character’s early days, even if some of this “progress” feels rushed.
The film opens with Laurie finding a new lease on life, trying to be a more well-adjusted, less death-focused person. Living with her granddaughter Allyson four years after Michael Myers’s return, Laurie is trying to get past her daughter’s death, the resentment from the town over Michael’s return, and the pesky fact that the entity of pure evil hunting her is likely still out there somewhere. She’s less hidden cellar cages and more homemade pies. But it’s all bullshit. As she suspects Michael to have returned in some form (the details of which are too convoluted to get into here), Laurie’s veneer of “togetherness” starts to fade. Her life is too inextricably linked to Michael – fearing him, preparing for him, fighting him – to let go of now. In a film with far too few exhilarating moments, it’s thrilling to see her fully embrace her true self, even if it’s not the healthiest version. Laurie can’t be a regular person, no matter how many aprons she wears. In their final confrontation, we see Michael as her prey, something she has been working towards since she survived that first attack from him all those years ago. After she finally dispatched him, we started to see the new Laurie and the old Laurie come together to form a version of herself who might just make it after all.
And with that, we say goodnight to Laurie Strode. I’m so glad she survived all these years.