In 1988, I was a seven-year-old boy, looking for a way to escape. I came from a heavily abusive situation involving my stepfather at the time and the next-door theater served as a sanctuary to escape the horror that would await me when everyone else went to bed. Discovering that year’s Halloween 4 on a day in which my young self was looking for something to hide-watch in the cinema, my entire life was changed. I found so much in that film that my young mind absorbed, I was immediately obsessed and within 48 hours, I had the first three films rented from my local video store, ready to experience all that came before.
Starting with John Carpenter’s 1978 classic, Halloween, that viewing experience would lead to discovering my favorite fictional character of all time, Laurie Strode, and a lifelong affinity for the honesty and strength of Jamie Lee Curtis. I saw myself in Strode, a shy shell, hoping to be liked and wanted, always in the shadow of more outgoing and confident friends. I was a scared little boy, feeling alien to those around me. I was broken and bruised, while my sibling was happy and untouched. I found strength in watching Laurie go through the absolute worst night possible, fighting for her life against a somewhat faceless killer. I saw my stepfather in Myers, and through Strode’s bravery, I found my voice, something I never expected.
Over the following years, and eventually decades, I developed an appreciation for JLC’s work, following Trading Places (1983), all the way to Forever Young (1992), and the silly yet highly entertaining True Lies (1994). When news broke that Curtis would return to play the character closest to my heart for 1998’s Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later, it felt like things would come full circle by revisiting one of the most important figures to me up on the big screen. Instead, I felt off seeing the film on opening night. That wasn’t the Laurie I found solace in from 1978’s film, no. It was a character that felt so far removed from what made her special to a young me that it just didn’t resonate. I’m not trashing the film for those who love it, just merely stating that the Laurie Strode found in 1998’s film barely resembled the wallflower turned survivor that spoke to a kid dying to be understood. When Halloween: Resurrection (2002) came around and unceremoniously killed Laurie off, it felt like a gut punch that, to be honest, stung more than any other character sendoff I had ever seen.
Over the years, my life went on and I didn’t keep track of much of what Curtis was in during that time. I’ve still never watched Freaky Friday (2003) or Beverly Hills Chihuahua (2008), but my kids adore them both, so in a way, it feels like I passed on my appreciation of JLC to them. In my early adult years, and well into as recent as a few years ago, I, unfortunately, developed an alcohol and opiates problem that threatened my life quite a few times stemming from untreated trauma from childhood. It was hard and during that time, it felt like life was in a downward spiral.
In 2018, newly sober and doing my best to stay “just OK”, I read the news that Curtis would return to the role of Strode again for Halloween (2018), a direct sequel to Carpenter’s original film, severing H20/Resurrection from the timeline and attacking the trauma Laurie faced in a different way than previously done. Sitting down on opening night, I knew something special was about to happen but I didn’t know how special and important. These films meant a lot to me and to have my favorite character back made a then 37-year-old me giddy. The Laurie we saw in 2018’s film reached right out of the screen, pulled me by the collar, and said, “SNAP THE HELL OUT OF THIS!”
I saw myself in Strode once again. Haunted by my own trauma, I had spent decades alienating those around me, burning bridges left and right, and falling down a self-destructive path of drinking and drugs until I couldn’t think of the things I had gone through. I was newly sober, yes, but the struggle was still there, and the way Curtis portrayed Laurie this time around spoke to me in such a marvelous way, I found myself crying as the film ended. Laurie didn’t run from her trauma; she ran towards it. Myers didn’t stalk Strode this time around; she hunted him. Laurie faced her trauma and it left me with the realization that trauma does not care who you are, that it has no loyalty, and it comes and goes and destroys those around it. So, instead of pretending that you can reason with your pain, it’s best to dive into it and set it on fucking FIRE.
Jamie Lee Curtis’s performance in that film felt like the hug I needed. When Entertainment Weekly magazine showed a photo of Curtis holding her Laurie character and kissing her forehead, the image was so meaningful to me that my wife spent a week going to every store in town to look for the issue before having to order it online, framing and displaying the image above my bed as a way to say, “it’s going to be okay, we’re going to be okay.” There is something about that image that still to this day brings me and my soul a peace that no other form of therapy had done.
While Halloween left an indelible mark on me, it was a mere month later when things did feel full circle. On November 5th, 2019, Variety published a piece in which Curtis opened up about a long-term opiate addiction that she had kept secret for years. In the video, she spoke about the struggles of addiction and how she overcame them and has been sober for two decades now. Watching Curtis speak on addiction and finding the strength to overcome it hit me like a ton of bricks. Here was one of my favorite actors of all time who had played the single more important character ever to me and she had also faced the same problem I had. For the third time in my life, I was touched and changed, told that I wasn’t damaged and was understood, only this time, it was by the actor herself, not just a fictional character I identified with. It truly broke and then rebuilt my heart watching that. I felt seen and understood in ways my own family did not understand.
I don’t have many heroes in life. From an early age, I looked to myself for that, but Jamie Lee Curtis has always been one of my definite heroes. Her performances touched my heart and her transparency off-camera helped a recovering addict and trauma-laden Jerry deal with a lot of stuff I previously didn’t know I could deal with.
So, Jamie Lee Curtis, thank you. I couldn’t have survived without you.
Malkin, Mark. “Jamie Lee Curtis Opens Up About Being 20 Years Sober, Going Public With Her Addiction.” Variety. November 5, 2019
Jerry Smith is a film journalist and composer, hailing from the Central Valley of California. For over a decade now, he has annoyed readers of many sites and magazines with an overabundance of Halloween 4 love and personal essays. Follow him on Twitter @JerryisjustOK and visit his website Rainydaysforghosts.bandcamp.com