When my daughter, Abbey, was in third grade, one of her best friends came over to visit. At the time, I had framed movie posters of “Halloween” and “Halloween II” hanging on either side of the TV.
“What’s that?” the little girl asked, pointing to the posters.
“Oh, it’s this movie about a guy in a white mask named Michael Myers that kills babysitters,” Abbey casually answered.
That little girl never came back.
“Halloween” is not just my favorite horror movie, it’s my favorite movie period.
The music … the subtle, methodical pace … the idea of a relentless, faceless evil stalking teenagers in a quiet suburb that looked like every neighborhood I’ve ever lived in … the message that sometimes bad things happen just because …
It all makes “Halloween” seem … plausible.
It’s the only horror movie I refuse to watch alone in the dark.
Abbey is now a 10-year-old fifth-grader for whom “Halloween” has become a coveted thing.
She knows the story of Michael Myers and babysitter Laurie Strode and “You can’t kill the Boogeyman,” but she’s never actually seen the movie.
I traumatized my little brother by forcing him to watch horror movies when he was too young, and I didn’t want to make the same mistake with my daughter. (Also, her mother said no).
I wouldn’t let Abbey watch “Halloween” because I didn’t want her to have nightmares. I finally decided to let her watch “Halloween” because I realized it could give her something else — a hero.
‘The Final Girls’
I want my daughter to watch movies with strong female characters. If that happens to include some of my favorite horror movies, then so be it. Am I a feminist? Maybe. Am I a dad who hates answering questions like, “Why does the pretty girl always die first?” Definitely.
Women in horror movies tend to fall into certain stereotypes:
The Damsel in Distress: She’s the one running around screaming (usually in skimpy clothes). Think Shelley Duvall in “The Shining.”
The Host: She’s the one who gets possessed by the demon or gives birth to the Antichrist. Think Mia Farrow in “Rosemary’s Baby.”
The Woman Scorned: She’s been wronged — usually by a man — and is lookin’ for revenge. Think “Jaws 4: The Revenge.”
The Final Girl: She’s innocent and naïve. She doesn’t drink or do drugs. She’s responsible. She’s smart, even geeky. She’s pretty but not slutty (that girl died early and usually topless). It’s the Final Girl’s job to find the dead bodies of all of her friends, leading up to The Chase, after which she will confront the killer. She’s the girl who lives … at least until the sequel. Think Amy Steel in “Friday the 13th Part 2.”
Final Girls don’t come any tougher than Lt. Ellen Ripley, last surviving member of the doomed salvage ship Nostromo in “Alien.” Ripley is on her way to becoming Abbey’s favorite horror movie heroine.
Abbey isn’t allowed to cuss, because cussing from a 10-year-old girl is gross, so instead of referring to Ripley as a total badass, we refer to her as a “total B.A.”
It’s become our ultimate praise. For example, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Joan Jett, Sidney from “Scream” and Zelie from the book “Children of Blood and Bone” are all total B.A.s — as is Harriet Tubman, whom Abbey recently classified as being a B.A. for her work with the Underground Railroad.
All of which goes to explain why my daughter and I were sitting on the couch on a recent Saturday morning watching the original “Halloween” (the made-for-TV version. No nudity. Thank you, AMC).
I wanted to introduce Abbey not to Michael Myers, but to Laurie Strode.
Laurie, played by the mighty Jamie Lee Curtis, goes from naïve girl scout — whose friends leave her to babysit while they sneak off to drink beer and have sex — to gutsy heroine.
She’s scared but brave. When Michael Myers comes for her, Laurie fights back, stabbing him with everything from a knitting needle to a coat hanger. Michael keeps getting up, but so does Laurie.
She protects the kids she’s babysitting, sending them screaming out of the house for help only after she’s finally killed the Boogeyman … or so she thinks.
(Sadly, Michael keeps coming back in sequel after sequel after sequel, with steadily diminishing returns, but that’s beside the point.)
When it was over, Abbey took a deep breath and said, “Wow! I want her for my babysitter. Laurie’s a total B.A.”
Jamie Lee Curtis and #MeToo
Too often in slasher movies, it’s the masked maniac who gets all the love. Freddy. Jason. Pinhead. Chucky. The Final Girls in all those movies are as forgettable as they are interchangeable.
But Laurie Strode in “Halloween” is an Icon, and icons never die.
In the latest installment in the Halloween franchise (unhelpfully also titled “Halloween”), which opened Oct. 19, Laurie is now a survivalist grandmother battling PTSD, still living in the same town. Michael escapes from the sanitarium and plans to finish what he started in 1978. But Laurie’s been waiting, knowing that one day he would return, and this time, the Boogeyman’s gonna stay dead.
A lot has changed in the real world since Jamie Lee Curtis was anointed a 1970s scream queen. In the midst of the #MeToo movement, movies past and present are being judged for their portrayal of women — including slasher films.
For Curtis, an outspoken advocate for women’s rights, her portrayal of Laurie Strode belongs in the conversation.
“Laurie Strode could be a #MeToo voice for people who’ve had violence perpetrated on them,” Curtis said on the “Halloween Unmasked” podcast. “Of course, Laurie’s violence is fake. It’s not real, but in a movie to see a character come around 40 years later and say ‘No more’ is powerful.”
Opinions vary about whether Laurie Strode belongs among the pantheon of empowering female characters. But there are some things that cannot be argued about Curtis in the new “Halloween:” The movie had the second biggest October opening weekend ever. And it broke the record for biggest opening for a movie with a female lead over the age of 55.
Yeah, a total B.A.
Brett Buckner is a freelance writer for The Anniston Star. Contact him at email@example.com.