Jamie Lee Curtis got her start in Hollywood like a lot of young actresses — screaming her head off while being hunted down by a masked maniac. She’s the daughter of actress Janet Leigh, so battling psychos is in Jamie Lee Curtis’s blood, which made her a natural in her first flick, Halloween. The preeminent scream queen of the early eighties, Curtis later evolved into a polished actress, even when she wasn’t in desperate mortal danger. So in honor of AMC FEARFEST, here’s a stab at pinning down Jamie Lee Curtis’s best horror movies.
1. Halloween (1978)
Babysitter Laurie Strode isn’t just meat ready for the chopping block — she’s a real character who is more than a match for real-life bogeyman Michael Myers. That puts Curtis’s character a cut above most helpless slasher victims. Of course, she still has the crap scared out of her, but she displays plenty of courage — notably in the closet scene where she does some improvisation with a coat hanger to avoid getting carved like a jack-o’-lantern.
2. Road Games (1981)
Curtis is the perfect prey for serial killers — even if they’re the type who say “Good day” before slitting your throat. This crackling Hitchcockian thriller takes place on the highways of Australia, and her habit of hitching rides with total strangers doesn’t exactly increase her chances of survival. But a young American on the run, Curtis shows her usual brand of sass while trying to stay ahead of the curve. Luckily, her tomboy charms work on a can-do trucker who might save her from becoming roadkill.
3. Halloween II (1981)
Has she worn out her vocal cords yet? Not a chance. Curtis’s nightmare ordeal isn’t over yet. She is taken to a hospital to recover — but her battle with Michael Myers just continues. Having to spend screen time in a hospital gown would be horror enough for the fashion conscious, but Laurie once more rises to the occasion — running frantically through darkened corridors, screaming “Help me” hysterically, and experiencing a deadly sense of déjà vu.
4. The Fog (1980)
The forecast: cloudy with a chance of murderous undead sailors. Curtis is reunited with director John Carpenter for this mist-shrouded fright-fest. She plays a freethinking hitchhiker who puts on her Nancy Drew shoes to get to the bottom of this maritime mystery. This time around, her foes are vengeful ghosts rather than serial murderers, but Curtis displays the same resolve and strength when escaping hooks and sabers as she did against Michael Myers’s trusty kitchen knife.
5. Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998)
Curtis returns to the series that started her career. Not surprisingly, her character has evolved into a middle-aged hard-assed private-school principal with a slew of psychic scars. They’re about to be reopened when October 31 rolls around and Michael Myers comes back to town. It’s a fine return to form for the series, with Curtis taking a more proactive approach than usual against her old nemesis — courtesy of an ax and some snappy one-liners.
6. Prom Night (1980): Saturday Night Fever meets Carrie in this disco slasher featuring Curtis as a prom queen who must endure both prodigious bloodshed and some truly scary dance sequences.
7. Terror Train (1980): Masks and murder mix at a New Year’s Eve party, proving that Curtis doesn’t have much luck during the holidays.
8. Virus (1999): The Borg have nothing on these soulless cyborgs summoned from space bent on destroying humanity. But then the Borg never had to face Michael Meyers’s sis.
9. Halloween: Resurrection (2002): Busta Rhymes thinks he has what it takes to stop Michael Myers. Lucky for us, Jamie Lee Curtis escapes from her new home at a mental hospital to save the day — and this sequel.
10. Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982): So Curtis only shows up in an uncredited cameo as the voice of a telephone operator. It must have been a relief to be out of stabbing range for once.
Jamie Lee Curtis fans can tune into Halloween during AMC FEARFEST 2011. Hosted by George A. Romero, AMC’s horror-movie marathon runs through Mon., Oct. 31. Click here for the full AMC FEARFEST schedule.