Halloween gives you a helluva lot of pull. With just one performance in her first feature film, Jame Lee Curtis cemented her place in movie history as one of the greatest scream queens of all time. She used the success of the film upon its release in 1978 to kickstart her lagging acting career with more slasher film roles, appearing in a total of five more in a mere three years (The Fog, Prom Night, Terror Train, Road Games and Halloween II). Right afterwards she left her horror roots behind (only reappearing briefly in two more Halloween films) but it’s her time here in the horror trenches, honing her craft on low budget slasher flicks that author David Grove focuses on with his new unauthorized biography Jamie Lee Curtis: Scream Queen.
At first it seems strange for a biography to harp on such a small period of an actor’s work, but Grove’s exhaustive book does a great job of showing how these roles shaped her and helped her grow, from the shy girl with funny teeth to the sex icon she later become. He focuses on how influential her performance was for the horror genre at large, and also how Curtis managed to use these roles to break past her stigma of only being seen as Hollywood royalty (as the daughter of legendary actors Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis.)
Exhaustive is actually a good description of the book- Grove has conducted hundreds of interviews with seemingly every single person involved in these films, from the actors and directors and producers to everyone on crew. At nearly 500 pages it’s got quite a bit of heft to it, but it unfortunately feels like it could have used a more forceful editor. The book repeats itself quite frequently, with some passages making a point only to be followed by a quote from an interview that makes that exact same point.
He also frequently utilizes one of my biggest pet-peeves- stating that something is ironic when it isn’t. He does it so frequently that I felt like he was testing me, in fact. Sentences like “Of course, the biggest party for Curtis was to be for her twenty-first birthday which fell, ironically enough, on the second day of Terror Train’s filming” made me want to throw the book across the room, especially when it was the third misuse of the phrase in about ten pages.
But cope with some repetition and you’ll love what Scream Queen has to offer. While the book shows a massive love for the underrated actress, its real strength is as a behind the scenes guide for all of these films. More unknown films like Terror Train and Road Games don’t get documentaries made about them so hearing insight into their creation is utterly fascinating. The discussions about the creation of Halloween II are frank and refreshing, and even with a much more well-known series like this you’ve got new tidbits of information to devour.
Grove is not one to mince words, and he gives short and succinct opinions of each of the films at hand and the dumb decisions made by filmmakers and marketers, and he has choice words for Rob Zombie’s Halloween remake as well. The little bursts of personality are refreshing in a book that can otherwise be bogged down by complimentary interviews and rose-tinted trips down memory lane.
Jamie Lee Curtis: Scream Queen is a must-own if you have even a passing interest in any of Curtis’s early films. It’s certainly not the kind of book you can sit down and plow through in one sitting but take it a chapter at a time and you’ll genuinely appreciate the wealth of information it contains.