How Horror Movies Save Lives and Other Life Lessons from Jamie Lee Curtis during the #SDCC2018 Halloween (2018) Hall H Panel
When it was announced that Marvel and HBO were, indeed, not returning to San Diego to bask in the glorious musk of nerd accolades, the media wondered would the nerds turn out? Would it just be chairs and tumbleweeds in there? Would there be nothing for nerds to care about in Hall H? Turns out, nerds never run out of shit to care about. In our current culture, where toxic fandom is splashed back like cold water in our faces, San Diego Comic Con is a place where it is safe to wear your dorkdom on your t-shirt. It is a place of communion for artists and consumers of art with an atmosphere of gratitude. Yeah, there are lines, badge scans and newly erected metal detectors - and in Hall H, with 6500 souls all sardined into one giant room, it can feel like something other than intimate - but there are times in that enormous room, with all of those fans in there, where we can feel very, very close.
The people who gripe about sweating out the badge registration process in order to sleep in line have a different set of priorities. The attendees of San Diego Comic Con are there because, to them, comic books, television and film are really important. Having been to Comic Con eight years in a row, I have witnessed fans interacting with their heroes at panels, meet and greets, and signings that have made a profound impact on them, and me. Their stories are moving and bolstering, and 2018 has been no different. I’m going to share just one such incident with you from this year, where a fan got to tell Jamie Lee Curtis how her movie Halloween (1978) saved his life.
It was Friday, July 20th, in Hall H getting towards the mid afternoon and it was the Universal Pictures panel, which was being moderated adorably by Yvette Nicole Brown (Community). We had just watched the new Glass trailer and M. Night Shyamalan and Samuel L. Jackson had just left the stage. Needless to say, we were pretty stoked, but my group and I were raring for the show to press on because now it was time to talk Halloween (2018) with producers Jason Blum and Malek Akkad, director David Gordon Green, and the original Scream Queen Jamie Lee Curtis.
Genre films, particularly horror films, are seen as a trifle – something tawdry to appeal to our basest selves and give our adrenal glands a goose - but the original Halloween is something different. For those of us who saw it in our impressionable youths, it delivered a scare that changed our brain chemistry. It had us double and triple checking our locks, and looking fearfully through curtains at suspicious shadows in the night. Most importantly it taught us that being home alone without grown ups is perilous, but if we can be like Laurie Strode and keep our wits about us, we can survive.
Jamie Lee Curtis does not shy away from her slasher film roots, and is ready to share the continuation of Laurie Strode’s story. Jamie Lee Curtis has been thinking about and living with Laurie Strode for the past 40 years. She sees her as more than a gig, or an experience. She sees her as we do - as a person. When asked by Brown why she agreed to revisit the role of Laurie Strode, Curtis presented the mature Strode’s story as something that is not just relevant but vital. Laurie Strode has been carrying around the trauma of a senseless and random act of extreme violence her entire adult life unchecked.
“She had a small cut on her arm and that was it, and she was raised in the mid-west. I’m sure they sent her back to school two days later. And yet, she carries the trauma and PTSD of someone who was attacked randomly.”
For Jamie Lee Curtis, Halloween (2018) is the story of Laurie Strode finally freeing herself from the looming shadow of her victimhood – no longer a shell of a person, who’s every waking thought is consumed by Michael Myers, but an active participant in her liberation from fear.
“This is a woman who has been waiting 40 years to face the person who she knows is coming back to say ‘I am going to take back the narrative of my life.’” In a time of #metoo and #timesup, we have seen many so-called victims model this behavior on a public stage. Curtis points to the gymnasts who stood at the ESPYs, “Those women stood there and said ‘you do not control our narrative anymore,’ and that is why I’m sitting here today in this great Hall H.”
Brown was a proxy for us in the chairs as she stood delightfully moved and dumbfounded by Curtis’s passionate advocacy for the message of her film, “I didn’t know we were going to have church today, that’s wonderful.” But no rousing service is complete without the laying on of hands, and this panel was going to be no different.
When the time came for the fan Q&A, a man named Joseph took to the big screen and introduced himself. An image of the question asker is always projected enormously for all of Hall H to see - a vulnerable place to be to say the least. I could never be up there. He was a middle-aged guy wearing a Haddonfield High t-shirt. “I’m just really grateful for the movie Halloween because 34 years ago it saved my life.”
His voice waivered a little but he told the story about the time he was home alone as teenager and someone with a knife was stalking outside. The phone lines were cut, so he couldn’t call for help. “I was scared out of my mind and out of nowhere suddenly a thought inside of me went, ‘well, what would Jamie Lee Curtis do?’” He grabbed the nearest sharp object, a pair of mangled knitting needles from the garbage, and when the armed intruder was on the opposite end of the property, he made a break for it to the neighbor’s house. “I started screaming like you did in the movie,” and he was able to get to safety.
“To make a long story short,” he concluded, “I’m here today because of the way that you portrayed Laurie Strode. I’m a victor today instead of a victim just like the people you were talking about,” his voice broke. He had come to Comic Con exclusively to tell his hero, even if he had to do it in front of 6,499 other nerds, that she saved him and everyone could tell it was a tremendous relief. The whole room was silent for a moment, and Curtis stood without breaking eye contact and gestured for him to wait where he was.
She climbed down from the Hall H stage, which was no easy feat, walked to Joseph and embraced him. The Hall H cameras struggled to capture the moment, but it really wasn’t meant to be seen. It was just a private moment between two people who had something in common from forty years ago. Curtis hugged him and he wept in her arms. She patted his face and they shared some words. We all just held our breath and waited. We felt honored to be there.
The comic con friends I’ve made over these 8 years of San Diego Comic Con – we call ourselves the “ConFam” - joke and say “Comic Con is a magical place. You have to keep your head on a swivel because it’s happening all around you.” But this is the magic that can happen everyday when you share something in common with another person, reach out to a someone and tell them you admire what they do, or even say “I needed help, and even when you didn’t know it, you were there.”
The moment was over. Joseph got a selfie. It’s like Yvette Nicole Brown said – “Listen, sometimes selfies heal too.” The panel then carried on with a few more questions, the next asker broke the tension by mentioning how tough an act Joseph was to follow, and we all laughed. We knew we were part of something special that day. All thousands of us.
You can watch the trailer for Halloween (2018) and then watch the whole Hall H Panel. Then you can listen to my fellow dorks and I recount all of the magical #SDCC2018 happenings on the In the Mouth of Dorkness Podcast.