Scream Queens: Janet Leigh & Jamie Lee Curtis

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By Riley Sager

Some things are meant to be, no matter how improbable they might seem at the time.

Take, for instance, Alfred Hitchcock risking his reputation as Hollywood’s preeminent director of Technicolor thrillers to make a black and white horror flick called Psycho. Or his casting of bona fide American sweetheart Janet Leigh in the lead role. Or his decision to kill her character at the half-hour mark in an orgy of quick cuts, knife jabs and screeching violins.

Leigh’s shower scene was a death, yes, but also a birth. Of a new kind of film. Heavy on shocks and sharp knives. Short on the sense of safety movie audiences were accustomed to. When Leigh’s screams stopped ricocheting off those shower walls the last bit of gentility from American cinema was gone.

Into this scary new world stepped another director, John Carpenter, who had the luck/guts/smarts to cast Leigh’s daughter in his tale of a masked killer run amok in Haddonfield, Illinois. The movie was called Halloween, and it would thrust Jamie Lee Curtis into the role of royalty—the Scream Queen.

Curtis has her father’s chin, but her mother’s lung power, which she put to good use screaming her way through The Fog, Prom Night, Terror Train, Halloween II. Also inherited from her mother: Pluck, earnestness, a vulnerability that disguises brute strength, a certain something that makes audiences innately root for her.

Mother and daughter appeared together in two fright flicks—Carpenter’s The Fog and the better-than-people-think Halloween: H20. When Leigh ends her cheeky H20 cameo by wishing Curtis a “Happy Halloween,” all feels right with the world. It’s a winking acknowledgment of her daughter’s place in cinematic history.

Curtis returned the favor years later when she stepped into a shower in the not-as-good-as-it-should-have-been TV series Scream Queens. It was a full-circle moment. The present became the past, daughter became mother, Laurie Strode became Marion Crane.

That circle will remain unbroken when Curtis returns to Haddonfield and Halloween later this year. I have a feeling the movie will be feel less like a sequel and more like a benediction, reverently ending a horror career that began not with the original Halloween but with her mother’s revolutionary shower in Psycho.

Improbable? Yes.

Meant to be? Definitely.

Because that straight path from Hitch to Leigh to Carpenter to Curtis doesn’t feel like coincidence or Hollywood happenstance.

To me, it feels like destiny.

Riley Sager is the author of the international bestseller Final Girls. His second novel, The Last Time I Lied, will be released in July.

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