It takes a lot to frighten Jamie Lee Curtis. Don't try to spook the original teen scream queen with dark shadows, strange sounds or even slashing knives.
"I can watch gore all day long," she says. "I can watch Linda Blair's head spin around in `The Exorcist' until it falls off."No wonder, though. As the star of the seminal "Halloween" (1978) and "Halloween II" (1981), not to mention lesser chillers such as "Prom Night," "Terror Train" and "The Fog" (all 1980), she's been there, done that.
And now she's back there, back doing that. "Halloween: H20," opening on Wednesday, picks up her character, Laurie Strode, 20 years after the events of the first two films in the series. She's the mother of a teenage son and, understandably, still has some psychological issues to work out from her past.
Looking lovely in navy pants and a cashmere tank top, her hair short and spiky, Curtis explains over coffee on an early Sunday morning at Los Angeles' Four Seasons Hotel that the movie was, in a way, a return to her roots. It was "Halloween," after all, that made the daughter of Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh a star in her own right.
"It was strange," she says, "but about three years ago, a friend of mine mentioned, `Did you know that "Halloween" is about to hit its 20th anniversary?"'
Intrigued, Curtis met with Miramax chief Bob Weinstein, who at the time was finishing post-production work on a little-touted movie called "Scream" (1996). "I said to Bob, `A lot of bad stuff happens to the young women in horror films and then everybody just goes home. And nobody ever thinks of the fact that Laurie Strode survived.
She has been alive for 20 years.'
"To me, we had an opportunity to show what happens to a victim," Curtis says. "There are real people out there who are very damaged and who go through these experiences. They try to live a normal life - they get married, they have children. But you can't have a normal life when your soul is taken away from you."
"I know I should probably be lighter about all of this, because it's a `Halloween' movie," she admits, "but I take this very seriously. To me this sequel is not just about a nutjob who is running around with an ax. It's really about what happens when everything that is good is taken away from a young person. Laurie lost her trust, her courage and her ability to love."
To prepare, Curtis did something she had avoided for almost 20 years: She watched all the old "Halloween" films. She also practiced her scream, which is as blood-curdling as ever.
Curtis wasn't the only slasher-movie veteran on set. Janet Leigh, best known for "Psycho" (1960), has a hilarious cameo as her daughter's secretary.
"You know, my mom is the best," Curtis says. "My mom is from a very meager background. She made sure I grew up in a very normal way. I know it sounds a little Pollyanna-ish, but both of us are really appreciative that we had careers.
"For her and I to share a genre that is the pinnacle of both of our careers is a joy," Curtis adds.
The actress grew up outside of Los Angeles as the daughter of Hollywood royalty. Inside her own office these days are old Screen Stories magazines featuring pictures of Leigh, a baby Jamie and sister Kelly. The headline on one: "Janet Leigh says: We Are One of the Three Happiest Families In Hollywood."
That wasn't exactly the case. Curtis was only 4 when her parents divorced. Eventually Leigh married businessman Robert Brandt, and the family stabilized. Still, there are scars from her parents' breakup.
"When I sit down to write children's books, my mind immediately goes to the age of 4," says Curtis, whose new book "Today I Feel Silly" is due out this fall. "Age 4 is when my family split up for good. I think you never get over that feeling of loss."
The 40-year-old Curtis has sworn to spare her children such loss. She and her husband, writer-director-actor Christopher Guest, have two children, 11-year-old Annie and 2-year-old Tom, and Curtis says they're her top concern.
"It's really all about my children," she says. "Chris and I don't do the social side of Hollywood at all. We live a quiet life. We don't seek attention."
Oh, and don't worry, the kids won't be seeing "Halloween: H20."
"I want my daughter to feel safe in the world," Curtis says. "I have a real problem introducing images into her world that are disturbing and fearful. As soon as she hits 14 or 15, she can start to understand right and wrong, fiction and nonfiction. But she is 11.
"I'm not sure if the opening scene of `Scream' or `H20' are images I want in her world," Curtis adds. "What good could possibly come from her seeing that stuff?"
It's only fair: Curtis didn't see "Psycho" until she was in her late teens.
"I remember my mother never wanting me to see it," Curtis says. "But I caught the movie on the late-late show, and I was horrified. Even worse was that my mother had one of those shot-by-shot books from `Psycho.' I remember looking in that book as a little kid and freaking out."