Totally celebrating 35 years of Halloween with cult queen PJ Soles

by Mark Burger

Among the many onscreen victims of Halloween boogeyman Michael Myers, few were as memorable or appealing as Lynda, the vivacious high-school cheerleader and party girl played by PJ Soles in John Carpenter’s original 1978 masterpiece.

On the eve of the film’s 35 th anniversary and new Blu-ray release (see Page 49), Soles cheerfully discussed her memories of Halloween and more.

Along with Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode and Nancy Loo mis’ Annie Brackett, Lynda is one of three girls targeted by the mysterious Michael Myers, who murdered his sister 15 years ago and has returned to his hometown to continue his wicked ways. Unlike so many of the slasher films that followed in the wake of Halloween — which, as anyone who’s seen it knows, isn’t gratuitously gory — there’s a dimension to the characters, which makes their endangerment all the more suspenseful.

Working with Curtis and Loomis was easy for the actress, whose Lynda was the bubbliest of the trio, best remembered for her constant, creative use of the word “Totally.”

“From day one, there really was an instant camaraderie between us. It was a very inspiring and creative atmosphere brought about by John Carpenter and [producer] Debra Hill and [cinematographer] Dean Cundey. We had a nice chemistry. They’re believable and totally likable.”

Totally? “Totally,” she laughs. As for veteran actor Donald Pleasence, who played Myers’ pursuer Dr. Loomis: “He was very quiet. He ate lunch by himself. We were told he was a method actor and was staying in character. Once in a while he gave us a smile.”

In the film, “Oh my God, he’s terrific! He’s 50 percent of the whole movie.”

The story behind Halloween is as known to fans as the story on the screen: Costing $300,000 and shot in 21 days, it was for many years the most successful independent film ever made, spawning countless inferior sequels and clones. The first was best, and Soles remembers her first time seeing it.

“Absolutely. I was thrilled. I had no idea what it would look like when it was put together, especially with that music. I remember thinking, ‘Wow, this is a really good movie!’ I’m pleased with what I did, and everybody did a good job.”

At the time, she hoped it would lead to more work (which it did), but had no inkling of the subsequent phenomenon. Would it be safe to say that she’s since spent more time talking about Halloween than it actually took to make?

“That’s a great question! I would have to say yes.”

Halloween was not Soles’ first horror classic, having appeared as Norma — she of the nasty disposition, red baseball cap and firehose demise — in Brian de Palma’s Carrie (1976), based on Stephen King’s novel. The remake, due this Friday, stars Julianne Moore and Chloe Grace Moretz (the new Carrie), and although she admires and respects them, “I think you cannot ever do better than Piper Laurie and Sissy Spacek — but they can try!” Soles notched a later cult classic as Riff Randall, the world’s biggest Ramones fan, in Allan Arkush’s free-wheeling comedy Rock and Roll High School (1979). Of her films, “I’d have to say Rock and Roll High School was the most fun. To bounce off the screen and be as energetic as possible. She was a cartoon character… [and] as fun as the movie is to watch, it was just as much fun to make.”

Memories of working with the Ramones evokes that familiar, endearing PJ Soles giggle. Although they weren’t necessarily adept at remembering dialogue or hitting their marks, “They were who they were. They were authentic, original people.”

Although she has periodically returned to horror and sci-fi (BORN, Alienator, Innocent Prey, The Devil’s Rejects), Soles enjoys working in all genres.

“It’s true. Some people will tag me as a scream queen, but I’m not just a horror actress.”

She’s certainly proven her comedic chops, appearing opposite Goldie Hawn in Private Benjamin (1980) and Bill Murray in Stripes (1981).

Soles, a favorite on the convention circuit, recently filmed a comedy pilot Up from Down, fulfilled a lifelong goal by writing six songs for the group Cheap Rodeo, and is working on her book The Totally Girl, about her adventures in the screen trade.

Looking back on her career, Soles laughs that the good times have far outweighed the bad. “The only bad times were working in episodic television. When you work in film, they love you. When you work on TV, they tolerate you.”