It’s been nearly 30 years since 11-year-old Danielle Harris burst onto the scene with her first big screen role alongside none other than Michael Myers in Halloween 4. She played Jamie, the iconic villain’s niece and the secret daughter of Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis. Since then Harris has gone on to make her mark in a number of films and TV series in front of and behind the camera, including sharing the screen with Christina Applegate in Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead, playing Darlene’s best frenemy in Roseanne, and lending her voice as Debbie in Rugrats Gone Wild. But despite the steady work she was getting in other genres, she always found her way back to horror, even returning for two additional installments later in the Halloween series. Because for Harris, horror is about so much more than just freaking out audiences. It’s given her an opportunity unlike any other genre to play female characters that are complex, gritty, and dominant.
Her newest role in the trippy horror, Inoperable, is no different. Harris plays Amy Barrett, a woman who wakes up in a hospital bed with no recollection of how she got there. As she tries to feel her way around her suspicious surroundings, dodging shady characters lurking in the hallways, she learns that there’s a hurricane heading their way—and that’s just the beginning of her problems. In this hospital, the audience soon finds out that nothing is as what it seems.
I had a chance to chat with Harris recently about the new film, what it means to be a woman in horror today, and how she really feels about being erased from the new Halloween movie coming next year that sees the return of Curtis but not Harris (instead, Judy Greer will play Laurie’s previously unheard of daughter, Karen):
CF: So I saw Inoperable and I really enjoyed it! I was really surprised by the end. Did that twist have anything to do with why you did the film?
DH: I think because I had not done a film like that. Most of the films I’ve done have some kind of slasher, killer after me and I’m running in the woods. You know, scantily clad and freezing. So this is a little bit more of a mindf--, to put it eloquently. I thought that this could be interesting because the character has to go through so much from beginning to end. And it takes place in one location, so I thought, well this is going to be pretty challenging.
CF: Oh yeah, it’s totally a claustrophobic horror. I was also impressed with the way the film touches on mental health, which is something that has recently entered the pop culture conversation. How did you get into the mindset to play someone like Amy who struggles with it?
DH: Working in the same location. Being in every shot in the same setup every day for twelve hours a day, it takes a bit of a toll on you. You start to forget which way the exit is literally when you shoot in a place like that. So at first I think I’m happy and excited to make the movie, psyched to be there. Then slowly I start breaking down. I think that’s what started to happen. I started to kind of lose it. I think that comes across [in the film]. It’s a little bit real, which is kinda cool.
CF: I think for me, I felt like I was going a little bit going crazy watching it. You know an article ran a few months ago that suggested that women speak and appear as often as men do in horror films. For someone like yourself who’s been in so many, is that something you would say was true for your own experiences as well? And if so, is that what continues to draw you back to the genre?
DH: That’s a great question. I think that’s why I’ve stayed in the horror genre as long as I have because I’ve been given the opportunity to play roles that I would never get outside of this world. There’s so much support for the heroines and there’s nothing else like it. The fan base and being able to do conventions in general put us in a league of our own. I always make a joke that you don’t see a Terms of Endearment convention. I took a little break from horror for a while and found it very difficult to be given those opportunities and play the lead. In these movies I can really be an actor, show up every day and do my best, and be number one on the call sheet. It doesn’t happen outside of this genre.
CF: I know what you mean. A lot of people who weren’t horror fans before now are saying that horror is having a moment. But I always thought horror was having a moment, it just took a long time for mainstream audiences to catch up with it.
DH: It’s crazy because horror movies and action movies are the highest grossing movies in theaters. There’s this stigma that [horror movies] don’t cost any money, and that we can do them really cheap and they will still make a lot of money. They keep making these romantic comedies, which I love. But I would challenge any romcom star that’s making a million dollars to star in a horror movie. Their job is a vacation compared to what I have to do. We do it because they’re passion projects. I think that these movies have always been there. But now they’re starting to get proper recognition. I would like to see them get taken more seriously in my lifetime. I think we’re getting there, maybe 10 to 15 years at the Academy Awards.
CF: Don’t even get me started. I ask every single year why they keep shutting out genre films. But Get Out is at least part of the conversation this year. But there have been so many other films prior to it that were just completely ignored.
CF: So I have to bring up Halloween. You starred in the 4th and 5th films and two additional films later in the franchise. If Jamie was to ever return, who do you think she’d be today in 2017?
DH: She’d be mad that her mom doesn’t show any recognition to the fact that she exists [chuckles]. I’m just being funny, but there’s probably a bit of truth in that. She’s probably pretty messed up by now. I believe in genetics and I believe that some of that could maybe be passed down. I’d be curious to see how [everything that happened to her as a child] has affected her life. They keep saying this is Halloween 3 and they’re never going to make another one. But somewhere along the way, if they make a Halloween 4, I think it would be really cool to have Jamie come back. I’ve kinda always wanted to be the killer. But, you know, Michael is the killer. I think it would be cool to be Jamie just one more time for one scene with Jamie Lee Curtis. That’s really what I want to be at the end of the day. And then I can be done with that.
Inoperable is now playing in theaters.