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September 1, 2014

Movie Review: Curtains (1983, Blu-ray)

Directed by Richard Ciupka

Movie Review by Greg Goodsell

Overbearing stage and screen director Jonathan Stryker (John Vernon) seems intent on casting his longtime star and erstwhile lover Samantha Sherwood (Samantha Eggar) in his new production of “Audra.” Said hot property is about a woman who murders her lover for infidelity and is then sent to a sanitarium. Adherents to the “method,” both Stryker and Sherwood plot to have Sherwood committed to an insane asylum to add authenticity to the role. Sherwood at first adapts to the “snake pit,” but it turns out that it was all a ruse on Stryker’s part to keep her out of the way in order to ogle some fresh new starlets in a most unorthodox audition process at an isolated countryside mansion. Left languishing, Sherwood is sprung from the nuthouse by a friend (in a quickly done single-take scene) and meets Stryker and his chorus line of bimbos at the house. Slowly but surely, a killer in an old hag mask (perhaps symbolic of Eggar’s status as an aging actress?) begins to thin out the cast. A surprise ending that MAKES NO SENSE follows.

As gorgeous and as hopeless as its victims, Curtains is a mess of the first water. Filmed around 1981, then shelved, with additional scenes filmed and inserted later, Curtains was shot on a not-inconsiderable budget of $4 million and is as disjointed and nonsensical as any shot-on-video cheapie. Let us count the ways: one character plunges out a second story window and somersaults through a first floor window; a young male character is introduced in the first scenes at the mansion and then inexplicably disappears; and so on. Slasher films generally are very poorly plotted with ample plot holes but compensate with energy and clever kill scenes. Other than its classic scene of an ice skating session cut short – literally, Curtains is slow and tame even by 1981 standards! It does feature the first example of a severed head found-in-a-toilet, but is otherwise dull and lifeless.

In this reviewer’s attempt to see every horror film ever made, I always passed on Curtains at the neighborhood video store. A bad review of the film offered by pornographic film director Toby Ross in Bill Landis’ Sleazoid Express fanzine, where he was torn between the film and playing Tron in the theater’s lobby generally put me off to it. My instincts paid off. To its credit, Curtains has beautiful sets and photography, a beautiful supporting cast of doomed lovelies but this is a STINKUH. As one of the actresses explains on the Blu-Ray’s extras, the cult accolades the film later received due to cable TV screenings was basically on “what the movie COULD have been.” It starts off fairly well with Vernon and Eggar with their insane asylum ruse, but then loses momentum. Another factor that worked against the film’s favor was that Vernon had recently appeared as the pompous villain Dean Wormer in the classic comedy National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978) a few years prior. Both Vernon and Eggar give great barnstorming performances, but the ingĂ©nue victims, with rare exception, are noticeably lacking. Linda Thorson who replaced Diana Rigg on the old “The Avengers” TV show along with Lesleh Donaldson register well, but the rest? Bleh! Theoretically, they would never get very far in ANY acting audition.

The people at Synapse Films really liked this title, and as such, have stuffed the Blu-ray with extras. “Ciupka: A Filmmaker in Transition” is a 15-minute feature about cinematographer Richard Ciupka transitioning to the director’s chair. It’s the disc’s chief addition, “The Ultimate Nightmare: The Making of Curtains,” is where all the guilty parties involved come clean about what a hasty pudding the project at hand actually was. Thirty-six minutes long, director Ciupka, composer Paul Zaza, editor Michael MacLaverty, makeup effects artist Greg Cannom, and actresses Lynne Griffin and Lesleh Donaldson all recall their time on that particular shoot. What is especially revelatory is that Ciupka says that he dislikes horror film, but had no compunction in delivering the groceries by photographing the third and final film in the Dyanne Thorne Ilsa series, Ilsa, the Tigress of Siberia (aka The Tigress, 1977)! Everyone involved has rich anecdotes to share and in fact, this featurette is far more entertaining than the film it supports. I would go so far as to say you should get the disc for this extra and save the movie for a rainy night. There are also two separate commentary tracks.

If you, like me, want to see every slasher film before you die, put Curtains in your queue. Have some housework to distract you in between the slow parts, and you’ll be just fine --

Screencaps For Curtains Courtesy of Rock! Shock! Pop!

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