Friday, October 10, 2014

(Sorta) Slasher Fridays Returns to 31 Days of Fright with CURTAINS (1983)

80s slashers are receiving the "classic" treatment these days, with such titles as CURTAINS (1983), GRADUATION DAY (1981) and PROM NIGHT (1980) all getting restored and issued in lovingly-assembled packages. We'll be covering more of those titles in the weeks to come but today it's up to Damn You David Zuzelo to peek behind the CURTAINS, see what's what and decide is this slice of Canuxploitation lives up to its rep.

The box proclaims that CURTAINS "is an absolute must see for slasher completists" and I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment. Of course, as a completist myself, I have to say that you could apply this to ANY slasher film, since that is part of being a completist.  I mean, SAVAGE WATER is a must see if you're a "completist"...

CURTAINS has sold a few of the big bulk packs of horror films because it has been so damn hard to see over the years, and its reputation as a unique entry in the slasher genre made the interest in Synapse Films' restoration of this Canadian production run high to say the least. Right out of the gate I can say that the disc has saved the film from the indignity of poorly transferred appearances next to copies of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD captured from YouTube, and that is a good thing.  But can CURTAINS really live up to the hype? Well...

The film starts intriguingly enough as John Vernon plays Jonathon Stryker, a cocky (cue the Jeff Stryker jelly dong jokes) director who is looking to cast what must be his idea of the role of a lifetime in a piece entitle AUDRA. After we get the impression that veteran actress Samantha Sherman (Samantha Eggar) will be landing this obviously important role (because the trades say so), the leading lady is put into an institution. But it's a ruse! She simply wants to get methodologized into madness to get in touch with this mysterious character. But she gets more than she expected as her own sanity begins to slip and slide away in several eerie scenes that even involve random tickling. Hell, thy path is paved with tickling!

So, now Samantha is a real nut, and Stryker is going to cast his deranged dream lady by picking through some attractive ladies in a secluded cabin, running them through psychologically damaging paces such as touching each other's breasts for him and "Pirouetting into bed and skating on his face." I love this Stryker guy and it shows how you can forget how imposing John Vernon is physically - and he is just all asshole menace here.  But wait... Samantha has left the institution and wants the role. And then, in comes an evil harpy-mask-wearing killer. Skating! Slashing! Off Screen! Who will survive, who will be Audra and better yet, when will I ever see a harpy skating with a small sickle ever again?

CURTAINS has an interesting problem. It starts strong and then settles into a very average and kind of boring psycho drama that would be a complete failure if it wasn't being held up by excellent performances, a great score, swift editing and a really cool location. The most noted image with the skating slasher is about as good as I could have hoped as well, though the skates she is wearing are... well, kind of brown bearish. That ain't bad, it just stood out to me as odd. But you may ask this reviewer why the mask was so cool, and the skates seemed silly.  I guess it's part of being a slasher completist!

So, we have a big batch of excellent technical elements, but nowhere to go. Up until the 70-minute mark, when CURTAINS suddenly starts hitting its stride. Once the SUGAR COOKIES-styled drama fades and it becomes more interested in being an actual slasher film, it jumps into high gear! An extended chase scene from what we think might be a Final Girl is done to perfection. Using a maze of discarded theater props, we have multi-colored swatches of cloth (CURTAINS for you, FINAL GIRL!!) and hanging mannequins whose dingy skin tones are edited across from a hanging victim. Everything that was technically great about the boring parts carries over nicely and the payoff is solid when the killings and their motivations are finally revealed.

So, is CURTAINS essential? Nope, not by my account, but you will get to see a movie that is then revealed in the extras on the disc to have been troubled and no longer sits in the digital rubbish of obscure horror films. While I didn't find much of the dramatic action to be very effective, you are treated to John Vernon - who obviously took his job seriously - really giving it his all. Watch for him giving the "Oh yeah, I did that..." eyeball to Samantha Eggar! Priceless.

Extras include a nice bit of recollections on the making of CURTAINS that comes across as being very honest about the film's troubled production and just why it feels like you are watching two separate films; and it's all done with a no nonsense sense of candor. Even more interesting is the "Ciupka - A Film Maker In Transition" vintage piece that shows some shots from behind the scenes on CURTAINS with John Vernon that are a blast to see for any fan.  Two audio commentary tracks are available to enhance the amazing story behind the CURTAINS... one that in the end may be more interesting than the show itself.

But we'll always have a skating harpy! – David Zuzelo

David Zuzelo is the twisted brain behind the blog TOMB IT MAY CONCERN and the host of the new podcast CINESLUDGE. He is a frequent contributor to the ER blog and also wrote about Nikkatsu flicks for ER #52 (available from our website, CreateSpace and Amazon).

CURTAINS is available from Amazon.

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