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Blu-ray Disc Released: 7/29/2014
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 8/6/2014
If you've had HBO for more than one day, then you know that they show the same movies over and over, which is somewhat surprising given the number of titles available today. This has been their business practice from the beginning, as I used to watch movies multiples times in one week back in the early 80s. (The list of these films reads like a "Who's Who" of 80s' standards and oddities.) Conversely, there were also movies which HBO would only show once or twice, and these were usually low-budget horror movies, which I never failed to miss. (I will never forget the one-time showing of Phantasm.) One such film was Curtains. I distinctly remember seeing this movie on HBO, but then I never saw or read about it anywhere else. It had reached the point that I was beginning to wonder if I imagined it. Now, Synapse Films has brought Curtains to Blu-ray Disc so that others can discover it.
The opening of Curtains (!) introduces us to actress Samantha Sherwood (Samantha Eggar) and her director/partner Jonathan Stryker (John Vernon). They are working on a pieced entitled "Audra". In order to research the role, Samantha has herself committed to a mental hospital, where her observation of the other patients leads to her emotional withdrawal. Things get worse when Stryker stops visiting. Instead, he has invited six young actresses to his remote home to audition for the role. When five actresses arrive (Yes, I know that says five) -- Brooke (Linda Thorson), Laurian (Anne Ditchburn), Patti (Lynne Griffin), Tara (Sandra Warren), and Christie (Lesleh Donaldson) -- they find an odd setting which becomes even more tense when Samantha appears. As if that weren't bad enough, a masked killer is stalking the house, picking off the hopeful thespians one-by-one.
By 1983, the world of horror cinema was knee-deep in the "Slasher Cycle" and seemingly every mother consisted of a masked killer knocking off scantily-clad women. And at first glance, Curtains may seem to fit into that mold. We certainly have a killer in a mask who has no problem killing everyone in sight and we get the requisite drawn-out cat & mouse chased between the killer and the final girl. The only way in which Curtains deviates from the standard pattern -- within the Slasher film -- is that it's relatively lite on gore. While some entries were a showpiece for the Makeup Effects team, Curtains doesn't have much of the red stuff.
However, there's another side to Curtains that skews more towards the gothic. The opening in which Samantha enters the psychiatric ward (which, I can tell you, doesn't feel very realistic) plays like something out of a dark melodrama. Following this, we get the introduction of a strange, decidedly creepy, doll which begins to play a part in the murders. This certainly doesn't feel like the usual slasher fare and we begin to wonder if Curtains is going to introduce a supernatural element. This clash of themes/styles isn't necessarily jarring, but you'd have to be pretty dense to not notice it. The extra features found on this Blu-ray Disc explain the shifting tones found in Curtains. Director Richard Ciupka began shooting the film in 1980 and then production was halted. When it began two years later, Producer Peter R. Simpson was at the helm. According to Ciupka the beginning and the ending of the film were shot by Simpson, while the middle part is his. Thus, we have a movie which often plays like two movies, as we are witnessing two different visions.
The result is a movie which has definite strengths and weaknesses. The main problem with Curtains is that it doesn't succeed at being either a pleasing slasher film or gothic horror. As with most slasher movies, it becomes a "Whodunit?", but we simply don't get enough clues or red herrings to justify this. When the killer is revealed, most viewers will simply say, "OK." with little reaction. The finale does offer some suspense, but the film becomes preoccupied with its production design during this sequence. The isolated house and that doll have the perfect elements for a creepy movie, but this never pays off. The bright spot in Curtains is the ice-skating sequence. This is the part which everyone remembers and it certainly stands out. The juxtaposition of the elegance of ice skating on a pristine pond and a killer in a hag mask is milked for all that it's worth and even if you hate every other scene in the film, you'll appreciate this one.
Kudos to Synapse Films for pulling Curtains out of obscurity. Unfortunately, it is not the diamond-in-the-rough that many will hope that it is. As noted above, the movie has some bright spots, but they are wedged in between very dull scenes which simply drag on-and-on. As one would expect, Eggar and Vernon make their presence known, but all of the characters are very underdeveloped and three of the five actresses are interchangeable. Devotees of early 80s horror should definitely check out Curtains now that is readily available, but if you've heard that it's a lost treasure, I would advise you to approach it with a grain of salt.
Curtains...hey, was that Michael Wincott from The Crow?...on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Synapse Films. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 36 Mbps. Overall, the image is sharp and free from any overt defects from the source materials. Given the knowledge that the film was shot over the course of years, it's not surprising that the level of grain varies throughout the movie. Some shots have a fine sheen of grain on the image, which the ice skating scene looks absolutely gorgeous. The colors are good throughout, most notably during the finale, where we get splashes of bold hues. The picture is somewhat dark at times. The level of detail is steady throughout, with the image rarely going soft. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The musical score sounds fine and we get some musical cues through the rear channels. The stereo effects are well-done and I noted some sounds coming from off-screen emanating from the front speakers.
The Curtains Blu-ray Disc contains several extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from stars Lesleh Donaldson & Lynne Griffin, moderated by Edwin Samuelson (whom I used to know). The film can also be viewed with accompanying "Vintage Audio Interviews" with Producer Peter R. Simpson and Samantha Eggar. "Ciupka: A Filmmaker in Transition" (15 minutes) is a vintage documentary which explores the career (up to that point) of Director Richard Ciupka. It explores his work as a Director of Photography and then takes us onto the set of Curtains to see him at work there. "The Ultimate Nightmare: The Making of Curtains" (36 minutes) is a fairly detailed featurette which explores the production. Ciupka shares his memories about how the project came together and Lesleh Donaldson and Lynne Griffin discuss their characters and the shoot. Special Effects Makeup artist Greg Cannom talks about the famous mask. Then, the tone changes and we get a discussion of how the movie was shot in two phases, nearly two years apart, which explains the varying tones and why Ciupka's name doesn't appear in the credits. This gives us an interesting insight into how the show must indeed go on. There is also a brief discussion of the film's legacy. The final extra is the THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film.
Review Copyright 2014 by Mike Long