Written by: Robert Guza Jr.
Directed by: Richard Ciupka
Starring: John Vernon, Samantha Eggar and Linda Thorson
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
ďWhat makes you think you're right for Audra?"
Like many of its contemporaries, Curtains has a few quirks that allows for a quick filing in the slasher database. This is the one thatís snowbound (something few can boast), a fact thatís most memorable due to a sequence featuring ice skating. Beyond this, though, it also manages a few more interesting aspects; once youíve seen so many of these things, I think thatís what you gravitate towards--neat, interesting traits. More often than not, the actual quality of a slasher movie is dubious on most real levels, so itís wise to just accept that the best they have to offer is cool shit that will set them apart from each other. Curtains does a good job at that, if nothing else.
Samantha Sherwood (Samantha Eggar) is so committed to the role of ďAudraĒ that she has herself committed to a mental institution; unfortunately, her director (John Vernon) ditches her and leaves her stuck in there. In the meantime, heís invited a group of six girls up to his mansion to audition for the part. When Samantha discovers this, she escapes the mental institution to crash the party; upon her arrival, the other girls begin to die off at the hands of a masked maniac. Is it Samantha, or is one of the aspiring actresses living up to her promise to kill for the part?
Before discovering the answer to that, youíll have to sit through everyone else getting killed off in horrible fashion, which is all well and good of course. But before even that, youíll be subjected to a bunch of fake outs; in fact, the flick starts out with a false opening, where we see Eggar playing the role of a vengeful lover before the film pulls out and reveals that this is just a film within the film. Then weíre treated to the fake out within the mental institution before the wheels of the plot finally get greased a bit. Well, I guess itís more apt to say we watch the girls begin to get greased, starting with an ill-fated actress who never even makes it to the audition retreat (and even this doesnít happen until after yet another fakeout involving rape roleplaying with her boyfriend).
Once we finally make it to the house, Curtains is pretty much smooth sailing, though I have to admit to enjoying one of the actressís encounter with an adolescent gas station attendant who leers at her ass and assures her that she can ďwork offĒ her debt if she canít find the money to pay for her fuel. Unfortunately for him, sheís more into older guys (like 13 or 14!), plus she finds her money anyway. She would have been better off staying with the kid. Anyway, the proceedings at the house are pretty standard slasher stuff--thereís a bare minimum of character stuff, where some of the girls (such as the one that does a puppet show act for whatever reason) managing to distinguish themselves from the others. All in all, theyíre a decent array, with Vernon playing a typically sleazy Hollywood type whose jacuzzi doubles as the audition couch.
Of course, all the young actresses are all just like Anne Baxter to Eggarís Bette Davis-esque starlet who is desperately clinging to her fame. An appropriately voracious screen-stealer from the opening scene, her Samantha Sherwood feels a lot like Davisís eve--on the tipping point of both insanity and sadness, so you can totally buy it if she ends up being the killer. Though thatíd be a little bit too obvious, right? In my recent review for Home for the Holidays, I noted the conundrum here--if itís her, itís been way too obvious, and if itís someone else, it often feels forced. Letís just say Curtains gets around this problem rather cleverly with its eventual twist, which is one of those other cool things that set it apart from its brethren. Without spoiling, Iíll just say that Iím surprised it isnít discussed more since it was somewhat co-opted by a pretty famous slasher about a decade later.
Getting to the twist is fun enough; Curtains is kind of low key in its slashing, and is nearly bloodless, so donít expect any over-the-top bloodletting. The aforementioned ice skating scene is particularly well done, perhaps because thereís something off-kilter about the killerís garb (theyíre wearing the ďAudraĒ mask, which makes them look like a scraggly-haired old woman) skating with a small scythe in broad daylight. Fans of big time gore might be a bit disappointed in the payoff (the only thing you see get decapitated on-screen is a doll that accompanies the killer for some reason), but itís a fine sequence nonetheless. Plus, hey, itís kind of fun seeing a girl get stalked on some ice, surrounded by snowy woods instead of a rain-soaked forest for once. The rest of the slashing is okay; most noteworthy is how Curtains also uses the ďsevered head in the toiletĒ gag like House on Sorority Row, which bowed two months earlier (1983 was a rough year for plumbers in slashers).
Structurally, Curtains falters a bit; ostensibly, Samantha is our main character, which is a bit odd since she may also be the killer too. As such, none of the other girls really serves as a real protagonist, so the final girl emerges by default in a climax that seemingly comes out of nowhere. But at least itís also cool enough--it takes place down in a basement full of props and the corpses of the previous victims, and Ciupka sprinkles in some creepy visuals. For the most part, Curtains isnít bad, especially when you consider the belabored production; principal photography actually started way back in 1980, and it endured rewrites, recasting, and reshoots after being shelved for a year. That might set off a ton of alarms, but Curtains came out okay in the end; itís obviously not a great film, but it is a solid little slasher that distinguishes itself from time to time. Though itís become a bit of a cult hit, itís never received a real DVD release outside of the time Echo Bridge dumped it onto one of their Midnight Horror Collections to little fanfare. Featuring a murky, VHS-quality transfer that would only be impressive in 1983, itís hardly an ideal release, but, hey, itís all youíve got for now. Hope for better in the future, perhaps, but considering you can get that pack for 5 bucks, go ahead and Buy it!
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