Released by: Synapse Films
Released on: July 29th, 2014.
Director: Jonathan Stryker
Cast: John Vernon, Samantha Eggar, Lesleh Donaldson, Lynne Griffin
Year: 1983 Purchase From Amazon
The 1983 Canadian slasher film Curtains begins by introducing us to Samantha Sherwood (Samantha Eggar), a popular and well respected actress who, throughout her career, has worked with director Jonathan Styrker (John Vernon). In fact, she’s even gone so far as to buy him the rights to a project they’d talked about making together called Audra. As the character in Audra is insane and Sherwood is a method actress, she and Stryker decide to have her fake insanity so that she can experience firsthand what it’s like in an insane asylum. The only problem with this is that the doctors in charge have no idea this is a ruse, and Stryker never comes back for her.
Instead, the director calls for six attractive young ladies to come to his remote estate to audition. While there is some trepidation, before you know it a half dozen hotties made up of Brooke Parsons (Linda Thorson), Laurian Summers (Anne Ditckburn), Patti O’Connor (Lynne Griffin), Tara DeMillo (Sandee Currie), Christie Burns (Lesleh Donaldson) and Amanda Teuther (Deborah Burgess) are on their way into the woods but before the auditions can even start, Amanda is murdered in cold blood. The other five arrive, as planned, but soon enough if they’re not making time with Stryker or his assistant Matthew (Michael Wincott), they’re being stalked and slashed by someone in a horrible rubber ‘hag’ mask – and then Samantha shows up, completely unannounced…
Curtains had a pretty tough production schedule (see more in this in the extras section below) and because of that it’s got some pretty obvious shifts in tone and atmosphere and more than a few glaring logic gaps. It does, however, more than make up for this with a couple of really memorable murder set pieces and a really iconic and genuinely eerie killer. That hag mask? It’s creepy stuff! The movie is well paced and does a good job of capitalizing on its remote wintery location (the film was shot outside of Toronto) giving the whole thing an air of isolation. These girls are snowed in and when it all hits the fan, they have no practical means of escaping the situation. The finale, which takes place in a room full of what we can assume are old, leftover props from Stryker’s work, features some great camerawork and impressive use of bold colors, which helps add to the tension. Throw in a few good jump scares and some good old fashioned gore and it’s easy to see why Curtains has developed a solid cult following among slasher enthusiasts over the years.
The performances here are solid as well. All six of the young ladies are easy enough on the eyes that you can buy them as would be actresses. Lesleh Donaldson really stands out here simply because her skating scene is one of the film’s most infamous moments but she’s also quite good in the part. Linda Thorson, who replaced Diana Rigg in the later era run of the popular UK series The Avengers, is also good here and Lynne Griffin, of Strange Brew and Black Christmas fame, works well as comedienne turned would-be actress Patti. The best performances, however, come not from the pretty young women in the cast but from the two older leads, Vernon and Eggar. British born Eggar, who appeared in Cronenberg’s The Brood a few years prior, plays the more experienced actress with an appropriate tone of condescension and a very regal approach to the material her character is after. Likewise, Vernon uses that instantly identifiable voice of his to really project, crafting his Stryker into an authoritarian and really hammering home just how pompous and egotistical this guy is.
And yeah, while there are those aforementioned logic gaps and moments where you don’t want to overthink this one, Curtains succeeds in making itself a little different than your typical slasher picture. This isn’t a setting populated by teenagers or college students and the story allows more adult themes such as Stryker’s casting couch tendencies to develop the characters in interesting ways (a shot of Donaldson in tears as Vernon leaves her room hinting at more depth, for example). Flawed or not, this one actually works quite well – and if that’s not enough for you, it’s got a Burton Cummings song on the soundtrack and a creepy killer doll used early on that then more or less just disappears!
Synapse Films debuts Curtains onto Blu-ray in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.78.1 widescreen. Taken from ‘original vault materials’ and transferred in 2K, the movie looks very good on Blu-ray. Some scenes are a bit softer than others but generally speaking detail is impressive throughout. Aside from a few white specks that most won’t even likely notice, there are no issues with any real print damage while the film’s grain structure, never really intrusive, appears to have been left intact. Texture looks very good here and fine detail is great. You’ll be able to notice the individual strands in the hat Donaldson wears in her skating scene and you’ll notice all the little creases and crags on the rubber ‘hag’ mask. Black levels are really strong, color reproduction is excellent (especially during the finale that takes place in the room with all the bizarre props) and skin tones appear lifelike and natural throughout.
English language options are provided in the original Mono in DTS-HD format as well as in a newly created 5.1 mix, also in DTS-HD format. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. Purists will understandably opt for the Mono track while others may prefer the surround mix – both offer good clarity and decent depth with the surround mix remaining fairly front heavy but spreading out the score here and there. Dialogue is easy to understand and follow in both mixes and there are no issues to note with any hiss or distortion.
The extras on the disc start off with a commentary track with actresses Lesleh Donaldson & Lynne Griffin moderated by Edwin Samuelson. Understandably this track doesn’t really get technical but instead focuses on the actresses’ experiences on the shoot. There’s discussion here of what it was like on set, their relationship with the director(s), some of the more infamous death scenes in the movie and their time spent on location. It’s a well-paced track that does a good job of documenting things from their point of view and they share some amusing anecdotes and also offer up their thoughts on what works and what doesn’t in the film.
The disc also includes a selection of vintage audio interviews with Producer (and technically co-director) Peter R. Simpson and actress Samantha Eggar. This audio plays, commentary style, overtop of the movie. These were recorded over the telephone for the guys who run Terrortrap.com. Getting Simpson’s input here is pretty interesting as it gives a slightly different spin on the history of the picture than that told in the featurettes detailed below. He’s never really at a loss for words and is quite blunt and honest about the amount of reshoots required for the film. He talks over the first forty-four minutes or so of the movie and then Eggar’s interview comes in. She gives some background information on her career and then goes on to share some stories about making movies in Canada and then specifically about making Curtains. She then elaborates on various aspects of the production and answers off topic questions like ‘who would you like to work with who you haven’t worked with yet’ so it’s not always one hundred percent Curtains specific but it’s a good piece. Eggar’s interview runs about ten minutes.
From there, check out the new thirty-five minute featurette on the making of the film, The Ultimate Nightmare: The Making Of Curtains. This featurette contains interviews with director Richard Ciupka, actresses Lesleh Donaldson and Lynne Griffin, editor Michael MacLaverty, special make-up effects creator Greg Cannon and composer Paul Zaza. This is a pretty interesting piece as it allows those who were there, Ciupka in particular, to discuss the problems that they ran into during this production. Originally producer Peter R. Simpson, who had Ciupka, originally a director of photography, help out on a previous film decided he should direct. He gave him Curtains and wanted a quick, low budget slasher and what he got was more of an artsy dramatic thriller (not really a shock when you consider he'd previously worked with Claude Chabrol). Ciupka was pulled off of the project and Simpson, roughly two years later, called the cast back for reshoots. As such, approximately the first ten minutes or so and the last half hour are Simpson’s material with Ciupka’s basically make up the middle part of the picture, which explains why there are such drastic tonal shifts in the film. That’s why the credits list Johnathan Stryker as the director, because Ciupka wouldn’t sign off on the amended version of the film. That also explains why the credits have two separate crew listings in them.
Aside from that we hear from the actresses about their parts with Donaldson noting that she actually fell down during her skating scene (hence the little scratch visible on her chin), Cannon talking about some of the gore effects and the now infamous and almost iconic mask used in the picture and MacLaverty talking about having to assemble the picture as best he could under the circumstances. There is some discussion about the alternate ending (and a photograph from it) as well as other scenes that were chopped up or removed entirely (this material is gone, sadly, see here for more details) and about how the film eventually found a cult audience after a miniscule theatrical run before getting dumped to video and enjoying numerous late night TV showings.
Also included on the disc is a vintage documentary entitled Ciupka – A Film-Maker In Transition. This is a six minute piece made up of footage shot on the set of Curtains while Ciupka was still in charge and it gives us the rare opportunity to not only see the director at work but to see him involved with the cast and crew as well.
Rounding out the extras are the film’s original theatrical trailer, animated menus and chapter selection.
The Final Word:
Curtains might be erratic and occasionally downright illogical but it does feature some impressive atmosphere and a pair of really good performances from John Vernon and Samantha Eggar. Throw in a genuinely creepy killer and a random appearance from a killer doll and combine that with some memorable set pieces and this one should appeal to anyone with an interest in eighties slasher films. The Blu-ray debut from Synapse looks and sounds excellent and contains an impressive selection of supplemental material that explain how and why the movie turned out the way it did. A really impressive disc for an under appreciated cult oddity!
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!