Curtains Blu-ray Review
Directed by Jonathan Stryker (Richard Ciupka, Peter R. Simpson)
Written by Robert Guza Jr.
1983, Region A, 89 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on July 29th, 2014
John Vernon as Jonathan Stryker
Samantha Eggar as Samantha Sherwood
Linda Thorson as Brooke Parsons
Anne Ditchburn as Laurian Summers
Lynne Griffin as Patti O'Connor
Sandra Warren as Tara DeMillo
Lesleh Donaldson as Christie Burns
Deborah Burgess as Amanda Teuther
Michael Wincott as Matthew
It has taken a long time to get legendary director Jonathan Stryker's latest production Audra off the ground and he has a lot riding on this film. His usual leading lady, Samantha Sherwood, is a method actress who had herself committed to an asylum in order to get a better understanding of the title character's insanity. Now it seems she has succumbed to the struggles of that existence and may not be able to return to her career. Stryker has been holding auditions and the women have been lining up for the opportunity to work with him. Casting choices are down to the final six and Stryker invites them to his secluded mansion for an intense final round of selections.
As the group settles in, everyone (including Stryker) is surprised by the arrival of Ms. Sherwood, who has apparently escaped from the hospital. When the young actresses start disappearing, Stryker continues to hold acting exercises, as there is always a rational explanation to where the others have gone. What no one knows at this point is that a maniac disguised in a terrifying old hag latex mask is murdering the women with a large sickle. This would suggest that maybe the asylum is missing one of its more disturbed patients, but is the obvious suspect really the culprit, or is it possible that one of the other determined actresses will kill for the role of a lifetime? Maybe it is Stryker himself, or his slightly creepy and very horny teenage son Matthew. Whatever the outcome, there will be a lot of bloodshed and a pile of corpses before the final curtain falls on this nightmare weekend.
The slasher film craze of the early 1980s originated in Canada with Bob Clark's Black Christmas, but it was John Carpenter's Halloween that kicked it into high gear. For every domestic horror film that opted to kill horny teens on a calendar holiday, the Canadians were there to answer with such occasion classics as Prom Night, Happy Birthday to Me and Terror Train. In 1983, Curtains crossed the border into the U.S. and was met with a mixed response. The marketing campaign brilliantly focused on the old-hag slasher angle, but the film itself played out like a schizophrenic thriller. Jonathan Stryker, the credited director, is the same name as the main character and there is something vaguely confusing about what's happening throughout the picture, as large portions play out as though they are dreams instead of reality.
Working from a script by Robert Guza Jr. (Prom Night), Director Richard Ciupka created a stylistic murder mystery filled with artistically staged sequences, rich with atmosphere. His lead actors John Vernon (I'm Gonna Git You Sucka) and Samantha Eggar (The Brood) bring a gravitas to the roles of Stryker and Sherwood, and they share a strong onscreen chemistry. The young starlets are all quite impressive and genre fans will recognize several faces, including Lynne Griffin (Black Christmas) as Patti, Lesleh Donaldson (Deadly Eyes) as Christie and most surprisingly, Michael Wincott (The Crow) as Matthew. Composer Paul Zaza (My Bloody Valentine) created the memorable music to many a slasher film and his work here is pretty fantastic. All of these elements working together should surely create a winning picture, right?
Producer Peter R. Simpson (Bullies) felt the material was lacking and after principal photography was complete, he replaced half of the footage with new material that was shot over a year later without the director. A new prologue was added and most of the third act was replaced with content that more closely resembled the popular slasher movie template. Roughly 45-minutes of Ciupka's material is all that remains (hence the pseudonymous director's credit). The result is two movies jammed into one, and not all of the pieces fit together.
Curtains received a limited theatrical run before being dumped on VHS and cable television with a murky transfer that was more confusing than satisfying. Somehow, despite these challenges, the film succeeds on the strength of many key sequences, including any scene involving the creepy doll, and the terrifying sight of the old hag ice skating across a frozen lake, in broad daylight, for the kill. Few of these 30-year old slashers hold up under the scrutiny of contemporary audiences, but plot holes aside, a strong horror sequence is just as effective today as it was originally. Curtains has enough working for it that it almost overcomes the unprecedented hobbling it received before release and if you haven't seen it before, then get ready to be freaked out by something that's been dormant way too long.
Video and Audio:
Curtains is presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and features a stunning new transfer that makes the film look like it was shot within the last few years. Fans long stuck with the murky VHS will finally get to see what is going on in the prop house finale, as the detail emerges from the shadows like never before! The colors have never appeared more vibrant and black levels are solid. Honestly, I was stunned by how much of an improvement this new disc offers and I cannot say enough nice things here.
Purists will be happy to hear that the original 2.0 mono track is included with this release, but everyone else will want to go with the all new DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix that is really a treat. Dialogue is opened up and remains free from distortion, and music cues are enhanced with a fullness that I did not expect. English subtitles are provided for anyone in need.
Synapse Films has worked long and hard to bring this film to a new audience and despite a few setbacks along the way, they have succeeded in creating a terrific special edition that is loaded with goodies.
Actresses Lesleh Donaldson and Lynne Griffin provide a commentary track that covers a lot of ground and is more conversational than technical. Moderator Edwin Samuelson keeps things moving and limits any potential awkward silences, but the ladies do a fine job sharing a wide range of anecdotes.
A pair of audio interviews with meddling producer Peter R. Simpson and actress Samantha Eggar are presented as an alternate sort of commentary, though Eggar's segment has little to do with Curtains. Simpson, however, is defensive as he touches on lots of interesting stories from the production. Together the two pieces run about an hour and both are worth checking out.
The main attraction to this bonus content is the fantastic documentary The Ultimate Nightmare (36 minutes), a look back at the making of the film and all that went wrong along the way. This is a surprisingly candid piece that does not hold back when discussing the dangers of tinkering with a production. Sadly, Simpson passed away in 2007 and is not on hand to relay his motives, but Ciupka is and he has a lot to say about the film being taken away from him. Do yourself a favor and watch this piece right after you watch the movie.
Ciupka: A Filmmaker in Transition (15 minutes) is a vintage behind-the-scenes featurette that showcases the rising young director as he begins work on Curtains. It is insane that this piece even exists and to have it included here is a real treat. While not the most entertaining segment, the ultra-rare look at the on-set production footage is more than enough to have horror fans drooling.
The original theatrical trailer is also included and it is still creepy and effective.
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