(Canadian 1982, dir: Richard Ciupka; cast: Samantha Eggar, John Vernon,
Linda Thorson, Annie Ditchburn)
the most underrated slasher films of the early 1980s, Curtains has been dissed by many genre critics, but is tops with me. John
Stanley's Creature Features movie guide
says of Curtains: "Irritating Canadian slasher film paints characters in muddy fashion.
... There's nothing clever or suspenseful about the murders, and
the climax is neither riveting nor surprising. Jonathan Stryker's
Encyclopedia laments: "After a conspicuously implausible
red herring opening ... Curtains takes off
into a drearily pedestrian variation on the masked-marauder theme. ...
the script has not bothered to provide [the killer] with a semblance of
motivation, any more than it has contrived any logic or suspense in the
plotting of the attacks."
first praised Curtains in the 1980s, in The Journal of Horror Cinema,
then in the 1990s in Horror magazine and Horrorfind.
And at least some critics agree with me. In Slasher
Films, Kent Byron Armstrong says: "Curtains is a very good slasher film." [Although he misspells Samantha
Eggar's name throughout as Egger.]
contrary to Stanley's remarks, Jonathan Stryker is one of the film's characters,
not its director. I'd thought it was an "inside joke," but Adam Rockoff
reports in Going
to Pieces that the real director, Richard Ciupka, was fired or quit
mid-shoot "depending to whom you speak". Rockoff regards Curtains as "a decent slasher [film], but one that occasionally hints
at greatness that could have been."
I see more than hints at greatness. There is much to recommend Curtains,
beginning with Samantha Eggar (The
Brood, The Uncanny, Demonoid:
Messenger of Death), who here portrays Samantha Sherwood, a classy
fortysomething actress at her peak and imminent decline. Curtains also has a sociological dimension, examining two Hollywood customs practiced
mostly by men: Riding a superstar wife's coattails to success, and dumping
an aging wife. These customs are not necessarily connected.
discarded wife is often a quiet helpmate, not a star. But Curtains combines these themes to fine effect. And finally, there is a generous
film star Samantha Sherwood buys the film rights to Audra (a hot play about
a psychotic) for director Jonathan Stryker (John Vernon). It remains
unclear whether they are (were?) married, but it seems they shared "something." A house in the wintry woods, for instance.
insanity, Samantha checks into an asylum to better understand her Audra
character. Jonathan leaves her there to rot and sets about casting
for a new and younger Audra. Six nubile actresses are scheduled for
"a weekend audition at his house." An unknown woman (we never see
her face) liberates Samantha from the asylum. Samantha arrives at
the house to audition.
playacts in Curtains,
on and off stage. Samantha feigns insanity. Jonathan feigns
his intent to release her. An actress is "raped" by a burglar, who
turns out to be her boyfriend playacting their usual sex game. O'Connor
(the comedian in the group) playacts sex games with hand puppets, the dog
cajoling a snake to "give head." (Like many comedians, O'Connor hides
her pained neuroses and burning ambition behind jokes.) When the
ice-skater discovers Jonathan and Samantha arguing, Jonathan claims they
were rehearsing an old play. After
Jonathan abuses O'Connor during
an interview, she accuses him of playing directorial mind games. He smiles, mum. When Brooke becomes hysterical, claiming to have
seen a severed head in her toilet, O'Connor accuses her of "putting on
a show, acting like Audra."
Curtains is about people so desperate to "make it" in Hollywood that they are always
"in character," their personal identities as contrived as the characters
they portray, their selves hidden behind curtains of their own making. After Jonathan has Samantha audition in a crone mask, he yanks off the
mask, forces Samantha to face a mirror, and states, "This is a mask too."
Curtains examines those willing to do anything to "make it." It's the theme
of O'Connor's standup act. "Have you ever wanted something so
you would do anything to get it? Me, I wanted to be an actress. I wanted to be in pictures so bad, I screwed the guy from Fotomat." Hollywood
encourages self-deception, and with this attitude the playacting is constant. One is always in character, projecting an image, the Self ever more elusive.
suffers and sacrifices to maintain her star status, including the sojourn
in the asylum. But the stay affects her, the patients both frighten
and move her. "So sad. Even when they're laughing they're sad." She advises O'Connor to forego a career in show business, to "get married
and grow old together."
suspects Samantha of trying to thin the competition, but more likely Samantha
is stating what she might do if she could begin again.
aside, Curtains is an effective slasher film. The wintry location creates a coldly
beautiful isolation, reminiscent of The
Story, and The
Brood. The slasher's crone mask, worn to hide her identity, also
augurs these pretty young actresses likely fate, when they too will be
discarded. Killings are stylized, shot with lyrical slow-motion. One actress is chased backstage amid mannequins, discovering a dead actress
hanging among them (sagacious commentary on Hollywood's meat market?). The subsequent stabbings (off camera) are punctuated by quick jump cuts
amid the mannequins. Unlike many slasher films, Curtains's
killer is difficult to identify (there's a reason for that).
Curtains also functions as commentary on Samantha Eggar's own career. Named
Best Actress at Cannes for her work in The
Collector (1965), by the 1980s she had gone to slumming in Canadian
slasher fare (to the genre's benefit). Notably, Eggar's character
shares her first name. Curtains has other curious "insider" attributes. Actor John Vernon portrays
the fictitious Jonathan Stryker, yet Curtains is credited to director "Jonathan Stryker." (Actually directed by
Curtains opens with Samantha playacting a scene from Audra. She finds closure
by performing the scene for real. What has she learned? "That
an actress must always be in control," she tells O'Connor. It
may be for naught. The final survivor in Curtains,
the one who has what it takes to "make it" to the end, ends up in an asylum.
a rumination on the relative values of fame and family, and as a tense
and gory slasher film set in beautiful wintry isolation, Curtains delivers.
Review copyright by Thomas
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