At Home, BluRay/DVD Reviews

CURTAINS (Synapse)

By • Feb 21st, 2015 •

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The world of acting can be cut throat, but never has this been truer than in 1983`s CURTAINS. A slew of slaughtering psychos were unleashed after the success of HALLOWEEN (1978) and FRIDAY THE 13 (1980), and it seemed every babysitter or naughty pot smoking teen wasn’t safe. Like most horror fans I enjoy plenty of the red kroovy but I don’t go nostalgia-blind for them either. More often than not they are soulless cash-in`s churned out for the booming video market, yet some are well done in terms of story and acting; CURTAINS is one that is a cut above the rest.

Hollywood titan Jonathan Stryker (John Vernon) is developing a new project “Audra” based on the racy book. Samantha Sherwood has worked with Stryker on other projects and he has tailored the role just for her. After all she helped him get the book rights. But Stryker demands ultra real from his leading lady so together they hatch a plan to get Samantha committed to a mental hospital so she can experience firsthand what the tortured Audra had gone through. Their plan works and Sherwood is locked away secure in the knowledge she`ll be rescued from her hell and take her place as a star. Yet things come crashing down when a friend sends her a Variety that proclaims Stryker is looking for ladies to fill the part. It seems that a rather strange casting call is to take place at Stryker’s lavish home with six ravenously eager starlets all desperate the title role. Furious Samantha crashes the casting session hoping to get her revenge. Jonathan seemingly not surprised to see her, lets her audition, but doesn’t intend on giving her the role so easily (or at all?). Actresses start dying, but which of these women are willing to kill for the role of a lifetime?

It seems fitting that this was written by Robert Guza Jr who previously penned PROM NIGHT, another slasher that came out the same year as FRIDAY THE 13. What I find most interesting about CURTAINS is that on the one hand it acts like a typical slasher film but on the other it goes in a totally different direction. For example we have pretty women in a house, some of which are of questionable morals, and there is a mysterious killer in a mask. The killer wears black gloves, a staple of the Giallo films being made in Italy from the late sixties to its hay day in the seventies and eighties. How it differs is very important though, such as instead of being cookie cutter bubble headed teens, the characters are more complex and developed women. Also the setting and reason for being in the mansion is an altogether new trapping that had never been explored before or since. Also one of the most iconic kill scenes takes place during the day, with a skating Lesleh Donaldson. The setting is as far from horror standard as possible and I love it for that.

Besides a clever script what sets this film apart from the pile of killer clones is the stellar cast. John Vernon (ANIMAL HOUSE, KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE) plays the demanding director and does it perfectly; he embodies a ruthless, heartless man who does anything regardless of someone’s feelings. Samantha Eggar, who plays Samantha Sherwood, is able to hold her own against Vernon`s character and puts off a Joan Collins vibe which I’m sure was what they were going for. Horror fans will remember Eggar in THE BROOD opposite Oliver Reed. She really shines in this role. Another veteran star, Linda Thorson (Avengers), also joins the ladies. To fans of horror some of the girls will look familiar. Besides those mentioned, Lesleh Donaldson was also in (among other things) HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME, and is great in both films! Lynne Griffin you might remember as the first victim in BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974) Sandee Currie (TERROR TRAIN 1980), etc.

The filmmakers take the slasher trend and infuse trippy Italian horror film tropes (ala early Argento). A scene I feel highlights this is the actress being stalked in the prop house. Everything from lighting, music and visuals make this a chilling and stylish scene. Also you can see nods to TOURIST TRAP via unsettling mannequins. It seems there was a behind-the-scenes tag of war because Richard wanted a more art house film and producer Peter Simpson who knew the horror film market wanted a more straight forward gore film. It is said that only 50% of the film was finished and Peter took over the bulk of the fright scenes including the skating scene and the murder in the prop house. This would contribute to the unbalanced feel to the film but all things considered the final product turned out well.

Though at the time it was released it was presumed to be just another gore fest riding the wave of other successful titles, it has since found a cult following and a new generation of fans who have discovered a film that both goes the conventional slasher route yet takes a totally different spin, creating an altogether refreshing experience. So if, like me, you’re tired of wading through the piles of forgettable body count films and want something with substance as well as carnage, CURTAINS is a must.

PICTURE: The film is presented in an AR: 1080p 1:78:1. Picture is crisp and clear with solid blacks. Compared to the video release it’s a total revelation as far as picture quality. Taken from vault material and re-mastered in 2K.

SOUND: Synapse put out a stunning 5.1 mix which is so much better than the mono track.

SPECIAL FEATURES: ‘The Ultimate Nightmare Retrospective’ is a well made making of featuring interviews with Lynn Griffin, Lesleh Donaldson and Richard C and Producer Peter R Simpson. Interviews are informative and entertaining. Please be warned that this feature does contain a major plot spoiler so it may be a no brainer but watch the film first. A second, shorter featurette, ‘Ciupka-A filmmaker in Translation’ is a vintage director retrospective. Though it’s of poor quality, it is a very interesting and insightful look at the filmmaker and his previous work as a D.O.P. It also contains some rare behind the scenes footage of CURTAINS which alone makes it worth your time. This disc sports not one but two feature length commentaries. Commentary One is between the two actress`s Lesleh Donaldson and Lynn Griffin. It’s a blast hearing these women talk about making the film; it’s both informative and wildly entertaining. Next is the Alternative Audio Track Vintage Interviews with Producer Peter R Simpson and Star Samantha Eggar. First vintage interview is Peter R. Simpson and strap in because he holds nothing back and is funny and informative. The interview with Eggar is alright, but she didn’t really want to get into her horror film past and in fact, when asked if she liked them, she quickly said ‘no.’ Still a good listen nonetheless. While the interviews were good and very amusing I would have loved to see this as an audio with still gallery rather than a running commentary. Sadly there is no director commentary but I guess considering the troubled shoot it’s lucky they even got him to do an interview. Rounding out the feature is a trailer.

OVERALL: CURTAINS was a title that has been long out of print so when word hit that it was being re-released on bluray I was excited and looking at this through a fan’s eyes. I was not disappointed. Collectively the features and the commentaries give you a complete picture of a very troubled production which beat the odds and has gained cult status. In the wake of a booming horror/cult film market Synapse has remained relevant and proves once again they work hard at giving their all in all cata-gories. Bottom line is – this should be on every fan’s shelf. Even perfectionist Stryker would approve.

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