‘Curtains’ is the Ultimate Forgotten ‘80s Slasher
The ‘80s gifted horror fans with so many memorable slasher pictures. With standout efforts like A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and Silent Night, Deadly Night being released in rapid succession, some of the output of the era was bound to get lost in the shuffle. And the Canadian slasher picture, Curtains is an example of just that. Curtains is an atmospheric offering that serves up some chilling chase sequences, beautiful cinematography, and biting commentary on the way women are mistreated in the entertainment industry.
The film sees famed director Jonathan Stryker (legendary character actor John Vernon) bringing five women to his palatial estate to vie for the lead role in his next picture. What the hopefuls don’t know is that Stryker was previously courting Samantha (Samantha Eggar of The Brood), a more seasoned thespian, for the part. During pre-production, Samantha committed herself to a mental hospital to get into character. And Stryker left her there. Being a woman of determination, Samantha escaped and made her way to Stryker’s mansion to prove, for once and for all, that she’s the right fit for the part. But shortly after Samantha’s arrival, the starlets begin to turn up dead. It seems someone wants the role badly enough to kill for it.
There may be some who would argue that Curtains has been forgotten for good reason. After all, it isn’t what I’d call a critical darling. In fact, the film is looked upon by some as an incoherent mess. And there may be a certain amount of validity to that argument. The film is a bit disjointed at times and it doesn’t get everything right. But given the flick’s troubled production, I think it came out far better than anyone could have expected.
When I said this was a troubled production, I wasn’t joking. Richard Ciupka started as the film’s director but left the project due to creative differences. As such, producer Peter R. Simpson took point in helming the remaining scenes. But the actual directing credit goes to neither of them. Ciupka didn’t want his name on the finished product, so he was credited as Jonathan Stryker (which is the name of the director for whom the women in the film are auditioning).
The creative differences reportedly stemmed from opposing visions regarding what type of film Curtains would be. Ciupka was interested in making a horror film that took its cues from European cinema, particularly the giallo films coming out of Italy at the time. The scenes he lensed are absolutely gorgeous. The ice-skating sequence is particularly memorable. The way Ciupka frames the beautiful scenery juxtaposed against the killer slowly creeping toward an unsuspecting victim is absolutely masterful. It plays out like fine art. But it’s also a legitimately chilling chase sequence.
Simpson’s vision for the film was far less artistic. He was after something along the lines of Prom Night marketed to an adult audience. Those differing visions ultimately led to Ciupka leaving the project.
Since the film was partially shot, abandoned, and picked back up, there are some noticeable differences in style and tonality throughout. However, that does little to derail my enjoyment of this forgotten slasher picture. In fact, I think it still works quite well, even managing to be ahead of its time with biting commentary on the abominable treatment of women in the film industry.
Curtains dared to comment on the treatment of women in Hollywood in an era where that wasn’t really encouraged. And that makes it something of a trailblazing effort. We see double standards on full display here. Samantha’s arc is an excellent example of exactly that. In spite of her talent and experience, she is effectively put out to pasture while Stryker (a similarly aged male player in the industry) enjoys a storied career as a sought-after director.
The hag mask that the killer dons is yet another nod to ageism in Hollywood. The killer serves as a metaphor for the onset of old age, which is eventually coming for all the starlets, laying in wait, much like the killer.
Commentary aside, Samantha Eggar is a fantastic choice to play the aging starlet. She brings a palpable sense of desperation to the role. All of the women vying for the part do. But Eggar sells it the most convincingly. She comes across as unhinged and desperate. We can see that based on her actions but it’s her mannerisms, tone, and body language that most effectively convey the character’s fragile mental state.
All in Curtains is a slasher film ready for rediscovery. The subtext is spot on. The cinematography is gorgeous. And the picture’s flaws are rather easy to overlook if you direct your attention elsewhere. As such, I would highly recommend giving it a look.
If you’re curious to check Curtains out, you’re in luck. As of the drafting of this post, the flick is streaming on Tubi, Peacock, Vudu, and The Roku Channel. You can also pick it up on physical media. Synapse put the film out on Blu-ray a while back. And the HD transfer looks incredible.