Curtains (1983)

Behind every curtain, someone is waiting... something is watching.

Year of Release: 1983
Genre: Horror/Mystery
Rated: R
Running Time: 89 minutes (1:29)
Director: Richard Ciupka


John Vernon ... Jonathan Stryker
Samantha Eggar ... Samantha Sherwood
Linda Thorson ... Brooke Parsons
Anne Ditchburn ... Laurian Summers
Lynne Griffin ... Patti O'Connor
Sandee Currie ... Tara DeMillo
Lesleh Donaldson ... Christie Burns
Deborah Burgess ... Amanda Teuther


A group of women gather for a weekend casting call at the secluded mansion of director Jonathan Stryker. He's searching for the perfect woman to play the role of the crazed character "Audra," and these women are just dying for the chance to play her! Stryker's last star, Samantha Sherwood, is so determined to get the part she committed herself to an asylum to prepare for the role. Unfortunately for all, a crazed killer in a disgusting "hag" mask is viciously murdering everyone one by one. Who will survive the final curtain call?


Curtains, remindin' us that nobody likes a pottymouth.

And speakin' of things turnin' up in unexpected places, I think I finally found my Christmas spirit. Checked all the usual places like MeTV, Walleye's Topless Dancin' & Bait Shop, and the bottom of a Crown Royal bottle, but apparently it was hidin' underneath a dogpile of P.O.'d preteens all along. I guess I prolly oughta clarify that remark before the F.B.I. kicks the door in and starts askin' Shankles and Apollo if they've ever been on the receivin' end of any inappropriate touching.

What I meant to say was, things've been pretty slow at the Videodome the last coupla weeks on account of people not bein' real picky about what's on TV when they know they're just gonna pass out from turkey fatigue, so Edgar and Bambi decided to trot out the tired old Santa and Mrs. Clause photo op schtick for the kiddies to try bringin' in more business. The only thing that kinda ticked me off about it was havin' to put the Arnold Schwarzenegger Terminator standee in the store room 'cause it wasn't "Christmassy" enough for some people.

By the time they were finished decoratin' the store it looked like Leavenworth, Washington threw up in there and I was about one loop of "Classic Christmas Songs" away from takin' George Michael's heart the hard way, but the kids seemed happy. Actually, if you wanna know who seemed the happiest it was the kids' dads, but that was mainly 'cause of Bambi's snow globes threatenin' to spill outta her holiday halter top all day, so, by definition, I guess you'd call it fun for the whole family. Durn good thing congress passed the Video Privacy Protection Act back in '88 though, 'cause I'd imagine it could get pretty hairy tryna explain why you rented A Charlie Brown Christmas and Debbie Does Dallas in the same transaction if you were to lose the Kodak of you and the kids with Mrs. Claus' yuletide tetherballs securely fastened together with an ankle warmer.

Edgar may have questionable taste in women, but when it comes to separatin' folks from their money I'll give 'im this much - he'll never go broke appealin' to nostalgic sentiment. I spent two hours that mornin' roundin' up every Christmas flick we had and by 3 'o clock the whole table was wiped out except for ALF's Special Christmas, and that's only because I swapped it with Maniac Cop 2 when Regina Buchinsky wasn't lookin' so little Irma wouldn't hafta see a therapist twice a week for the rest of 'er life.

That wasn't the biggest programmin' screw-up of the day though, and I don't mean to gloat, but if Edgar had just left me in charge of the entertainment he'd prolly be at home havin' Christmas nookies right now instead of layin' in the ICU gettin' the dents pounded out of his chassis.

Edgar's problem is he just doesn't understand kids. Actually, Edgar's problem is he's 375lbs and gets winded puttin' on deodorant, but my point is that if he'd just let me run Jack Frost none of this woulda happened. Kids're a lot more sensitive nowadays than when you and I were young, and things like bullying, for instance, really upset 'em.

I guess ya prolly know where I'm headed with this. The lard-laden lummox just HAD to show the Rankin Bass Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer special though and now it's too late. He had the choice to show 'em my suggestion -- where the bully gets his head sliced off by a runner sled and hurtled through the air like a Nerf football on Christmas mornin' -- or a flick where the central character is ridiculed and persecuted for bein' different until his anatomical abnormality proves useful, at which time he's finally shown the barest amount of decency and his antagonizers face no consequences. Whoops.

"Santa, how come you just let the other reindeer pick on Rudolph?" Irma Crankwright asked, pointin' to the TV screen where Rudolph was bein' excluded from the aforementioned reindeer games.

"Yeah. They were really mean and you didn't do nothin'," Hunter Washburn agreed.

"Mrs. Wisniewski says bullying is wrong, why didn't ya go stop 'um?" Lucinda Tibbets pressed.

"Oh. Um... well, ya see kids... it's like this - if Santa fought all of Rudolph's battles for him he... uh... he wouldn't have regained his self-confidence. Santa knew that if he stayed out of it that... um... Rudolph would earn the respect of his peers and become the most famous reindeer of all," Edgar managed.

"But he never woulda *lost* his self-confidence if you'da helped him," Bimmy Wampler challenged.

"Yeah! What if his nose never got lit up? He'd STILL be sad and alone," Trista Sissel whimpered, her little lip startin' to quiver.

"You're a poopie-head!" Sage Yoder concluded.

"You're probably gonna wanna stand over here," I whispered to Bambi, draggin' 'er over to the register.

"They're only kids for shit's sake, quit bein' such a puss--" she started to say.

"OW!" Edgar whined, rubbin' his elbow where the Gremlins cassette'd just cracked his funny bone.

"You were saying?" I winced, pullin' 'er down behind the counter.

"Get him!" Eunice Washburn screamed.

Next thing ya know Edgar was starrin' in a Chickawalka improv theater production of the Nutcracker Suite, and unfortunately, mosta the parents'd taken the opportunity to wander off in search of somethin' to rent, leavin' Edgar to be stomped into egg nog for several minutes until he'd sustained permanent damage to the ole tree topper.

The doctors think he'll be home for Christmas, but it's prolly gonna be a while before he's able to deck Bambi's hallway again so I'll prolly be strappin' on a coupla layers of precautionary private part protection until then. Either way, it's safe to say Edgar won't be passin' those size 54 genes down to any offspring, but on the plus side I can go back to showin' Silent Night, Bloody Night at 10 in the AM again like God intended, so at least somethin' good came out of it.

Officer Duggen showed up a few minutes after the six paramedics loaded Edgar into the ambulance and tore off toward Chickawalka General so she could explain to all the K-5 felons how violence never solved anything and pass out candy canes, but suffice to say that pretty well killed the festivities for the afternoon and so I decided to throw Curtains up on the TV to help pass the time. I know a lotta people really dig Curtains and after watchin' it three or four times I can say with confidence that it's the best flick ever made by two guys who each took half the script and refused to compromise on their respective visions of what the movie was supposed to be. The original director was makin' an art film and the producer who finished it was makin' a slasher film and so basically everyone dies a horrible death - but in a real classy, thought-provoking manner. I guess what I'm tryna say is that Curtains'll either raise your consciousness or cause a brain aneurism, but the important thing is that you'll have learned somethin' about yourself when it's all over.

I'm not gonna lie to ya - there's a good chance you'll find yourself with more questions than answers, so I'm gonna start ya off with a wisdom surplus goin' in to help ya make it through to the end. Just be sure to ration these carefully or else you may hafta call somebody to help jump-start your brain. First, if you don't have the directorial chops to achieve what Girls Gone Wild did with nothin' but a bottle of Wild Turkey and a C-note, you may wanna think about hangin' it up. Second, an actress who has 'erself committed to research a part has a madness to her method. And third, don't bring ice skates to a scythe fight.

The movie begins in a theater where Dean Wormer from Animal House has sequestered 'imself from the rest of society so he won't hafta watch John Belushi spit up mashed potatoes all over the cafeteria anymore, only the actress auditionin' for a part in his movie (Samantha Eggar) is givin' 'im Nancy Reagan when he needs Bette Davis, and so they decide to take 'er in for a free trial at the local sanitarium so she can study a group of female patients whose psyches became separated from their physical bodies and lost to time in the frenzy that was Beatle-mania. The administrator only just got CBS to take Louise Lasser off his hands and he really doesn't have the space to be passin' out beds to every stressed-out starlet who cracks under the pressure, but when he expresses skepticism over Samantha's whackdoodledosis she grabs a pen and tries usin' the Dean's ear canal for an ink fountain and finally gets 'erself suited up for dress rehearsal. It takes a little while to win over her fellow dribblers, but eventually Samantha is attacked and tickled to within an inch of 'er life by an elderly schizophrenic woman and formally initiated into the sisterhood of the traveling straitjackets. Things're fine for a while and she's relieved when the doctors finally lobotomize 'er roommate for makin' noises like Kim Cattrall in the locker room scene from Porky's every night, 'cept when she receives her staple-free copy of Variety in the mail and finds out the Dean's pushin' ahead into pre-production without 'er she gets this look on 'er face like she just found out 'er breast lift won't be waitin' for 'er in heaven.

Then the Dean invites six younger, gigglier, morally flexible actresses (Brooke, Laurian, Patti, Tara, Christie, and Amanda) out to his snowbound cabin for a casting call, only the night before they're supposed to show up somebody puts on this mask that looks like a geriatric Appalachian prostitute so they can sneak into Amanda's house and hack 'er rack. The next day the survivors assemble at the Dean's place where things get real uncomfortable when Samantha shows up and gives 'im this look like she's still got a few of those rage babies left over from The Brood ready to be loosed if he doesn't make the right casting decision, but he don't spook easily and heads over to Christie's room to help 'er bone up for the role. The next mornin' Christie hoses off as much of the indignity and Hai Karate smell as she can and heads down to the pond to practice 'er layback spin, only while she's out there playin' Dizzy Dizzy Dinosaur Ma'thuselah straps on 'er skates and Tonya Harding's Christie to death with a pocket scythe. Then Wormer gathers everyone together to do some remote emotin' until Samantha walks in and starts threatenin' to file an age discrimination suit with the Screen Actors Guild unless he gives 'er a chance, and so he tosses 'er the hag mask and says that if she can get a standin' ovation out of his pants with that thing on 'er face he'll consider 'er for the role, but that's just too heavy a lift when you look like Three Finger in drag.

The Dean figures he's got three or four hours before Samantha pieces together 'er self-confidence and comes back to kick 'im in his golden globes, so he gets down to business and tells Laurian to get in touch with 'er masculine side and melt Tara's butter and she does 'er best but she's about a foot shorter'n Tara and so she ends up gettin' intimidated and experiences such strong feelins of inadequacy that she breaks down and starts makin' plans to install 36" tires and a glasspack on 'er Toyota pickup. Meanwhile, Brooke finds Christie's severed head in the dumper and when she realizes how close she just came to havin' nasal sex she goes apeshit and tells Wormer she refuses to share a bathroom, 'cept by the time he goes in there the head's gone and Brooke's so distressed that they hafta spend an hour doin' heavy breathin' exercises to get 'er calmed down. Samantha walks in on 'em after the fact but he just gives 'er a "this could be us but'chu old" look, and while that's goin' on somebody sneaks into Laurian's room and lances 'er through the leotards as she's doin' some kinda interpretive dance depicting a day in the life of a chunka salt water taffy. Then somebody empties a revolver into Brooke and Wormer and sends 'em tumblin' out a second story window where the friction burns on their undercarriages start causin' an early thaw and threaten to flood the highway, and while that's goin' on the crone ranger chases Tara all over the Dean's prop shed until she tries hidin' in a crawlspace and gets sliced into Off-Broadway bratwurst. I don't wanna give away the endin' so I'm gonna shut my spoiler hole right here, but in case you lost track, and I'd be surprised if you haven't, that just leaves Samantha and Patti, and they've both been playin' concurrent games of I've Got a Secret.

Alrighty, so, I don't wanna be rude or anything, but it seems like the roof of the Canadian tax shelter was startin' to leak by this point. From a purely structural point of view Curtains might be the strangest of the lot because it's tryna be somethin' more than just another slasher flick, only the production got shut down for about a year and during the downtime they monkeyed around with the script, and the casting, and then reshot part of it; the result of which is a disjointed mess. Reminds ya of a museum tour guide who came to work without his pants, 'cause they spend an hour and a half tryna show ya how artistic they can be with the camera and to show how driven John Vernon is in his quest to cast the perfect actress for the art film he's gonna make, all while introducing subplots that fail to lead anywhere and never bothering to explain set pieces they've inserted to bolster the whodunit aspect. I didn't mention most of 'em durin' the rundown specifically because they never factor in, but given how much time is spent building toward each murder (including a nightmare sequence involving the actress who's killed before even reaching the audition), it would have been nice if they'd trimmed those scenes a little and explained the following:

1) Who helped Samantha escape the asylum? Normally this wouldn't be important had they not taken the time to include a scene showing her speaking to a woman whose face is never shown as Samantha burns headshots of the other actresses in a fireplace while actin' all brooding and introspective.

2) How'd the killer know who the first actress was, where they lived, and get access to the hag mask that belongs to John Vernon? They didn't have access to that information and they certainly couldn't have had the mask that Vernon passes to Eggar when he tells 'er to blow 'im away with her actin' skills mid-audition, so yeah.

3) Were the severed head in the toilet and the movement behind the shower curtain actually real, or was the actress just makin' it up to gain an edge in the casting process? And if it did really happen, how'd the maniac behind the curtain escape detection and clean all the blood outta the crapper in the 35 seconds Linda Thorson was fetchin' John Vernon?

4) Why the doll? The first victim has a doll in her bedroom which appears in a nightmare sequence involving her death and is then scooped up by her killer on their way out to be used as a distraction during the second murder, at which time it is completely abandoned. The audience's attention is directed toward the doll several times in the early goings after which it is discarded, having apparently served its purpose. Probably wouldn't have been a big deal had they not put so much emphasis on it.

There's a #5 as well but I don't wanna get into it because it'd spoil the ending, and these are all unforced errors that lead to genuine confusion for the viewer to the point that you really don't even know for certain whether the events actually took place or whether they were all just playing out inside someone's head. And in case that doesn't sound obnoxious enough, they actually shot an alternative ending that would have removed that ambiguity and, at least in my opinion, been more appropriate to boot. All these things are especially frustrating because they'd be simple to fix either by dropping them entirely or by including a reveal in the later stages to produce a payoff, and this annoyance is compounded by the amount of time allotted to fruitless subplots and drawn-out cat-and-mouse scenes involving characters who, up to that point, had been painted as insignificant. Seriously, the "chase" scene involving the penultimate girl goes on for 12 minutes, and this is a character who, at the time, had had a total of eight or nine minutes on screen. Ultimately, the best way to describe Curtains is "conflicted," because when one guy films half a whodunit and his producer decides to complete it two years later with slasher overtones ya end up with internal strife that makes the Kellyanne/George Conway household seem functional and well adjusted by comparison. Just watchin' it kinda pisses ya off because you know that if either guy had just filmed the entire movie the way they wanted either version woulda been miles better than what we got.

I'm not gonna dwell on it though, 'cause if I think about it too long I'll end up gettin' arrested tryna break into Synapse headquarters in an effort to edit my own version, so from now on I'm gonna try focusin' on the positive instead of where they hide the negatives.

The plot I've pretty well covered - wants to be cerebral and classy to avoid bein' lumped in with the trashy, repugnant slasher flicks of the era and achieves the latter in a sad, ironic way by repeatedly trippin' over its own dick. Shoulda been a Canadian tax shelter classic, but somebody took a look at the finished product and went, 'Spoze that's good enough, eh?' One additional day of shooting and/or more aggressive editing coulda fixed this thing, and ya know damn well the director knew it too considerin' he took his name off it. It's okay though, 'cause I'm over it now and I probably won't go into how they cut the scene where the caretaker gets his head cut off ridin' a snowmobile through the livin' room window. I understand now that it would've tainted the artistic vision of a flick where a woman's head gets stuffed into a toilet bowl, and I respect their decision.

The acting is excellent, due in no small part to John Vernon chewin' so much scenery that the production designer hadda put a local construction company on retainer just to rebuild the sets every day. One of the fun things about low budget flicks is that you occasionally get the opportunity to see how a character actor handles the lead role, and although it's a little disconcerting at first, they generally deliver unique, memorable performances, as Vernon does here playing the critically acclaimed sleazeball. The man was a top-tier cinematic hardass - you could practically use his hinder for an anvil in every role he ever did, and for that he is greatly missed. Samantha Eggar also does a great job as the fading, increasingly twitchy starlet struggling to come to terms with the shallowness of the film industry, and although you might argue that they shoulda let 'er go a little more Shelley Winters bonkers I think she played it just right; particularly since going overboard would've complicated the ending. You might expect the supporting cast to sag a little given the mighty Vernon and Eggar shouldering the bulk of the load, but they hold up their end surprisingly well - particularly the stalwart early '80s regular Lesleh Donaldson (who wipes out early, but stars in the movie's most memorable scene), and Lynne Griffin as the literal comic relief candidate. Shockingly solid performances all around, especially for a film that lacks a central character. That said, the casting director oughta be flogged for selecting five caucasian brunettes 'cause there're definitely times when it's hard to keep 'em all straight, but there's no weak link here talent-wise even among the more thankless roles.

Here's who matters and why: John Vernon (Blue Monkey, Curtains, Heavy Metal, The Uncanny, The Six Million Dollar Man: The Solid Gold Kidnapping, and 1984 - the 1956 version), Samantha Eggar (The Phantom 1996, Demonoid, The Brood, The Uncanny 1977, All the Kind Strangers, A Name for Evil, The Dead Are Alive!), Lynne Griffin (Fahrenheit 451 2018, Bugs, Black Christmas), Sandee Currie (Terror Train, Terminal Choice), Lesleh Donaldson (Happy Birthday to Me, Funeral Home, Swamp Freak, Tales of Poe, The Night Before Easter, Octoberfeast, Deadly Eyes), Deborah Burgess (Johnny 2.0), Michael Wincott (Nope, Alien: Resurrection, The Crow), Maury Chaykin (Millennium 1989, The Vindicator, Defcon-4, Of Unknown Origin, WarGames), Kate Lynch (Murder in Space, Defcon-4, Skullduggery 1983), Booth Savage (Isabelle, Swarmed), James Kidnie (Pegasus vs. Chimera, Swamp Devil, Resurrection 1999, Mimic, Body Parts, The Gate 2), Janelle Hutchison (Saw 3D, Saw VI, Repo! The Genetic Opera), Kay Griffin (Deadline), Bunty Webb (American Nightmare, Deadly Eyes, Deadline), Theresa Tova (Deadline), Donald Adams (Riverworld, Merlin and the Book of Beasts), Jo-Anne Hannah (Murder by Phone, The Shape of Things to Come), Garrett Cassell (Tokyo Vampire Hotel, Stan Helsing, Lust for Dracula, Monsturd, The Dead Hate the Living!, Dead Students Society, Modern Vampires, I Was a Teenage Strangler, Castle Freak, Brainscan, Dust Devil, The Resurrected, The Crawlers, C.H.U.D. II, I Bought a Vampire Motorcycle, The Video Dead, Anguish, In a Glass Cage, The Company of Wolves, Madman, Microwave Massacre, Burnt Offerings, Who Can Kill a Child?, The Wizard of Gore 1970, Trog).

Mainstream credits are as follows: John Vernon (Dean Wormer in Animal House, Fletcher in The Outlaw Josey Wales), Linda Thorson (Tara King on The Avengers, Rosemary King on Emmerdale Farm), Booth Savage (Principal Callaghan on Mr. D).

The special effects, as one might expect in a film that fancies itself sophisticated, are pretty conservative. There's not much to speak of beyond a little blood that's both too bright and thick, and nearly half of the total body count occurs off-screen - but credit to Lesleh Donaldson for lettin' the effects guys make 'er up and use 'er head for the toilet bowl scene. Those of us who've watched The House on Sorority Row and To All a Goodnight know how ridiculous it can be usin' a fake head in a real toilet, so for the guys who reversed the formula in favor of a real head in a fake toilet, I salute you.

The shooting locations are fantastic even if the script doesn't utilize them to their full potential. The snow-covered hills of Ontario, Canada provide an attractive setting, though I feel the flick fails to instill a sense of isolation because too much time is spent indoors. The asylum, comedy club, theater, prop shed, and Vernon's sprawling estate are all excellent and benefit from Roy Smith's superb production design, but unfortunately, the difficulty involved in shooting in the deep snows of Ontario prove to be a missed opportunity for the film to distinguish itself from its contemporaries on the basis that workin' in the snow is an uncomfortable son of a bitch, and nobody (understandably) wants to do it. Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting Robert Paynter's cinematography is to blame, 'cause if you've seen the shot of Lynne Griffin's car driving up the winding highway that runs alongside the Credit River you know that guy's doin' his part; alls I'm sayin' is that this aspect of the flick is merely good where it might have been great if they'd been willin' to sacrifice a few toes.

The soundtrack complements the flick's overall tone nicely and bears a strong resemblance to the score from The Evil Dead, which also relies almost exclusively on strings and piano. Zaza's score is incredibly tense from start to finish, and the film's editor has a good sense of track placement that keeps the atmosphere balanced with appropriate levels of menace as dictated by the action on screen. Things do get a little cartoony towards the end of the prop house chase when Sandee Currie's about to unmask the killer, but the frenetic piece from the ice skating sequence is absolutely brilliant and plays a big part in downplaying the mild goofiness of the extended use of slow motion. Paul Zaza's isn't a name that comes up often in the discussion of great horror scores, but the guy composed the soundtracks for Prom Night 1 - 3, My Bloody Valentine, Ghostkeeper, American Nightmare, The Brain, Popcorn, The Dark, and The Club, as well as a few classic non-horror titles like A Christmas Story, Porky's, and Meatballs III. There's actually one track in Curtains that also appears in Porky's II, which, if you saw Porky's II first is kinda jarring even though Curtains was released a few months earlier. In short, a nice score that does its best to mitigate some of the damage caused by the hole-ridden plot.

Overall, the plot problems are very debilitating where it concerns my ability to enjoy the flick, however, on a technical level, all of the film's other aspects rate between solid and great, and working in conjunction, their combined efforts do manage to dig the flick outta the crater left in the wake of its disjointed story. That said, the lack of a consistent point of view and an abundance of unanswered questions is gonna leave a bad taste in the mouths of some viewers, so if you're thinkin' about watchin' this one it'd be a good idea to ask yourself how important those things are and act accordingly. I know that the lure of an '80s slasher flick is gonna be too much for most folks to resist so I'm not gonna tell ya to skip it, but you should definitely temper your expectations.

Rating: 54%