Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Curtains (1982)

Directed by:
"Jonathan Styker" (Richard Ciupka)

Here's yet another Canadian entry in the early 80s slasher cycle. It's from the same producer of PROM NIGHT (1980) and is less famous than most others in its subgenre, such as TERROR TRAIN (1979) or MY BLOODY VALENTINE (1981). The production history was a troubled one. Curtains actually began filming in 1980, but production was shut down for upwards of a year. One of the main roles was recast, there were numerous re-shoots and the completed film (which certainly shows all the tell-tale signs of its checkered past) wasn't even released in 1983. The reviews were dismal, the producer claims to have filmed at least half of the movie sans credit and the director opted to have his name removed from the credits (and replaced by the name of the film's fictitious director character 'Jonathan Stryker'). Everything opens somewhat promisingly. Famous actress Samantha Sherwood (Samantha Eggar) is set to star as a madwoman in a thriller called Audra. Director and frequent collaborator Jonathan Stryker (John Vernon) brings her into an insane asylum, where she promptly attacks him with a knife, is restrained and put in a straight jacket by the hospital staff. Turns out that Samantha and Jonathan has just faked everything so she can be locked away and 'research' her upcoming role. However, Jonathan decides to just leave Samantha in the nuthouse and cast someone else as Audra.

A casting call is placed in Variety and Jonathan narrows down the possible leads to six actresses, who are summoned to a remote, snowbound mansion for an extended period of time to try out for the role. Amongst the candidates for the high-profile gig are wisecracking, pot-smoking stand-up comedienne Patti O'Connor (Lynne Griffin, from the superior Canadian slasher BLACK CHRISTMAS), fragile dancer Laurian Summers (Anne Ditchburn) and naive champion figure skater Christie Burns (Lesleh Donaldson, from FUNERAL HOME). There's also miserable, desperate veteran actress Brooke Parsons (Linda Thorson, who was best known for replacing Diana Rigg on the last few seasons of The Avengers), who's been hitting the bottle a little too hard recently and claims she "would kill for the part," and magazine centerfold Tara DeMillo ("Sandra Warren" aka Sandee Currie, from the aforementioned Terror Train), who's not above using her feminine wiles to secure the role. The sixth actress, Amanda (Deborah Burgess), is getting bored of acting out rape and pizza delivery boy fantasies with her boyfriend. Good thing for her some psycho sneaks into her apartment and stabs her to death before she even has a chance to make it to Stryker's audition. Meanwhile, Samantha has managed to escape from the mental institution with help from her friend.

Stryker (who seems most interested in bedding the hopefuls than actually casting the movie), an already-cast lead actor (Michael Wincott), the five remaining actresses and Samantha (who shows up presumably to either fight for the role of Audra - after all she was the one who purchased the rights to it - or get revenge on Stryker) end up stranded at the mansion after a bad snow storm. A killer decked out in a wrinkly old lady mask and stringy wig begins bumping them off one by one. Naturally, there are no shortage of suspects, as basically everyone has a possible reason to either trim the competition or ruin the production before it can actually begin.

Most of the actors are talented, the killer's mask is pretty creepy-looking and there are a handful of effective scenes; including the asylum scenes with Eggar (aside from several visible boom mic shots) and a great sequence on an ice rink where the killer skates toward one of his/her victims brandishing a scythe. There's also a chase scene inside a room full of movie props which lasts a whopping twelve minutes if you're into that kind of thing. Otherwise, this is a tame, middling, dreary film with mediocre writing and pacing issues. Very slow-moving for the duration of its runtime, this starts getting a bit chaotic toward the end. In recent years, many slasher fans have elevated this to classic status (possibly because of its obscurity for several decades and belated release to DVD), but I can't say that I personally agree. It's watchable, with some good moments sprinkled throughout, but ultimately nothing special. I'd still like to see a better quality version and will reevaluate it if I do. Maury Chaykin and Kate Lynch (the stars of DEF-CON 4) have small roles.

Trivia Note: Future Playboy Playmate of the Year, late night cable soft-core queen and Mrs. Gene Simmons, Shannon Tweed, provided some brief topless body doubling.

The DVD I watched (which was a poor, dark transfer from a VHS source) was released by Echo Bridge Home Entertainment. It's contained on their release "The Midnight Horror Collection: Bloody Slashers" and is paired on one disc with HOBOKEN HOLLOW (2005), SECRETS OF THE CLOWN (2007) and ROOM 33 (2009).


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