It’s incredible that it has taken this long to get a good release of 1983’s Curtains. Despite its faults, the slasher gained a life of its own in the ’80s on TV and VHS, turning the B-movie in a bona fide cult classic. It quietly made its DVD debut in a low budget pack via Echo Bridge in 2010, but the transfer was no better than the bootlegs that had been circulating for years. Thankfully, the heroes at Synapse Films have delivered the Blu-ray and DVD for which fans have been clamoring.
In Curtains, Hollywood starlet Samantha Sherwood (Samantha Eggar, The Brood) becomes a method actress of the highest degree: she pretends to be mentally unstable in order to get institutionalized. This is done to prepare for her lead in Audra, the highly-anticipated new film from her director and lover Jonathon Stryker (John Vernon, Dirty Harry). While she’s locked up, Stryker – the only person in on her ruse – goes behind Samantha’s back and begins recasting.
There are six actresses in the running for the coveted role: Brooke (Linda Thorson), Patti (Lynne Griffin, Black Christmas), Laurian (Anne Ditchburn) Tara (Sandee Currie, Terror Train), Christie (Lesleh Donaldson, Happy Birthday to Me) and Amanda (Deborah Burgess). That is, until Samantha escapes the institution and crashes the unusual casting session. Wouldn’t you know it, the actresses begin being picked off one by one. The killer’s identity is left a mystery until the end. Although Samantha is the obvious choice, it could just as easily be the power-hungry Stryker, one of the jealous actresses or the caretaker (Michael Wincott, The Crow).
Curtains was produced by Peter R. Simpson, hot on the heels of his success with another Canadian slasher, Prom Night. He wanted Curtains to be another hit, but director Richard Ciupka had a different vision. A cinematographer by trade, Ciupka made his directorial debut with Curtains. He wanted an artistic take on the genre but made some rookie mistakes along the way. The spat caused Simpson to reshoot somewhere around half the movie (possible more, depending on who you ask) without Ciupka long after the film initially wrapped. The result turned the script, written Robert Guza Jr. (who received a story credit on Prom Night), into a movie that applies teenage themes to an adult cast.
It’s impossible to say who was ultimately right in the debate between Ciupka and Simpson. It’s more lavish than many of its contemporaries, thanks to Ciupka’s strong visual sense and his talented director of photography Robert Paynter (An American Werewolf in London). Yet the two most memorable set pieces – the now-iconic slow motion ice skating sequence and a chase scene through a prop house – were directed by Simpson during reshoots. We’re left with a happy medium between slasher tropes and stylish visuals.
Although the production was problematic, Curtains is underrated in the annals of slashers. It may not be particularly scary, even by slasher standards, but it has one of the genre’s creepiest killers: a person wearing a an old “hag” mask, often wielding a hand sickle and luring in its prey with a lifelike doll. It had serious franchise potential that, unfortunately, was never realized.
Like the making of the film, the Blu-ray restoration was a painstaking process, but the labor of love paid off. Synapse’s release of Curtains is a strong contender for best catalogue Blu-ray of the year. The 2K transfer from an original negative looks gorgeous in high-definition. It’s accompanied by a new 5.1 surround sound mix (in addition to the original mono track). This is a far cry from the bootlegs with which we’ve been stuck for far too long.
The disc includes a 35-minute documentary made up of new interviews with cast and crew members. Many of them confess they thought the movie would never be released due to the treacherous production, and some spent years embarrassed by it. Now, however, they stand proudly behind the effort. There’s a vintage, 15-minute featurette shot on set about Ciupka’s transition into directing as well.
Griffin and Donaldson also particulate in a new audio commentary. The former hadn’t seen the movie in some 15 years, so she reacts excitedly to the new transfer as her memory kicks in. There’s nothing groundbreaking, but it’s fun to listen as the women reminiscence. A second partial commentary is made up of archival audio interviews with the Simpson and Eggar. The quality isn’t great, but it’s interesting to get their perspectives. Simpson, who passed away in 2007, is a straight talker. Eggar (absent from bonus material otherwise), on the other hand, is rather brief.
The wait for an official release of Curtains was worth it, as Synapse has lovingly crafted the definitive version of the cult favorite. Finally, slasher enthusiasts can witness this underrated gem in all its glory. This is a must-own for any fan of the golden era of slashers.