Review: Curtains (1983)
Director: Jonathan Stryker
Writer: Robert Guza Jr.
Starring: John Vernon, Samantha Eggar, Linda Thorson, Annie Ditchburn and Lynne Griffin
“What makes you think you’re right for Audra?” – Jonathan Stryker
Casting Jonathan Stryker’s (John Vernon) film “Audra” is serious business. Seasoned actress Samantha Sherwood (Samantha Eggar) even goes as far as committing herself to an insane asylum in preparation for the much coveted lead role. But Stryker isn’t fully committed to Sherwood as he assembles several aspiring young actresses in his remote (and icy) location to audition for the role of Audra. Among them is a killer in a hag mask who slices down the competition…one by one.
“Curtains” is a film of two distinct styles. One is a murder mystery with heavy emphasis on mood, lighting and atmosphere while the other one goes for the jugular in stalk ’n slash mode so popular at the time. Director Jonathan Stryker (same name as Vernon’s in the movie – get it!) however doesn’t fully combine the two very successfully as the film is a visual mess, stylistic mess and, mostly, an incoherent mess at that. Not that that’s a bad thing mind you!
The fact is director Jonathan Stryker is actually Belgian director Richard Ciupka and producer Peter R. Simpson. Given mostly free reigns with a simple enough slasher formula; Ciupka delivered an artistic mood piece (albeit with some knockout set pieces) that didn’t please Simpson too much along with his cut being far too short for a feature film. “Curtains” was shelved for two years and re-shot with a new beginning, stuff in the middle and a revised ending. How could this possibly turn out well? Well; it wasn’t a hit or a critical darling but as the years pass the film’s cult appeal has blossomed and today it’s thought of as a well worthy discovery for slasher/murder mystery fans.
It is pretty incomprehensible and would undoubtedly have worked better as a simple slasher with the icy surroundings, a fantastic and creepy looking hag mask and those fine murder set pieces. Ciupka has a flair for visuals and crafts excellent murder set pieces but the pacing is off and the staging of simple things; i.e. dinner party, rehearsal gatherings and just simple conversations between individuals look artificially staged. Those interested should just take one look at the murder scene involving the killer and victim on ice skates and see just it escalates and climaxes with fiery tension to see Ciupka has a talent for this…although he claims not to like horror films and wouldn’t want to do another one. In the end though the off kilter atmosphere of the goings on in with the director and the actresses becomes a plus as the film makes little to no sense.
Since there’s no commentary to spell everything out viewers don’t exactly know what Ciupka shot and what Simpson did but the tonal difference is particularly striking in the denouement when all logic goes out the window (and two set pieces were combined into one that must be seen to be believed) along with a stalking and chase sequence that looks completely different visually and more akin to the slasher films of the day. That particular sequence, done by Simpson to tack on an ending of sorts, is admittedly well done and fairly stylish in execution so on the whole “Curtains” scores big on set pieces; by either director.
The film is decently acted by most although they seem a bit lost on occasion. Eggar makes the biggest impression as the seasoned actress but Vernon seems to embrace the weirdness of the part and actually looks like he’s on to something lost on everyone else. Lynne Griffith is also pretty effective.
While a complete mess; “Curtains” is an enjoyable mess with some obvious highlights, some definite low points that, in the end, actually enhance the whole since the movie projects an overall weird vibe that entices viewers to think there’s actually some hidden brilliance behind all this. Which there probably isn’t but maybe on third, fourth or fifth viewings something will click and all this will make sense.
“Curtains” was issued on Blu-ray from Synapse Films back in 2014. The A/V quality is absolutely top notch and the company enjoys a fabulous reputation in the Blu-ray business. There are a few extras and the best is a retrospective documentary that features candid discussions on the film by Ciupka and Griffith among others.
Why physical copy?
I always encourage the acquisition of physical copies as I dread the day when films will only exist as files on computers and through streaming services. The companies that put the effort into making the discs, create new artwork or reproduce the originals, issue booklets and much more deserve all the financial support they can. Therefore, I will always mention the Blu-rays or DVD’s (and yes; also, if I review something streamed through Netflix or the like) even though I gain nothing from it personally.