Curtains (1983) ***
D: Richard Ciupka
C: John Vernon, Samantha Eggar, Linda Thorson, Anne Ditchburn, Lynne Griffin, Lesleh Donaldson, Sandee Currie
Plot Synopsis: Six young actresses, auditioning for a movie role, at a remote mansion, are targeted by a mysterious masked murderer.
Review: Curtains is a film that struggles with what it wants to be. In the first act, we watch as renowned actress, Samantha Sherwood (Eggar), has herself committed to an insane asylum, in order to research her latest role. It's in this asylum setting that Sherwood's own mental state starts to crumble before her.
While the first act isn't perfect, it does present an interesting idea. What lengths do actors & actresses go in order to become the characters that they play on screen. What separates good actors & actresses from the crazies. After all, in order to truly embody a troubled film character, they have to tap into the darker side of human nature, but at what cost?
This eventually leads to Samantha Sherwood discovering that she's been abandoned, at the asylum, by the film's director and that he's recasting her part, during a closed audition process, at an isolated mansion. Wanting both revenge and to not let her role slip into someone else's hands, Sherwood breaks out and, much to the shock of everyone else, joins the other actresses auditioning. It's during this audition process, that the other actresses are picked off on by one.
It's here, that the cracks start to show as the film switches gears from being a psychological thriller to a slasher. As a result of the film switching focus, story wise, the first act of the film, involving Samantha Sherwood, feels as though it was included to (A.) help pad out the film -and- (B.) to create an additional red herring in the form of Samantha Sherwood.
Sure, the film continues on with this whole movie angle thing as actresses audition for the film within a film, but it's treated in the most cliche way possible. The film's director is a narcissist, who sleeps with the women and exploits there vulnerability and nothing more. A few of the characters are given defining characteristics, but most of them, are simply there to serve as extra fodder for the slasher film story, so much so, that they barely have any lines.
That's not to say that all is lost. In terms of suspense, the film's slasher elements deliver the goods and then some. One of the earlier scenes involves a woman walking in the middle of an isolated highway, during the middle of a raging thunder storm. Curtains taps into that sense of being in a strange setting, in a confused situation and uses it to create a thrilling horror film moment.
Or, in another scene, a character goes off to skate on a frozen pond. It's early morning. The sun is out. The ground is covered in snow. It looks like something straight out of a fairy tale. Then all of a sudden, this masked figure, who dons an old hag mask, comes out of nowhere to stalk this character. The juxtaposition of this beautiful setting vs this nightmarish scenario makes this scene all the more effective.
Curtains is a film that knows what it's doing, in terms of delivering horror & suspense, and continues to do so, in many other effectively staged scenes involving the killer chasing his victims to be. This includes a doll, that appears during all of the murder scenes, which represents the loss of innocence for the characters being off'ed and the costuming of the killer, a person who dons a grotesque Halloween mask, both of which, are strikingly utilized throughout. Credit also goes out to Paul Zaza, who's score accentuates the film's suspense in all the right moments.
....Still, we can't talk about Curtains, without talking about it's troubled production. The film's director struggled with the producer on forming a guiding principal for the film. As a result, the director was either fired or quit during filming. Filming shut down and re-writes were commissioned during this delay. Then, two years later, the rest of the movie was filmed and released to little fanfare.
To say that the film is a hodgepodge of various ideas, stitched together, is an understatement. The film starts out in one direction, ends up going in another. None of it gels. The initial setup feels like a missed opportunity. When the second half of the film tries to incorporate elements from the initial setup, its all rather clumsily handled, especially during a scene involving one of the characters being shot to death and falling out a window.
Even though the story, at hand, is a glorious mess, Curtains still manages to retain an intriguing quality. To put it simply, I wanted to know how all of this was going to play out, even when the story jerked me around in a thousand different directions. Curtains might get a lot of things wrong, but what it does get right, it does so quite well. So well, in fact, that I was willing to go along for the ride. [R] 89 mins.
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