Curtains 1983 Review
Directed by: Richard Ciupka/Peter Simpson
Starring: John Vernon, Samantha Eggar, Linda Thornson, Lynne Griffin, Lesleh Donaldson
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
This is one of the few slasher flicks that I actually ‘grew up with.’ Now I say few, because now I own over 600 titles, but back before the internet and keeping in mind that not all video shopkeepers would supply 18-rated flicks to a ten-year-old boy, my options were somewhat limited. I had a small collection of VHS that I bought from my backstreet rental store (the only one locally that would sell to me) in Hackney and they were Curtains, Small Town Massacre, Whodunit?, Halloween, The Unseen, Massacre at Central High, Friday the 13th 6 and Stagefright. I watched these over and over back in those days and this has always been one of my favourites.
It was initially planned that Curtains would be the directorial debut of Richard Ciupka, a cinematographer that had worked on various cult-movies throughout the seventies and was the main camera operator on the excellent Giallo, Blood Relatives from 1982. In the end though, the movie was shot in two parts, with the second half having to be completed by producer Peter Simpson after an artistic disagreement saw Ciupka leave the shoot. This marked Simpson and his team’s second venture into the then-popular territory of the slasher genre. Their participation explained the healthy budget, excellent back-drop and also the contribution of Paul Zaza, a highly regarded composer from that era.
It’s no secret that Curtains suffered a nightmare production that was riddled with problems, which began when lead actress Celine Lamez was sacked halfway through the shoot. Reports have said that the producers were disappointed with her acting abilities and that she became awkward after two days on set. Linda Thornson was drafted in as her replacement, but footage had to be re-shot with the substitute actress and this stretched the budget and began a spiral of misfortune. It resulted in various script changes and eventually the mutual termination of Ciupka’s contract. Peter Simpson would later note that he had set out to make an adult slasher movie, whilst Ciupka had the intention to deliver more of an artistic approach. The two of them holding totally different cinematic ideas meant that the collaboration was jinxed from the start.
Many scenes ended up on the cutting room floor, which explains the numerous stills that hint at parts that never appeared in the final print. One of these shows the killer surrounded by the bodies of his victims and I’ve learned that it was an alternate ending that Simpson claims never really worked; however it makes for a disturbing image. At one point, the film was rumoured to be ‘unreleasable’, but it eventually went public in 1983, three-years after shooting had begun. It sank without trace upon release and failed to become the follow up to Prom Night that many had predicted. Much like the fate that befell The Shawshank Redemption, a second lease of life on VHS has made Curtains something of a cult-classic and it is now considered to be one of the better entries from the peak-period.
Six actresses head up to a secluded mansion in the Canadian Rockies to audition for the part of Audra, a highly regarded script from renowned director Jonathan Stryker. In the end only five arrive as it becomes apparent that a masked killer has targeted the production with a bizarre vengeance against the stars.
Curtains certainly has more than its fair share of noteworthy moments and is a highly authentic entry that shares no close resemblance to any of its genre brethren. It truly stands alone as an individual stalk and slash experience that demands respect for its ability to keep tension running at an impressive altitude throughout the feature. The awe-inspiring second killing ranks highly as one of the most creatively handled slaughters from the genre’s peak. The photography and structure of the scene is at times breathtaking and Simpson’s work is reminiscent of Argento’s.
The final chase sequence is equally as suspenseful and utilises a superb use of illumination and claustrophobic trappings to create a fitting finale. The dimly lighted prop-room location gives the director a chance to shine as he makes the most of some ingenious decor and creates a memorable collage of striking images. I especially liked the flashing lights revealing the killer hiding in the back of a beaten-up Mini and then when the camera momentarily returns, he has disappeared. Curtains manages to build a truly spooky atmosphere and it’s perhaps one of the creepier entries of the early eighties. The imagery of empty corridors help to build a feeling of isolation and the film succeeds in sustaining a mood that I cannot remember finding in even the best pieces that I’ve sat through. Using a doll as a ‘calling card’ for the arrival of the maniac showed a neat flair for the macabre and it’s a shame that it was only used twice. On top of that, we have the magnificent Paul Zaza’s score, which is the cherry on top of an unique, if slightly jumbled thriller.
Another bonus is the good work from the cast, which is filled with actors that have far more undiscovered talent than any kind of reputation or A-list credibility. John Vernon makes a competent – if a little theatrical – lead, never once pleading for audience-sympathy, whilst Eggar does a good job as the essential red herring (or is she?). But it’s Lynne Griffin who really steals the show. The dynamic little Canadian actress delivers a fantastic portrayal, which sees her effortlessly switch between emotions of anxiety, fear, insecurity and anger. She even takes the time to include a stand up comedy routine…no really.
A film with such a turbulent production is bound to have its share of flaws and Curtains is a case in point. Even though we’re unable to tell exactly how much the shoot was affected by the unfortunate occurrences, the fact that it was finally released under a director pseudonym proves that it certainly wasn’t a smooth process. Some of the characters are laughably under developed and a couple even remain nameless. (A sequence that offered a back story for Christie didn’t make the final print). It’s impossible to pick your choice for the surviving girl, because not one of the actresses has enough screen time to display their individual persona, which has an indisputable effect on the mystery.
It is a surprise when the killer is revealed, but to be honest, it could have been absolutely anybody, because we’re not offered any solid leads or motives. What’s really needed is a total rehash of the picture from the raw footage or the ‘dailies’ – so to speak. Then we could get a true look at how the feature was planned in the director’s vision. The recent death of Peter Simpson and the fact that Curtains is a combination of two vastly opposing ideas has made this unlikely, but we can never give up hope.
Until then, what we’re left with is a movie that could and should have been, but never was. It has its moments, a few of them outstanding, but just falls a few hurdles short of being recognised as a true classic. Definitely amongst the top-ten of the eighties’ best slashers, but it’s painful to think that it should have been in the top three…
Killer Guise: √√√√√
Final Girl √√
Posted on October 11, 2011, in Slasher, Top 50 Slashers and tagged Canada, Canuxploitation, Curtains, hidden gem, Lesleh Donaldson, masked killer, Rare Slasher, Whodunit?. Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.