I have to come clean. Until last week, I was a Curtains virgin. That’s right; the guy who says he’s seen it all didn’t see this one. I really don’t have any excuses. I mean, it was always sitting there on the shelf of our local video store (one of those mom & pop joints that preceded Blockbuster), and even popped up on cable semi-regularly, but, for one reason or another, I just never got around to checking it.
But you know what? Now that I’ve seen the flick I’m actually glad it took me the better part of three decades to finally do so. Why? Well, for starters, I don’t think the brain-dead adolescent version of myself had the good taste to appreciate the film for what it is (more on that later), but I’m also pretty damned jazzed that my first exposure to it was through Synapse’s absolutely stunning Blu-ray.
Curtains opens with legendary theater actress Samantha Sherwood (Samantha Eggar) performing a bit from “Audra”, the play she’s helped option for her collaborator/director/occasional paramour, Jonathan Stryker (John Vernon). Stryker doesn’t feel that Samantha has the authenticity he wants to see in his main character, so, being the method actor she is, she enlists the director’s help in getting herself institutionalized for a period so that she can truly identify with Audra’s complicated personality. At first, her experiment seems to be working, but, the longer she’s incarcerated, the more she succumbs to her own personal demons, thus leading to a much longer stay than anticipated. In the meantime, Stryker decides to move on with his production, and schedules an intense, weekend-long audition for a select group of actresses. When Samantha gets the news, she escapes from the mental hospital, and makes her way to Stryker’s remote mountain retreat, where the auditions are being held. Stryker is none too pleased by the arrival of Samantha, but, soon, they discover they’ve more to worry about than a washed-up diva as, one by one, the aspiring actresses fall victim to a masked menace hellbent on thinning the competition.
Being new to Curtains, I didn’t expect such an elegant and methodically paced thriller; one that shares far more in common with the Italian gialli than the prototypical slasher flick. From its mature protagonists and somewhat soap-ish melodrama to the gorgeous cinematography by Robert Paynter ( who employs lots of nifty camera tricks and bathes scenes in the same sort of colorful theatrical lighting employed by the likes of Bava and Argento). I also found the kills to be very giallo-esque, with the emphasis on style rather than gore (especially the “ice skating” sequence, which is just jaw-droppingly well executed stuff). Performances are also uncharacteristically strong, which is another reason I just can’t lump this one in with the slasher films of the period, which, as any fan will tell you, aren’t known for their master thespians. Eggar and Vernon aren’t B-movie types, and both deliver really nuanced and solid performances that are complimented by the supporting cast of assorted lovelies, especially
While the production was a notoriously troubled one – so much so that director Richard Ciupka refused to put his name on it, opting to be credited, instead, as Jonathan Stryker. Despite this, the film is remarkably “whole”, especially in light of the reported reshoots and structural changes, and there’s no noticeable gap in quality or holes in the story (at least no more so than your average genre offering).
Synapse Films brings Curtains to Blu-ray with an absolutely GORGEOUS 1.78:1 2K HD transfer that I have no doubt will blow minds. While I’m 34 years late to the party, I have seen stills of the film culled from the various VHS and horrible DVD versions that have been floating around out there, and the difference here is nothing short of astonishing. The image is exceptional in every way, from the vibrant colors and perfectly balanced contrast to the scrumptious amount of fine detail evident in every frame; this is one to write home about, folks.
In terms of audio, we’re given two options; the purists 2.0 mono track, as well as a surprisingly authentic sounding 5.1 DTS HD track that manages to retain the vintage vibe while still giving us some well-implemented directional cues and atmospherics. I don’t often recommend these “manufactured” tracks as I’m one of those aforementioned purists, but this one sounds dynamite!
Synapse loads up this Special Edition release with a slew of quality bonus features, including a feature-length commentary track with actresses Lesleh Donaldson and Lynne Griffin, as well as an alternate vintage track featuring Samantha Eggar and producer, Peter R. Simpson.
We also get a brand new retrospective featurette entitled The Ultimate Nightmare: The Making of Curtains, which includes interviews with Ciupka, Donaldson, Griffin, and many other contributors. It’s a fascinating and in-depth look at what the film was intended to be and what it ultimately became, and the contributors offer some great insight into every facet of making the film, from planning to post-production and release.
Another great addition to the set is Gordon Thorne’s vintage piece Ciupka: A Filmmaker in Transition, which sports a lot of behind-the-scenes footage from Curtains.
Rounding out the extras is the film’s theatrical trailer.
Curtains is an absolute gem. It’s a classy, surprisingly mature, and gorgeously photographed thriller that, in my opinion, owes more to the Italian suspense films of the seventies than to more crowd-pleasing blood and boobs flicks that dominated the multiplexes at the time. Synapse’s Blu-ray presentation is nothing short of perfection, and comes loaded with a fantastic collection of informative and entertaining bonus goodies. Suffice it to say, this one gets my highest recommendation!