Cult Movie Retrospective: Curtains (1983)

“Six beautiful girls, trying to get ahead… when the curtains fall, five will be dead.”

Samantha Sherwood has worked with the well-known director Jonathan Stryker on all his major films. She naturally assumes she has been given the title role in his latest venture, “Audra”. He tells her that she needs to do some background research on the part, so arranges to have her committed to an asylum (as Audra is a former psychiatric patient). She goes along with this, not realizing that he intends to leave her there indefinitely and audition six young women of various professions for the part instead. She finally manages to escape, and returns to the spooky old mansion where the auditions are taking place. But who is causing the disappearances of the young hopefuls? Is it Samantha? Stryker? Or is one of the actresses willing to kill for the coveted part? Just who is the killer behind the old-hag mask?

Like many of its contemporaries, CURTAINS has a few quirks that allows for a quick filing in the slasher database. This is the one that’s snowbound (something few can boast), a fact that’s most memorable due to a sequence featuring ice skating. Beyond this, though, it also manages a few more interesting aspects; once you’ve seen so many of these things, perhaps that’s what you gravitate towards – neat, interesting traits. More often than not, the actual quality of a slasher movie is dubious on most real levels, so it’s wise to just accept that the best they have to offer is cool ish that will set them apart from each other. CURTAINS does a good job at that, if nothing else.

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.

Indeed, it’s no secret that Curtains suffered a nightmare production that was riddled with problems. 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, which apparently was an alternate ending that Simpson claims never really worked; however it makes for a disturbing image. At one point, the film was rumored to be ‘unreleasable’, but it eventually was released in 1983, three-years after shooting had begun. It sank without trace upon release, however, the film got a second lease of life on VHS eventually turning it into a cult classic. It is now considered to be one of the better entries from the peak-period.

All in all, not only is Curtains beautiful to look at, includes cool deaths and a weird structure, it also manages to make a light statement on the whole “casting couch” thing [insert Harvey Weinstein joke]. As the tagline says: “BEHIND EVERY CURTAIN, SOMEONE IS WATCHING… SOMEONE IS WAITING!” It has its flaws but if you’re a horror fan you should give Curtains a try… or a pull.

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