Curtains (1983)

Do you remember that Chris Rock joke where he took folks to task for bragging, “I take care of my kids” by countering, “You’re supposed to take care of your kids”? That’s been playing in my head every time I see a review talking about how swell CURTAINS (1983) looks now that it’s been rescued from the VHS (or sloppy ECHO BRIDGE 4 pack) gutter and hosed down for DVD and Blu-Ray. I mean, it’s supposed to look better, right? How could it not? Of course, that was simply the shruggy shawl I had to wear to keep myself warm while I waited for MY COPY to get its slothy molasses ass to my goddamn door and no CURTAINS, don’t bother with excuses and no you can’t have a drink, put your feet up or decompress from your apparently epic journey from the warehouse, shut up and get in my TV!!! Geez, nice of you to drop by. Remember me? The guy you curled up next to when you were feeling all dejected all those years ago on late night cable long before half the viewers you’ve been bonking lately were even born? Wow, for a cult film that barely hobbled its way to the screen due to behind the scenes production problems, you’re really feeling good about yourself lately, aren’t you? I see now you’re considered a classic. How nice for you.

All right, I admit it, now that I have watched my lackadaisical, blowing on its nails, unapologetically tardy copy of CURTAINS, the universe is back in order and I can see exactly what all of the hubbub is about. It’s like this, you can own a worthwhile piece of art but if it’s on the floor covered in dust in a dark room you’re never going to be able to appreciate it fully. Sometimes all a painting needs is for somebody to dust it off, put it in a complimentary frame and hang it in a well-lit space and then voila- it’s a revelation. That’s basically what SYNAPSE FILMS has done with this release. In my book, the laurels still belong to the artist(s) rather than the presenter but SYNAPSE deserves praise for making sure that the incredibly patient fans of this film were not disappointed (and by disappointed I mean storming SYNAPSE headquarters with pitchforks.) CURTAINS’ unique voice is yesterday’s news to its fans but you gotta give respect to this company for handing it a bullhorn and turning up the mic.

Yes, it turns out that CURTAINS, more than your average film, opens up like a flower when it’s getting the sunlight it deserves. That’s because it derives much of its power from its visuals, in a way you’d never know if you’ve only seen what I think we can now refer to as ‘the mud version.’ Who knew CURTAINS was not supposed to be drenched in mud? It’s actually supposed to be drenched in snow, startling white oppressive snow and rain, somber, grey disquieting rain but nope, not mud.

When a movie relies so heavily on its mise-en-scene to cast its moody spell, it deserves if not requires the simple leg up of a decent picture. I’m not going to throw out my VHS copy anytime soon but only because it makes a fine paperweight and I believe it might come in handy squashing the fly I’m currently at war with, otherwise… we’re through. Oh and how about seeing something in its proper ratio rather than all squashed up? CURTAINS does this clever signature scene transition business that involves an actual curtain on screen being pushed aside to provide a sort of wipe. On VHS, it barely registers and only sort of works and now it’s all kinds of lovely awesome and high-five worthy glorious.

Then there’s the infamous ice skating scene which could quite easily be yanked right out the movie and stand successfully on its own as one of the best horror shorts ever made. It’s really incredible. If there was indeed a sensibility clash between the film’s director and producer, I’m on team whoever is responsible for the skating scene.

Our story is about a bunch of young pretty actresses competing with each other for a part once promised to a slightly more mature (you’re welcome SAMANTHA EGGAR) woman who is not happy with being shoved aside. You’d be resentful too if you placed yourself in a mental institution to research a role only to find out that you’ve been unwittingly complicit in your own putting out to pasture. The skating scene, besides being one of the sharpest and most lyrical stalk and slash set pieces ever put to film, works as a perfect little snow globe encapsulating the movies’ themes concerning the specter of aging and the fleeting solace of youth and beauty. You know, that old conveyer belt towards impending death that we call existence.

Christie (LESLEH DONALDSON) goes out on the ice to listen to some tunes, rejoice in her physical talents and hopefully get her mind off of the fact that she attempted to up her chances of winning a coveted role by sleeping with an egomaniacal ice-eyed director (JOHN VERNON) the previous evening. When her music suddenly dies she checks the batteries in her tape player and they fall into the snow and that’s when Christie spies the most curious thing- a doll hand! She pulls the pouty toy out of the ice and it’s as if she’s staring back at her youth. Who might abandon this glaring international symbol of childhood innocence out here in the cold unforgiving world? Maybe she’s lost more than her batteries.

As Christie becomes mesmerized with the quickly growing creepy plaything, she is blinded to what is sinisterly sliding on blades up beside her. Dressed head to toe in black wearing an ugly old hag mask with scraggily withered hair and wielding a harvesting sickle, here comes death! Oh sure, this is a slasher/mystery and we’re supposed to desire to identify who is behind the mask and what their motivations are but frankly, it doesn’t matter, this bit works as a simple, undiluted representation of horror. It’s so pure it could be a mural on a cave.

CURTAINS gets a lot of grief for being disjointed and smudgy in places and in some ways the new DVD can enhance its dueling identities. You end up with this melodramatic yet melancholy base layer with blindsiding splotches of vibrant color almost hovering over it, never fully blending in. But to me, that’s awesome in a contrasting collage type way and the best of both worlds, really. There are plenty of hanging threads and jagged edges and pieces that don’t quit fit, simple scars of the rough terrain this movie that was nearly abandoned was fated to endure. What’s left standing though is this one of a kind strangely enthralling peculiarity whose major crime is wanting to be smart and artsy and taken seriously until the time came that it changed its mind and wanted to be flashy and frightening too. So sue it. Personally, I can only take off my hat and bow before the spirited audacity of attempting an air of sophistication while featuring a decapitated head in a toilet.

Speaking of flashy and frightening, thanks to this new presentation, the famous murder on skates scene may have found some fresh competition itself in the most memorable moment department. Suddenly now with lines sharpened, its neon lights injected with color and its shadow pools deepened the climactic prop room chase now appears like an understudy poised to grab the spotlight. Nah, maybe not. The ice skating scene always wins.

One last thing though, I have to point out that no matter if it’s on VHS, Beta, laserdisc, DVD, Blu-ray or whatever they come up with next, the cast of CURTAINS has always been phenomenal in any format and a gargantuan reason this film has its loyal fan base. JOHN VERNON and SAMANTHA EGGAR are amazing together and it’s a crime against theater that they never, to my knowledge did “WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOLF?” And then there’s LESLEH DONALDSON who lights up whatever film she’s in even if it’s a killer rat movie. But I have to say after my most recent viewing of CURTAINS I realize now, without a shadow of a doubt, that LYNNE GRIFFIN really OWNS this movie. She’s fantastic. She starts out all quirky and self effacing and then there’s this scene where she looses her patience and shows this whole other side to herself and she kills it. I’m telling you, LYNNE stole a scene right out from under VERNON’s nose and then, by gosh, she went and swiped one away from EGGAR too and folks that can’t be easy!

If you never liked this movie this is your chance to like it, if you liked this movie this is your chance to love it and it you loved this movie, chances are you already own this revamped game-changer version and very likely got a chance to check it out long before me. How nice for you.

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Wednesday's Child
8 years ago

What a great tribute to one of the best slashers of all time! I wish there was a blurb on the new box quoting you as saying, “Personally, I can only take off my hat and bow before the spirited audacity of attempting an air of sophistication while featuring a decapitated head in a toilet.”

Matt Sunshine
Matt Sunshine
8 years ago

Agree with Wednesday’s Child, great write up…as always. It always blows my mind when a Canadian film is praised by any American (you’d probably have to be Canadian to understand). It’s about time Curtains had a proper release too. I wonder if they’ll ever get to Cathy’s Curse or The Pit.