Curtains is very much a lost classic of the ‘80s. It is a bit bizarre and a little unorthodox for a slasher picture but it does still cling to many of the horror film tropes fans have come to know and love. The flick follows a director who holds an audition for a coveted film role at his mansion. Once the ladies he has selected to audition arrive, there is conflict amongst them but the bickering soon escalates to murder. At this point, the film enters giallo-inspired, whodunit slasher territory.
One of the things the film succeeds brilliantly at is cinematography. The ice skating scene is beautifully photographed and much more artistic than what I typically expect from a lower-budget slasher film. The skating sequence is intense and the camerawork only serves to increase the tension quotient. We see the killer, disguised in a hag mask, stalking his or her prey. The sequence starts with grand sweeping shots and the camerawork gradually becomes more frenetic, claustrophobic, and terrifying. The killer ultimately begins to move in slow motion and the effect is palpable.
Another factor that makes Curtains stand out from the pack is director Richard Ciupka’s (billed under the pseudonym Jonathan Stryker) decision to use such an unusual and memorable mask on the killer. The hag mask is unique and frightening. The mask is also helpful in that it gives Ciupka the opportunity to show full on shots of his killer and keep their identity a secret–building upon the viewer’s mounting sense of dread.
The casting is pretty impressive: The film secured John Vernon (Dirty Harry), Lynn Griffin (Black Christmas), and Samantha Eggar (The Brood). But in spite of good casting, performance-wise, the viewer gets what they would expect from low-budget horror feature. Some of the performances are fair, some of them are below average, and others are entirely too hammed up. But, in retrospect, that lends a cheeky charm to the flick.
The effects aren’t anything exceptional. Some of the deaths were likely toned down due to budgetary limitations but they still get the job done. Most of the magic of Curtains lies in what the viewer does not see, anyway. The film is heavy on atmosphere and builds somewhat of a claustrophobic vibe with all of the characters trapped in a house together. The tone of the film is unsettling from start to finish. The score, cinematography, and editing make for a very high level of ambiance throughout.
Curtains is often overlooked when the conversation turns to slasher films. It wasn’t available on DVD for a very long time and then, for many years, it was only available as part of a 4-pack with three other titles that aren’t worth your time. The good news is that Synapse secured distribution rights to the picture several years ago and were able to get ahold of the original print. They painstakingly restored the film frame-by-frame for its impressive Blu-ray release.
If you have managed to overlook Curtains, this film is a must watch for horror fans. Its creativity and clever camerawork, alone, make it worth the watch.
Director(s): Richard Ciupka
Writer(s): Robert Guza Jr.
Stars: John Vernon, Linda Thorson, Samantha Eggar
Studio/ Production Co: Jensen Farley Pictures
Budget: $3.7 Million (Estimated)
Length: 89 Minutes