Curtains is just one of dozens of slashers I saw way back in the early 80s on cable. As with every other person who actually knows of this film, I was forever scarred by the ice skating scene. And it’s just as fricking freaky today as it was nearly then. And the rest of the film is pretty much just as awesome.
Curtains doesn’t start out like your usual slasher film. Samantha Eggar, who did really nasty things with her afterbirth in The Brood, is a welcome face (free of placenta drippings) in another horror movie. She plays an actress having herself committed to a mental institution as research for a film role. She plans to rock the world of her director friend, played by John Vernon, who appeared in classics like Animal House and Airplane II. Unfortunately, the director has plans of his own—leave the bitch in the mental institution and bring a whole bunch of young women to his secluded home in the mountains to “audition” them!
Initially, it seems like Curtains is going to be all about Samantha in the mental institution. It’s a very effective and trippy sequence that really captures the lunacy. But next thing you know, Samantha has escaped the institution. We don’t know how, although she does talk to a friend whose face we never see. The reason for these loose ends and others in the film might be because the film apparently began shooting in 1980, went through drastic problems and changes, and was then completed in 1983.
But even with all its production issues, the film is still fricking scary! Samantha heads up to the director’s home, because she’ll “kill” for this part. She’ll stand a better chance if someone knocks off the competition: all the hot young be-otches already there. Conveniently, someone begins doing just that, leaving us with a traditional early 80s slasher with awesome orchestral musical cues that sound like they were ripped right from the original Prom Night. I learned why—same composer! Smart move.
This is one of those horror films that leaves an impression because of its visual effectiveness. First, we have this fricking doll. This doll looks miserable. She has these hollow, lifeless eyes (I know, it’s a doll, but still) and a frowning mouth. She also appears in the oddest of places—right before someone gets killed. At least, for the first half of the film. Then she loses her head and we never see her again. One instance of her appearance is mega creepy, and although you can see it coming from a mile away, I still almost peed myself at the jump scare. Damn you, brilliant composer!
The film’s second major advantage over most slashers of that era is the mask. This fricking old lady mask looks so detailed, with stringy, flyaway hair, that once you see it, you’ll never forget it. And seriously, when a bitch can ice skate in slow motion in broad daylight and still be uber freaky, you know you’ve hit gold with your choice of mask. Why couldn’t THIS film have become a decades-long franchise?
Aside from typical slasher clichés (including the actress who is the first to die in the original 1974 Black Christmas!), the film also has somewhat of a House on Haunted Hill feel (the original). The women gathered at this director’s home begin to see and suspect things are horribly wrong, but the director tries to make them think they are crazy and just imagining it. In an interesting break from standard slasher practices, this film doesn’t have us fully connecting with one particular final girl! Any one of them could be the chosen one by the end. In that sense, the film attempts to be more of a whodunit, making us wonder which be-otch did it rather than which one is going to get away.
Being a slasher isn’t the only reason this is classic 80s. There’s a perfect reference to Pac-Man…with sexual connotations, no less. Hot. And when a white chick hefts a big-assed boombox through the snowy wilderness to a frozen pond to ice skate, you KNOW it can only be the 80s. I nearly popped wood at that splendid vision of tape technology magnificence. Moments later, I was flaccid with terror because of the arrival of the skating granny….
Curtains also has something else in common with Prom Night: a fantastic chase scene. Near the end of the film, one of the women is stalked in a dark and creepy film studio loaded with eerie red herring props. EEK! And when she hides in a vent to escape the killer granny, you’d never predict what’s going to happen. Quite original for 1983.
Finally, the film comes to an interesting reveal. Again, it might seem a bit cliché by today’s standards, but back in 1983, it was a pretty sweet twist. In fact, it was a nice little conglomerate of twists. And it’s not even the most tidy of resolutions—you do scratch your head for a minute trying to piece it all together. It’s one of those where you kind of guessed the ending, but not quite….