Pulling Back the “Curtains” on the Modern Slasher

Posted by Erik Luers on 11.1.2013

The producers of the early 80s slasher film Curtains missed a great opportunity when, upon the film’s release, they let slip an almost too good to pass up tagline. An appropriate phrase such as “auditioning can be murder!” or “a part worth dying for!” would’ve sealed the deal on this forgotten film that did, for what it’s worth, have a great poster on its side.

The story is rightly campy, often opening (or closing) scenes with the image of drawing curtains. Jonathan Stryker, a big time Hollywood producer (played by John Vernon) is at work on a film about Audra, a woman who has been sent to the looney bin one too many times. To play the lead role, he has enlisted his lover, Samantha, who will go into a legitimate mental institution to rigorously hone her Method acting skills. If it sounds too good to be true, it is. In a comical twist, Stryker, the womanizer that he is, leaves Samantha in the hospital to rot while he goes about casting his movie with a new lead. He invites six actresses to his house in the woods for a weekend of cold readings, musical beds, and murder. And wouldn’t you know, an unexpected snowstorm prevents people from running for cover, morphing the film into a crossbreed between Agatha Christie and Sean C. Cunningham.

As far as slasher films go, Curtains checks many necessary boxes. A creepy doll is on hand in multiple scenes representing death (it’s the deranged killer’s calling card) and the mask our serial killer dons is effectively unsettling. In one scene, it's even used as part of an acting exercise hearkening back to something out of Noh Theater. It conceals the face but not the eyes. Resembling an old woman and a witch long past her due date, the mysterious killer is so determined to get her prey that she even engages in a chase while wearing ice skates. She also has a bizarre sense of humor: when one of the actresses later lifts up a toilet seat cover, she discovers a decapitated head inside. 

Fans of Uta Hagen and Sanford Meisner would do well to seek Curtains out. The film does pose an interesting question for the struggling actor. What’s worse, dying for your craft or pursuing a career destined for the doldrums of dinner theater?

Curtains
Director: Richard Ciupka

Screens: November 1 at 7:00pm

Scary Movies 7 Official Description:

Method acting runs amok in this underappreciated slasher flick when an aging star (Samantha Eggar) who can’t quite master playing "crazy" decides to check herself into the loony bin for inspiration. Problem is that her regular collaborator, scumbag director Jonathan Stryker (John Vernon), leaves her there so he can hold a weekend casting session at his secluded mansion with six younger, very eager candidates. As the rivalry heats up, a masked lunatic who leaves creepy dolls as death warnings starts offing the women one by one. Is the scorned actress, who has escaped the asylum and crashed the audition bent on getting her role back, also responsible for killing off the competition?

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