Released in the middle between the end of the Slasher Golden Years and the start of the studio-funded Slasher generics, is 1983’s Curtains. Two parts psychological thriller and one part stalk and slash, Curtains is a real treat for viewers who are patient with their horrors and for all those who enjoy feeling the hairs on the back of their neck stand on end.
Jonathan Stryker is dying to direct his new film project ‘Audra.’ Based on a powerful screenplay in which an actress goes mad, Stryker is so determined to capture the best performance possible for the role that he helps convince doctors that famous film-star Samantha Sherwood has gone insane. Sherwood, in on the plan, agrees to be locked up with psychologically deranged mental patients in order to better her twisted Audra performance. Things do not go according to plan however, when Stryker abandons Sherwood in the asylum and continues to cast for the now green-lit film. In an unusual casting call, Stryker invites six beautiful actresses to join him at his private New England mansion over the weekend so they can all vie for the highly sought-after role. They’re willing to do almost anything for the part... lie, steal, even offer sex. But someone is willing to go even farther. Someone’s willing to kill.
Though it takes its time getting started, Curtains really works. The premise, though a tad unbelievable, is a good one and totally sufficient in providing an isolated location where our killer can secretly stalk and kill these beautiful women. The film is most definitely a slasher in this respect, with a considerably powerful hook to its death sequences. For most of the murders, the victims are generally forewarned that something is not right before they are attacked by having a doll placed in the area around them. Similar to a toddler’s baby-doll, the use of such a doll is incredibly creepy within the film as it is often presented outdoors or partially buried in the snow. The doll’s expression is one of sadness which, along with its arms outstretched, is enough to convey the sense of doom. It is at this point when the killer strikes; wearing a grotesque old-woman mask and carrying a scythe. One murder sequence in particular stands out in Curtains, consisting of Lesleh Donaldson (Funeral Home) ice-skating on a frozen lake only to then be chased (and finally killed) by the masked maniac. It is a highly suspenseful moment, coupled by the creepiness of the mask and filmed in slow-motion to further heighten the effect. The other murders, while also unnerving, unfortunately fail to live up to the power of this scene as it is the best moment within the film.
The other and more dominant side of the film deals with the psychological mind games and self-questioning that the six women go through during casting. This is where the film splits for many viewers, as it does treat some sequences with supreme class and others with slapstick immaturity. The first fifteen minutes of the film demonstrate Sherwood’s struggle with the Audra character and her faking-her-way into an asylum, while it takes a full thirty minutes to even get to the casting mansion. It is only here at the mansion where the film really takes off, so it’s a little surprising that it takes a third of the film to get there. Of course, just the idea of a film director inviting six women to his house for a ‘casting call’ seems tailor made for a porn-filled weekend, though we quickly see that Stryker is equally passionate for the film as the other six are (though he does end up bedding one or two of them). The most interesting of these psychological/casting scenes is when Sherwood (having dropping in on the group and adding herself to the casting uninvited) demands that Stryker audition her for the part. As the scene plays out in front of the other girls, Stryker forces Sherwood to wear the old-woman mask (yes, the same ugly mask the killer wears) so she can emote through her eyes and hands alone. It’s an interesting scene presented without music, relying instead on silence and dialogue. Most impressive however, is that it doesn’t give the viewer any sense of who the killer could be, even though the mask is passed from Stryker to Sherwood.
Ultimately, Curtains is a high-class slasher with more of an emphasis on thrills than kills. There’s hardly any blood, but the film is filled with enough creepiness and grotesque imagery to make up for it. As an interesting side note, the director of the film is also billed as Jonathan Stryker (though it’s really just an alias for Richard Ciupka). Recommended.