Wicked Wednesday: Curtains (1983)

Every now and then you need a vaguely-named horror movie to satisfy your hunger. Who’s Stanley? What is Sssssss really try to tell us? Certainly none of these are as telling as I was a Zombie for the FBI or I Eat Your Skin (both, I feel, are self-explanatory). So Curtains? Well, it’s a delightfully unsatisfying vague title.

Despite its best efforts with that title, Curtains is actually a bit of a smart slasherOne that pleasantly surprised me. To be honest, when you begin watching a movie named after a decorative item, the bar isn’t always very high.

Samantha Sherwood is a successful actress and muse of director Jonathan Stryker. Their next project together is Audra, a story of a mentally ill woman. Samantha and Stryker decide to get Samantha committed to an asylum as a form of extreme method-acting.

Though Samantha’s time in the asylum affects her maybe more than planned. During each of Stryker’s visits, she seems more and more detached. Finally, Stryker stops visiting, leaving Samantha all on her own.

The actress finally escapes from the asylum after learning the Stryker has decided to look for a different actress to play the role of Audra. The front page of Variety tells of Stryker’s plans to invite six actresses to his house for a casting call. Weird, yes, but apparently each of the girls fall for it.

But one girl, Amanda, never makes it to the house. She dreams of seeing her doll in the road, then getting run over by her car. When she awakes from her dream, she is stabbed to death.

The remaining five actresses arrive at Stryker’s home unharmed. Each of the girls offer something different: one is a veteran actress like Samantha, another an ice skater, one a dancer and another a comedian. The last is a musician.

While the girls are getting to know each other, Stryker enters the room and begins to aquatint himself with the girls. During their meeting, however, Samantha makes her uninvited entrance.

Intimidated by the other girls, ice skater Christie immediately begins to feel helpless. But she quickly finds comfort in the arms of Stryker. Though judging by her face after their encounter, she didn’t have a great time.

To clear her head the next day, Christie goes to the skate pond alone. Her tape stops while she’s skating, and while she investigates the problem, she finds Amanda’s doll disassembled and scattered in the snow. Christie looks up and spots another figure at the pond, wearing the mask of a old woman.

The figure pulls out a sickle and chases after Christie, who doesn’t get far into the woods with her skates on. Her throat is slit and is seemingly left out in the woods alone to die.

The rest of the girls at the house seems worried by Christie’s disappearance, but Styker assures them that he received a letter from her, saying she had left. The excuse quickly falls apart, though, as everyone is snowed-in at the house and cannot leave.

Stryker encourages the women to continue working with him. Samantha crashes one of their acting sessions, but fails to impress Styker when she doesn’t even attempt to seduce him with an old-woman mask on (one identical to the Christine’s killer’s). Not wanting to be ignored, comedian Patti tries to have a one-on-one with Strkyer, but is immediately ignored by him when she fails to impress.

That night, veteran actress Brooke finds Christine’s head in the toilet. Rightfully upset, Brooke goes to get Stryker, but by the time he reaches the bathroom, the head is gone. Stryker decides to “comfort” Brooke in bed. Samantha finds them together afterwards, and sees that Stryker is looking rather pleased with himself.

While dancer Laurian is practicing her best Kate Bush moves by herself, her throat is slit. But at the same time, both Stryker and Brooke are shot in the bedroom. Stryker falls through a window and crashes into the downstairs lounge. So either the killer is incredibly efficient, or signs begin to appear that someone isn’t the only nut in the house.

Musician Tara sees Stryker’s body and begins to panic. She attempts to start a car, with no luck, then tries to hide in the costume/prop barn on Stryker’s property.

Tara is cornered by the person in the old-woman mask, and manages to escape several times before also succumbing to the same brutal end as her fellow wannabe-Audras.

That leaves only Samantha and the neglected Patti left. The find each other in the kitchen and share the news about the deaths with each other over a glass of champagne. Only Patti wasn’t planning on Stryker’s death, and certainly puts wrench in her plans to off all her competition. There can’t be any movie without a director, can there?

Writer Robert Guza Jr also wrote the classic Prom Night starring Jamie Lee Curtis. Both Canadian films are smart and above-average in quality. Though, I’d have to admit I think I enjoyed Curtains a bit more (it’s arguably a touch more original).

There are some really subtle things that make my skin crawl in this film. The deaths are standard, but the unease built when Samantha is in the asylum is incredible. It would have been great to get more of that. Samantha Eggar is really a scene-stealer. But each of the actresses manage to create their own space that it’s not at all hard to tell them apart. And really, that’s often an issue with slashers. There’s little to no defining personality in its victims.

The horror of Curtains is in many ways very subtle. It’s the way that some people grovel for attention and success, but it’s also about the dark and twisted manipulation of a man with great power. And I couldn’t possibly see how that is even related to anything today.

Curtains is a good film that I think would make Nadine proud.

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