Judge Daryl Loomis checked himself into an asylum for the free gruel.
Someone is waiting…something is watching.
Sometimes a horror movie fails because it's a bad idea, or just really cheap. Sometimes they have a good idea at heart, but the execution doesn't work. And sometimes, as in the case of Curtains, producers don't give the movie a chance to succeed at all, even though I'm not exactly sure Curtains itself would have worked any better had it been allowed to stay intact.
Facts of the Case
Jonathan Stryker (John Vernon, Dirty Harry) is all set to direct a new film that will be his great statement on insanity. He has six actresses in mind to play the leading role, and they're all dying to get it. Literally, eventually, as Stryker holds the auditions at a secluded island mansion, where a killer in a hag mask is taking down the women one by one.
At least what I wrote above is the part of the core story that still exists in Curtains. Director Richard Ciupka (Coyote) delivered a final product that his producers thought was only half a story, so a few years later, they brought a few of the actors back and filmed another half.
This story tells some backstory about one of the actresses, Samantha Sherwood (Samantha Eggar, The Brood), who is an old friend of the director. She wants the part so badly that she and Jonathan conspire to get her committed to an asylum so she can get a real sense of insanity.
Jonathan uses as an opportunity, though, to get her out of the way so he can cast somebody younger in the part. This causes trouble when she escapes and shows up at the island, making her the chief suspect in the murders.
By shooting some connecting scenes for the middle and tacking on a new, predictably stupid ending, they sunk all chance for Ciupka's movie to work. It's not like they actually helped anything; for my money, it couldn't be a whole lot worse. The continuity problems alone make Curtains laughable, which Lynne Griffin (Black Christmas) discovers as, in the commentary, realizes for the first time that her hair was a completely different color.
Plus, they left a bunch of elements in from the original story that make it just seem insane. Sadly, this appears to have been the good stuff, too. The hag mask killer is a good idea, and he/she gets some skating in, to boot, but there's also a weird doll that shows up at random times and what seems to be an entire subplot involving Michael Wincott (The Crow) as a randy caretaker that only gets one brief scene in the release version.
Anyway, what Curtains amounts to is a total mess. As it stands, it's boring and makes no sense. Had the original version stood, there would have been more cool bits to watch, but I also get the impression that it would have been some kind of pretentious horror take on acting, which you can tell by John Vernon and Samantha Eggar playing characters with their same names. There's all sorts of talk about "what would you do for this part" and all that, and everything is about actresses backbiting. Ultimately, it would have likely still been really boring, but maybe it would have made a little more sense overall.
It there's something good to say, though, it's that there is good talent on display. Vernon, Eggar, and Griffin are joined by Linda Thorson (The Other Sister) and Lesleh Donaldson (Happy Birthday to Me) as two of the other actresses, and the performances are suitably solid, especially for the time and genre. What they're given is so senseless, though, that not a bit of that winds up mattering very much because, again, this is a total failure as a movie.
Synapse, however, as the label is wont to do, has put together a top-flight Blu-ray presentation for Curtains. The 1.78:1/1080p image makes the film look way better than I've ever seen it. The detail isn't perfect and there's a bit of murkiness in the darker scenes, but it's an overall huge improvement over previous incarnations. Colors are very good, with natural skin tones and reds that pop off the screen. There are a few instances of damage remaining, but nothing significant. Really, it's probably more work than Curtains deserves.
The same is true for the audio, which features a brand new 5.1 Master Audio track mixed specifically for this release. I don't really get the point, as it's a slow-burning, dialog-heavy horror movie, but it's an excellent mix. There is plenty of engagement in the rear channels, delivering more atmosphere than the movie actually has. Dialog and music both sound very good and there is no background noise to distract you from the amazing stuff happening onscreen.
Then the extras, which amount to overkill, though fans of the movie will be thrilled. The disc starts with two alternate audio tracks. The first is a standard audio commentary featuring Lesleh Donaldson and Lynne Griffin, which is fun because both are seeing it for the first time since its release. The second is a set of archival interviews with producer Peter R. Simpson, who complains quite a lot about the movie, and Samantha Eggar, who has nicer things to say. The track only lasts about 45 minutes, but that's quite enough.
The disc continues with a new retrospective featuring interviews with anyone involved willing to participate. It runs a little more than half an hour and is fairly comprehensive. Finally, we have a vintage documentary short, Ciupka: A Filmmaker in Transition, which follows the director as he leaves cinematography for his new adventure directing Curtains. Again, why? Why would somebody go out of their way to follow the making of this movie, over any number of other, more interesting movies?
That same question could be asked of Synapse, but this kind of thing is their jam, and even though I hate this movie, their perseverance in restoring these sorts of things has brought me many hours of cult joy. Just not these two. If you've never seen Curtains, you aren't missing much; if you're a fan of it for whatever reason, though, you're in for a real treat with this release.
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