Curtains (Blu-ray Review)

CurtainsI don’t know what it is with the Golden Age of slashers that amuses me so much, but its something I’ve always been fond of and never really tired of.  Even bad ones (there’s plenty) I tend to enjoy.  There were so many of these things from 1980-1984 its not even funny.  So many, that there are a whole lot of them that have gone missing forever.  With home video releases over the years we think we’d have them tracked, but some didn’t make it to VHS or went out of print real fast, a lot didn’t make it to DVD and even more have not made it to Blu-ray.  However, being the collector’s medium, the slasher films of the 80s have been getting some attention and royal treatment in the past few years.  Here today is the Canadian slasher film Curtains, which Synapse Films has rescued and put it onto DVD (by itself) and Blu-ray for the first time ever.  Its crazy that this is the first time as Curtains is one of the finest slasher films from the era.  But many of you probably don’t even know this one.

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Director Jonathon Stryker is having 6 women of varying artistic/athletic backgrounds to his secluded mansion for the weekend to audition for the lead in his upcoming production “Audra”.  Only 5 show up to the audition as one of them is killed en route.  However, an uninvited guest arrives in the form of actress Samantha Sherwood whom Stryker left in the cold when she has herself committed to an institution in order research for the role Audra that was promised to her.  Over the weekend, the women are mysteriously picked off one by one at the hand of a killer wearing a “hag” mask to conceal their identity.

There were some production problems between director and producer on this one and I think it resulted in the best of both worlds.  Director Richard Ciupka envisioned a very arthouse thriller when it came to Curtains.  He wanted a more cerebral and mental horror approach to the stalk and slash.  This ambitious and cool, but the chances are he could have very well missed the mark on that and made a mess that isn’t entertaining to watch.  Producer Peter R. Simpson was looking more for the traditional slasher film to cash in on the craze.  What we got, I think is something right smack dab in the middle it works at a much higher and more mature level than the majority of the slashers of the time.

For one, the story isn’t rooted in just teens being picked off one by one.  We get a set of adults (mainly women) who are fully realized characters or at least have backgrounds and motivations beyond a typical stereotype.  Most seem to have some sort of complexities to their personalities.  There’s also far more focus on angling at suspense and thrills than it is exploitation and gore.  We get nudity and we get blood, but its held in check in favor of character development or that of a good scare or chase.  The film lets our mind do a lot of the imagining as to what our victim’s fates just might be in the end.

Escalating this slasher’s jump from cheap exploitation to honestly good film is that its well acted as well.  John Vernon gives a dynamite performance as the super intimidating and predator-like director Jonathon Stryker.  Vernon eats up every frame and adds a sense of discomfort to every shot or scene he appears in.  For something you might think Vernon would think is beneath him, he sure acts the hell out of this movie.  Stepping up to the plate and matching him tit for tat is actress Samantha Eggar as Samantha Sherwood.  She’s incredible with her devious nature and makes you wonder when she’s going to strike for revenge on Stryker and what exactly is she there to do.  Young actors Lynne Griffin and the “always welcome in my 80s horror movies” Lesleh Donaldson both impress in keeping up with the veterans here too.  Also notable in the cast is a very young Michael Wincott who really has no lines and is purely there as some sort of red herring.

Its kind of incredible that of all the slashers from the 80s this is one of them that sort of was forgotten about.  There’s enough here to make it stand out among the pack.  The killer has one of the better and most distinct masks of the period.  We also get some notable chase sequences and moments like the ice skating chase and the head found in the toilet.  And lets not forget about the creepy ass doll appearing in a few scenes as sort of a harbinger of doom.  Curtains began shooting in 1980, but with production problems, reshoots, edits and shelving it didn’t hit theaters until 1983.  The director didn’t even put his name on it (instead opting to credit the film’s character Jonathon Stryker,  which is a neat little touch).  And while its cool to hear of some of the changes made before the final cut, I think the finished product is pretty satisfying and moreso than it would have been with them in.  Okay, maybe the snowmobile death would have rocked, but who’s saying the footage was any good?

Curtains is easily one of the best slasher movies of the Golden Age.  One thing I like about it is that it has a low body count and little to no gore, but it remains interesting due to some of its character work and well crafted scenes.  This one plays much more like a Ten Little Indians/And Then There Were None scenario than even the first Friday The 13th film did (When they reveal who the killer is at the end of the film it is not an out and out cheat).  You’re more invested in figuring out this mystery, playing with the red herrings and guessing the killer than you are invested in “how” someone meets their end.  Couple that with a really cool killer and a great reveal in the final moments, and you’ve got yourself a really fun and engaging 80s slasher film.

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Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Clarity/Detail: Yes I’m giving this thing a 5!  Wow!  Curtains looks absolutely astonishing on Blu-ray.  I can’t believe it.  You get a great, detailed picture that is clear and crisp and looks really sharp.  There is so much good detail, from the fuzzy fabric on Lesleh Donaldson’s gloves when she’s ice skating, to the bits of snow by the killer’s ice skates you get all the detail.  There’s plenty of texture and design visible on clothing as well as seeing all the blemishes and imperfections of surfaces within the walls, floors and objects in the house.  You’re in for a real treat with this transfer that you can tell a ton of hard work and perfection went into.

Depth: Plenty of good working depth in this picture.  From the start with the theater stage there’s a great 3 dimensional feel between watching John Vernon’s back in the foreground to Samantha Eggar on stage.  We also get a good look at night time during Michael Wincott’s steamy hot tub scene.

Black Levels: Black levels are very natural and I didn’t notice any major crushing at any point here.  There looks to be concerted effort in this transfer to stay away from that.

Color Reproduction: Colors pop pretty good but aren’t a distraction.  Everything is enhanced by the color here to look very rich and lifelike.  I must say I was very impressed with how the whites were handled especially since there was a lot of it and there were many shades a definitions to the color throughout to display a very realistic depiction of snow and such.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are very consistent.  There’s a slightly cold but natural look to them.  Detail is very high as you can see every wrinkle and scar on John Vernon’s face.  Facial stubble and hair is well defined too.  On the bonus material, Lesleh Donaldson mentions she fell during a rehearsal for the ice skating scene and bumped her chin.  And during some close ups during that scene you can totally make out her scrapes and bruise from the injury.  Its quite phenomenal.

Noise/Artifacts:  There really was not aside from some very welcome, very natural grain present throughout.

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Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English SDH

Dynamics:  This is a really nice cleaned up track.  The 5.1 isn’t your typical slouch, things have been split up and well balanced among the speakers.  Volume levels are perfect.  Its got that whole setting to where musical cues here and there are set to strike louder than others and work pretty effectively.  Also provided is the original mono track and that’s no slouch itself.  Its loud clear and well defined.  Either way you listen you’re going to win out.

Low Frequency Extension: There’s a nice sense of restraint with the sub usage.  While the movie is dialogue heavy, there is some use during that of the snow mobile or cars running, some crashing, and to add emphasis on some parts of the score.

Surround Sound Presentation: Some ambient noise and lower volume scoring is present.  Also during the ice skating sequence I could hear some of the killer making the move toward Lesleh.  This track is what it is, its not some big action epic with things blasting from all channels.  Its not that surround track and doesn’t need to be to be pretty terrific, which it is.

Dialogue Reproduction: Dialogue is crisp, clean and clear.  It primarily hangs out in the front speakers.  There is a good variation in volume regarding characters placement and pitch during scenes.

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Curtains cover art features a promo shot of the killer during the ice skating sequence on the reverse side.  Its also worthy to note that the commentaries are uncompressed audio.

Audio Commentary With Stars Lesleh Donaldson And Lynne Griffin, Moderated By Edwin Samuelson (2.0 DTS-HD MA) – This is a fun and active commentary, sometime straying into the reunion type chat between the two actresses, but Edwin Samuelson keeps it on track.  Lots of info provided and lots of fun.

Vintage Audio Interviews With Producer Peter R. Simpson And Star Samantha Eggar (2.0 DTS-HD MA) – These are two separate phone interviews that play like a commentary over the movie.  Simpson really gets into some details of his relationship with the director and the troubled shoot.  Eggar also touches on this and talks about her work on the film.  Simpon’s interview goes on for about 40 minutes.  Eggar’s interview ends around the 56 minute mark.  After that it goes back to the film’s audio.

Ciupka: A Filmmaker In Transition – Vintage Featurette (HD, 15:09) – This was added last minute for the Blu-ray release.  It’s essentially a documentary on the film’s director and going from being a cinematographer to a full fledged director.  The important thing about this is we get to see some rare behind the scenes footage of the filming of Curtains.

The Ultimate Nightmare: The Making Of “Curtains” (HD, 35:51) – The grand daddy of all bonus features is when you get a retrospective featurette from the likes of Red Shirt Productions.  Here they’ve gathered the director, Lesleh Donaldson and Lynne Griffin, the editor, the make up effects guy and the composer to take us through the history of making the film as well as their feelings on it and its legacy.  As always, Red Shirt knocks it out of the park and gives the extras rating a 4 based on the strength of this featurette alone.

Theatrical Trailer (HD, 1:44)

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This is the perfect release of Curtains.  I dare someone to do better than this.  Synapse Films has put in overtime giving you  and outstanding transfer of this film with terrific audio to support it.  The bonus features perfectly complement the film and make this release feel complete and don’t exhaust you with random stuff just to have more.  This is the perfect amount.  Synapse has not only produced one of the best catalog horror titles of the year, they’ve released one of the best catalog titles PERIOD of the year.  Collectors, Curtains fans, horror fans, slasher fans, Lesleh Donaldson fans, John Vernon fans(?) should pick up this release.  Click the pre-order link below and have secure yourself a copy of yet another great Synapse Films Blu-ray title.



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