Monday, August 11, 2014

REVIEW: Curtains (Synapse Blu-ray) - Canadian Curtain Calls with the Hag-Masked Killer

I remember the cover for Curtains vividly from my childhood at Long Valley Video (I should have called that place the library or church). That doesn't mean I had the chance to watch it though. Despite the amazing cover it was up somewhat high on the shelf, and I was more interested in monster movies at that point. I mean to a ten year old kid, what the Hell does a movie called Curtains have to do with anything anyway? Of course that didn't stop me from being overly interested in Saturday the 14th based on the cover art (and not the content of the movie).  So years passed. Nearly twenty years when I finally stumbled upon a cut box VHS super cheap at Hudson Horror Show in Poughkeepsie New York. In researching Curtains I feel lucky to have located the box on my video store wall as a kid given it's obscurity and lack of breakthrough success.  I bought The Unseen and Curtains. Both cut boxes which would make them ex-rentals and pretty beat up at that. Still it was nice to get to see some classic slasher/horror from the early 80's no matter how it looked. At the time I didn't know that Scorpion Releasing was going to put out Unseen on Blu-ray within the next year or so and that Curtains was right around the corner from Synapse Films. The washed out vision of Curtains has since been replaced by a gorgeous transfer filled with performances by horror favorites with a few chills and a strange psychotic appeal that only kind of explains that strange box art years later. One thing is for goddamn certain... Synapse makes good on its promise to release a cult favorite slasher picture on Blu-ray with all the trimmings and preserving a movie that deserves more than a glance at the video store.

Synopsis from Synapse Films:

A group of women gather for a weekend casting call at the secluded mansion of director Jonathan Stryker (Vernon). He’s searching for the perfect woman to play the role of the crazed character “Audra”, and these women are just dying for the chance to play her! Stryker’s last star, Samantha Sherwood (Eggar), is so determined to get the part, she committed herself to an asylum to prepare for the role. Unfortunately for all, a crazed killer in a disgusting “hag” mask is viciously murdering everyone one by one. Who will survive the final curtain call?

Let's start with two of the most important pieces to making Curtains work well. John Vernon and Samantha Eggar always give it there all when it comes to performing. You remember John as Dean Wormer from Animal House, but to me he will always be Officer Mooney from Killer Klowns from Outer Space;you remember the guy with the klown alien hand stuck up his back and made to talk like ventriloquist dummy?). His career is extensive, but there's something perfectly untrustworthy about Vernon's face which makes him perfect in the role as shady director who might as well be hosting a casting couch porn shoot. Samantha Eggar was in The Exterminator but I remember her best as the host mother to the bad babies from The Brood. She's stunning and has a brilliant sense of calm that builds tension while creating a sense of disturbed and distorted reality without saying a word. Apparently as recent as 2012 she was voice acting as the Whale in Metalocalpyse!  Those are the two big names in this feature and they each offer highlights to make this more than a common place formulaic slasher picture. Stick around for the finale, a nice twist that later in the genre would become cliche.

Slasher pictures of the early 80's live and die by their killers. While we may not have established a strong enough killer in the hag-masked murderer, the mask itself (featured on the cover) has become perfectly iconic and completely memorable as the face of death in Curtains. Sure the kills are fairly standard save for the snow bound, scythe slash post-ice skate, but that mask makes each one stand out. Between kills you'll be forced at times to tolerate a fair amount of melodrama, but while there are certain preserved tropes of the slasher genre, the focus on character evolution sets Curtains apart from other films in its graduating class. By 1983 the slasher boom was peaking if not already peaked and beginning a slow descent into what would become a direct to video market within the next five years, but Curtains still had a moderate production value and lack of emphasis on gratuity. It's a movie first and ticket/audience drop second.

The new transfer beats my old VHS copy hands down which may not be the comparison you're looking for, but let me assure the tapehead readers here that the 2K HD version of this release will show you a new film filled with beautiful details and really makes the hag mask pop. These are the folks that Synapse will win over because it really makes a difference with so many dark lit scenes. One of my favorite parts of watching the extras on the Synapse disc was to compare the making of featurettes. It comes with a Vintage one, Ciupka: A Film-Maker in Transition which discuss the Canadian film industry as well Richard Ciupka's other projects. It doesn't specifically focus on Curtains mind you, but for that all you have to do is turn on The Ultimate Nightmare: The Making of "Curtains". This is a modern perspective on the making of Curtains specifically. Full features are listed below, but I think the making of features are the meat and potatoes of the extras on this disc. The vintage on providing a sort of time capsule effect to Canadian filmmaking the early 80's and the new making of featurette putting the movie into proper historical context.

  • Brand-New 2K High-Definition Transfer from Original Vault Materials
  • 5.1 Surround Remix Specifically Created for This Release
  • THE ULTIMATE NIGHTMARE: THE MAKING OF “CURTAINS” – An All-New retrospective featuring interviews with Director Richard Ciupka, Stars Lesleh Donaldson & Lynne Griffin, Editor Michael MacLaverty, Special Make-Up Effects Creator Greg Cannom, and Composer Paul Zaza
  • CIUPKA: A FILM-MAKER IN TRANSITION - Vintage documentary short featuring rare, behind-the-scenes footage from the making of "CURTAINS" (Blu-ray Exclusive)
  • Audio Commentary with Stars Lesleh Donaldson & Lynne Griffin
  • Audio Interview with Producer Peter R. Simpson
  • Audio Interview with Star Samantha Eggar
  • Theatrical Trailer
Curtains is available now and is a must pickup for slasher genre fans as well as fans of Canadian cinema. Synapse has another slasher classic on its way in Prom Night this September, a fan favorite that features Leslie Nielsen and Jamie Lee Curtis. After watching Curtains I am that much more excited to see their Prom Night transfer. 

Beware the hag-mask killer and make sure to read your lines before you die! Canadian Horror is hitting Blu-ray in increasing numbers, but this is somewhat more obscure due to its years in the vault.

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