WRITER: Screenplay by Robert Guza Jr
DIRECTOR: Jonathan Stryker by way of Richard Ciupka
STARRING: John Vernon as Jonathan Stryker
Linda Thorson as Brooke Parsons
Samantha Eggar as Samantha Sherwood
Anne Ditchburn as Laurian Summers
Lynne Griffin as Patti O'Connor
Sandra Warren as Tara Demillo
Lesleh Donaldson as Christie Burns
Deborah Burgess as Amanda Reuther
Michael Wincott as Matthew
QUICK CUT: A director drags six actresses to his remote home in the middle of nowhere Canada to try and pick one for a coveted role in his next movie. And then the women start to be literally cut from the competition.
Jonathan Stryker - A very determined, very harsh director, who knows what he wants and is willing to go to weird lengths to get the exact performance he wants.
Samantha Sherwood - An actress and close associate of Stryker's who brings him the rights to a movie that she plans to star in. After she checks herself into an institution for a bit of method acting research, Stryker has other plans to find a new star.
Patti O'Connor - A stand up comedian and one of many actresses trying out for the role Samantha was originally going for. She's young, plucky, but very clear on how this business works, and a real go-getter.
Christie Burns - Another of the actresses vying for the role of Audra, and in her day job, an ice skater. She's even younger than Patti, and very wide-eyed and naive.
Brooke Parsons - An older actress, more one the scale of Samantha, but not as well known, and seeing Audra as her potential big break.
THE GUTS: Well, it looks like it's Curtains for me. I had other plans for this review, but even *I* don't know why I made them, so I ditched that movie and went with this little known cult classic out of Canadia.
(Seriously, if anyone reading these words can justify why I would have, or better yet SHOULD review Adrian Paul's "The Breed" please convince me!)
After an opening scene over the credits with an actress giving a monologue of an auditiuon to the director of her next movie, he shoots her down. Dean Wormer has always been a hard man to please, I guess. And it's interesting to note that the name they gave for the director of Curtains is the same man; Jonathan Stryker. Because no one wanted to take the responsibility or blame for this thing.
Whatever else this movie does from this point forward, it at least gains points by using opening curtains, like in a theatre for a play, as scene transitions. Not all the time, but enough to get the idea across, and I love that tiny thematic touch, especially since it isn't overdone.
From her audition, we see Stryker taking Samantha Sherwood to be checked into a mental institution to do a little method acting and get into the mind of the character she wants to play. And wouldn't you just know it, she ends up going a little crazy while she's in there.
They play it up that this is the end of her career, and she's *really* being checked in, but we all know that this is a ruse, right? If you don't, well, neither does the doctor, so Sam sells the act by attacking Stryker. She's probably only partially acting there, considering the way he's treated her thus far...
We then spend probably far too much time with the far too sane Samantha in the asylum as she tries to assimilate to life in there. She ends up doing far too good of a job, and it begins to become unclear just where her acting begins and the sanity stops.
Now, you could make an entire movie about this poor woman's slow descent into madness, but no. Just as you are starting to think that's the route this movie is going to take, 15 minutes in and the story shifts entirely. Stryker thinks his star is too far gone and really crazy, so he decides to make his movie anyways, and we shift over to THAT plot.
While Sam languishes away in the madhouse, we meet an entirely far too brunette cast of actresses also trying out for the role of Audra. And quite frankly, they all kinda blur into one brown glob of women. I could've seriously used a blonde or a few redheadsjust to break up the proceedings.
The rest of the cast is introduced in little vignettes for each of them, as someone unseen burns their headshots. It's a gimmick that's worked in other films, and it works well here.
We get Brooke the serious actress who is reluctantly trying out for the part, Patti the stand up comedian who is trying to broaden her experience...and then the movie stops with the introductions and reveals the woman burning the photos is Samantha, who has gotten out of the asylum thanks to a friend they never fully reveal. All we really get is the quick handwaving of, "Yes yes, I'm out, she helped me, moving on, nothing to see here!"
If this all sounds like the movie is a bit schizophrenic and unsure of its own plot, there are good reasons for that. More about that later, I'm sure. But for now, the movie just seems to be bouncing from one idea to another without any real coherent ideas yet.
The movie tries so hard to add in some tension with a looong scene of a character we've never met being stalked by a dude we've never met, and when he pounces her in the bedroom it's all quickly dfused because it's all sexual role playing.
So, after she has her fun, the lone blonde in this entire movie heads off to Stryker's place for the casting session. And if the movie hadn't brought up, I sure as heck was gonna say something about how weird it is for a director to have six young ladies all come up to his home in the middle of nowhere.
I mean, that sounds like a perfect recipe for a horror movie or something! Hey waaait...
While she's on the way there, she encounters the creepy doll from her bedroom, and gets out of the car in the pouring rain to investigate. Me, I'd have just driven around or over, but whatever.
The doll somehow grabs her arms, and someone jumps into the woman's car and comes racing towards her. Um, unless the doll is like, freakishly heavy, you could move? I guess?
But no! It's yet another fakeout, because I didn't have enough of those in Slaughter High! She instead wakes up screaming in bed!
Here's a tip, Amanda; get rid of the creepy doll in the bedroom, it's giving you nightmares.
But before we can go any further, a masked figure with a stabby appears and finishes the job the dream started, at least. So, I guess you could say she's been cut from the casting sheet. And thus the only hope of more than one hair colour fades off into platinum blonde.
After 30 minutes, the cast finally lands at Stryker's place, as well as the freed Samantha, and along with the ACTUAL Michael Wincott, so if I want to make Crow references, now's my chance!
We spend some time with the cast wandering Stryker's home and settling in, and it's some okay character moments mixed in with interactions. Most of which boiled down to, "This part is mine, hssst rowr!" The best one when the older actress, and closest rival to Sherwood's, complains about Christie the skater being there because she's so young, just a baby... Which she is saying to Patti the equally young and inexperienced actress/comedian while she practices with puppets.
Of course, we then see *exactly* why she's there as Stryker shows the skater to her room, and her bed, and her bedside audition...
We follow Christie the next morning as she goes to the lake to practise, but gets interrupted when her music is turned off. Which leads to her finding the buried creepy doll, and the masked stalker appearing to wreak a bit more havoc.
Christie is chased down by the person with a sickle, the doll gets beheaded and falls out of the plot from this point onwards, and Christie follows suit. Man, the Russians will go to any lengths to win the gold at the Winter Olympics.
She actually manages to kick away her assailant, but not before taking a few hits. So, trying to run through the snow-filled woods in ice skates with a gaping wound in your shoulder, isn't going so well.
Well, at least she had some fun with Stryker before she went out, right?
And this is where I'd insert a joke about this movie being filmed in Muskoka, simply because a friend of mine grew up there and it would make him laugh. But I got nothin' so we're moving on!
Back at the unorthodox casting session, Stryker announces that Christie is gone. Well, that doesn't sound suspicious at all. She left a note under your door? Suuure she did.
Which is when Samantha shows up to prove she still has what it takes. Stryker insists she do so by trying to seduce him, show him true skill, by doing it while wearing a familiar creepy mask. Well, THAT doesn't seem suspicious at all either!
Stryker's torment of the actresses continues with Patti, who no one is sure why she's there. Not herself, not me, and certainly not Stryker. The audition doesn't go well at all, until Stryker brushes her off, she gives him hell, and she convinces pretty much everyone she's more than just a funny girl and has some fire and danger in her.
After dropping in just a hint of nudity, which is quickly interrupted by a yelling Stryker, the movie remembers it's supposed to be a horror flick and gets back to Brooke who is busy painting her nails. Which sounds mundane, but she's got some creepy shenanigans and an even creepier score going on around her.
We get yet another fakeout of a shadow being revealed to just be clothing, but then Brooke discovers poor Christie's decapitated head in the toilet. Head in a head!
Brooke's screams end the casting sessions for the day, as Stryker tries to calm her down. He investigates her room, and surprise! Finds nothing there. I guess the killer just flushed Christie's career straight down the crapper.
On the upside, he takes Brooke to bed and gets another piece of tail! So at least HE'S having a good weekend.
Following all the excitement, one of the remaining girls practices her ballet while everyone else putters around. Eventually, the killer appears, barely, and stabs her from behind.
Here's an important lesson I am going to impart upon you, dear readers. If you ever find yourself in a horror movie situation, never practice your craft or hobby. It puts you in a situation to be alone, it has you doing odd things, and gives you an opportunity to be picked off in a stylish and unique fashion. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
Stryker's still chillin' with Brooke when someone wanders by with a gun and shoots them both, sending them crashing out the window, and SOMEhow making Stryker tumble so he comes BACK IN through a first floor window. The funny part is, the editing actually makes that weird bit of movie physics *work*.
Oh, and that's when the girl who saw all that runs outside and finds Wincott's dead body floating in the hot tub, impaled on a church spire...er, knife. So, his role was pretty much pointless.
Which leads her to run into a nearby shed, that turns out to be filled with piles of old props. Seriously, I think the place may be a TARDIS, because it is huge on the inside, and has everything from dummies, to masks, to hotel neon signs, and even the kitchen sink.
OH, and it also has our killer, so that's good.
This leads to another long, mostly silent scene where she wanders the prop closet of doom, and it's interesting to have this paired right after Slaughter High. I think that movie was more successful at it. There was a greater sense of danger, the score was more driving, and Curtains just doesn't use the setting to its fullest.
Things don't feel quite so claustrophobic and maze-like as they did in SH, which you would think they could have pulled off EVEN BETTER here, with props everywhere, and making things even more confusing and convoluted for the poor girl, but no. It's pretty straightforward. Sigh.
Don't get me wrong, it's still a GOOD scene, but when compared to another similar scene I just saw? It doesn't quite soar as high.
She DOES make effective use of her surroundings by using a mannequin dressed in her coat as a decoy to distract the killer, but other than that...
The absolute best though, is when she opens a doorway and it's the classic fake door backstage that leads to a brick wall. See, more of that! Those two moments help set this scene apart, and if they'd used more of that, and more scares based on the props, this coulda been great.
After she finds the dead and dangling ballerina, she hides out in a crawlspace, but gets grabbed by the feet and dragged out to face judgment.
So we are left with our two survivors, Patti the comedian newbie, and Samantha the veteran of stagercraft and recently escaped from the nuthatch.
The pair chat about acting a bit, and then Sam admits to killing Stryker (And by extension Brooke, but oops, never mind her!) which leads to Patti's own confession of killing everyone else for the part.
Hey, her first line WAS about wanting something so badly you'd do ANYTHING for it!
Which is then echoed again and...oh no. No no no.
Did the movie just rewind?? Why is she doing her same standup routine again? Why are we in an asylum?! No! THIS WAS NOT A DREAM! THIS WAS NOT A FANTASY!
Do NOT do this to me again!!
Just as I am about to tear the DVD out of my drive and fling it across the room, it instead seems to play out that Patti's been committed AFTER the fact, and indeed the movie happened, and she's paying the price for her insanity.
But damnit, you came close to really ticking me off, Curtains.
And as the credits roll, there's an interesting thing that it's split into two sections, Act I and Act II. Well, that's weird, but fits well with the rest of the little thematic flourishes throughout the movie, but... Here's the deal;
See, the movie hit some snags midway through, and some other people came along to try and punch things up, get the plot moving, and this took place almost a year later. So yeah, there's good reason the movie is a bit of a mess and jumps from one idea as quickly as it sets things up. This may be one of the more troubled, messy productions I've ever witnessed, and on one level, it's amazing that anything this coherent came out of it!
Video: I've seen some previous releases of this movie, and they looked universally terrible. The new Synapse release (Which is what I reviewed) looks great, for what it is, and everything is crisp and clear for the time it was made.
Audio: A nicely solid surround track that doesn't have much chance to play with the sound field, but when it does it works well. The dialouge is clear to boot, so that's all good.
Sound Bite: "Have you ever wanted anything SO badly, you would do anything for it?" A perfect line of foreshadowing early in the movie from Patti. Also, that's pretty much the movie's entire ethos in a single line.
"Oh, don't bother. They all look alike to me." YOU AND ME BOTH, SAM!
Body Count: A fairly respectable showing that leaves nearly the entire cast dead, so by percentages, I can't complain!
1 - After 26 minutes, and a fakeout, our first victim is stabbed in her bedroom.
2 - Poor Christie gets chased through the woods in skates, and eventually beheaded.
3 - The ballerina gets stabbed in the back.
4 - Stryker gets shot and falls out then back in some windows.
5 - And Brooke goes along for the ride.
6 - Matthew is found dead, killed off screen, and dumped in the hot tub.
7 - Another actress is dragged off to her unseen fate after a lengthy chase.
8 - Patti O'Connor did in Samantha Sherwood, in the kitchen, with the kitchen knife
Best Corpse: It ALMOST goes to Stryker for his amazing dive, but no, the prize goes to Christie and her skate chase, and later decapitation in the crapper.
Blood Type - C+: A pretty solid amount, used appropriately.
Sex Appeal: A few bits of sex and nudity scattered throughout the plot, as you do.
Drink Up! Every time the plot shifts suddenly and drops what it's been doing. It may stop that a third of the way into the movie, but that'll get you nicely tingly for the rest of the flick.
Sights and Sounds: Gotta include Stryker's amazing fall and twist out then back in the windows. You gotta see this to believe the ballsy nature of trying to get us to buy this.
Movie Review: How to review this thing? It is SO clearly a mess of tangled plots and too many voices. And you can't make excuses all the time, but at the same time, it DOES explain a lot, and leaves you amazed at what DID come out. So let me take it as is, on its own merits. Curtains takes WAY too long to get going, with way too many plots circling around ideas until you get around to the meat of things. That can be okay, but ultimately the ones this movie focuses on can be tossed aside with ease. I do really like that they were trying to make this an almost arty/arthouse horror movie, and the slow pace actually REALLY works for the plot. Also, this is very much in the style of a giallo, and mixing those sensibilities, with a more classic horror, and in the world of movies? It makes for a unique story and feel. The final act has a really good pace to it, with a lot of turns and stuff going on. The reveal of the killer works surprisingly well, and was set up and played with fairly. The cast is also very good. No surprise that Vernon is deliciously foul yet NOT the evil of the movie. The girls may all blur together and may be hard to follow who's who sometimes, yet they still manage to impart personality to their meager bits for the most part. It's a mess, but it ends up being a fairly solid story. Three out of five creepy dolls.
Entertainment Value: This movie is *weird*. Largely because it's going for that arthouse feel, thankfully. The giallo subgenre always makes these weird, stylish movies, in my experience. Trying to solve the mystery is fun, the kills are pretty great, and the troubled story of the production makes for a pretty mindboggling experience. The fact this movie is a mess and STILL manages to tell it's story, while still ending up being really bizarre and unfocused makes it a truly interesting experience, and surprisingly more enjoyable than one might expect. Five out of five dropped plot points.
Seriously. You know while watching this movie that it's a mess from start to finish, yet it's thoroughly engaging while still being very strange and head scratching in all the right ways.