(Canada - 1983)
Directed by Jonathan Stryker (Richard Ciupka and Peter R. Simpson). Written by Robert Guza Jr. Cast: John Vernon, Samantha Eggar, Linda Thorson, Anne Ditchburn, Lynne Griffin, Sandra Warren, Lesleh Donaldson, Deborah Burgess, Michael Wincott, Maury Chaykin, Kate Lynch, Calvin Butler. (R, 89 mins)
"Fans have made this movie a lot more intricate than it is. Because there's nothing to understand" - Paul Zaza, CURTAINS score composer
"It's such a mishmash and such a mess that it's endearing somehow? They love it for the idea of what it could've been" - CURTAINS co-star Lesleh Donaldson
"I started getting e-mails from people wanting to interview me about CURTAINS, telling me it's a big cult movie now, and I'm like, 'This is a cult movie? Really? CURTAINS?'" - Richard Ciupka, uncredited co-director of CURTAINS
SLAUGHTER HIGH just being a port of the old VHS transfer, right down to the Vestron Video logo at the end of the movie. First of all, it is outrageous that they'd release a VHS transfer on DVD as late as 2009, but secondly, I thought "People give a shit about SLAUGHTER HIGH?" The story of a persecuted nerd named Marty Rantzen getting revenge on his tormentors at their ten-year reunion was barely a blip on the radar and was in and out of theaters in a week in 1986, and whatever attention it got from Fangoria at the time was due to actor Simon Scuddamore, who played Marty, committing suicide shortly after filming ended in late 1984. SLAUGHTER HIGH was the actor's only film and there was an air of mystery surrounding him and his short life and to this day, very little is known about him. So there's the Scuddamore factor but beyond that, SLAUGHTER HIGH is not particularly interesting and certainly not an exemplary film in its genre. It's good for some laughs and it's got some gore, but it's really nothing special at all.
Vestron VHS at 1.33:1, which was the source for CURTAINS' appearance on a 2010 Echo Bridge four-film bargain bin DVD set and on free cable VOD services like Verizon's ViewNow. Donaldson has a good point in that fans love CURTAINS for what it could've been, but it's probably more of a love for the time that it was released. It takes us back to our formative years as horror movie fans, when everything was new and every trip to the video store in that golden age was an adventure. It didn't even matter if the movies were good. It was the thrill of discovery...of directors, actors, subgenres, styles, etc. Home video was a revolution whose impact is easy to forget now and it just isn't understood by younger people who've only known a world where everything is a click away. You can't explain to them the hours spent browsing the shelves of video stores. That's why there's the whole VHS nostalgia craze. It's certainly not for the picture quality, although that's what the hipsters might try to tell you. The nostalgia is for the boxes themselves. Cable exposed us to a lot of new things, but video stores offered a seemingly bottomless treasure trove of choices when we were used to whatever was on late-night TV or Saturday afternoon Creature Features. For example, my favorite Lucio Fulci film is CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980), which was released in the US in 1983 as THE GATES OF HELL. CITY is one of his essential films, but it's probably not his best. I suspect the reason CITY (which I still find myself calling THE GATES OF HELL, even though no one refers to it as that anymore) still resonates so strongly with me is that when my dad got a video store membership, the first movie I picked was THE GATES OF HELL, in that old Paragon big box. I was ten years old and it was the most gloriously disgusting movie I'd ever seen. From that moment on, I was hooked. I knew the old Universal horrors of the 1930s and the Hammer and Amicus titles of the 1960s and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and JAWS and HALLOWEEN and ALIEN and FRIDAY THE 13TH, but this was something else entirely. To an impressionable ten-year-old, those other films were merely gateway drugs and now there was no turning back. For me, it was THE GATES OF HELL, but someone else's cult movie epiphany might very well have been SLAUGHTER HIGH or CURTAINS. The point is, this kind of nostalgia is like comfort food. The key is avoiding the hyperbole and the tendency to anoint everything "classic." I love the era of CURTAINS as much as anyone, but that doesn't make CURTAINS good. Let's not pretend this is a brilliant film awaiting critical reassessment. It's not without its effective moments, which seem like happy accidents considering how chaotic the shoot was--including one legitimately terrifying scene that's usually the only thing anyone remembers from it--but let's not kid ourselves about this being a good movie. The people involved in it don't even have your back on that claim.
THE AVENGERS), a veteran actress on the outs in the industry and desperate for a comeback. A sixth actress, Amanda (Deborah Burgess) is killed before she even gets to Stryker's house, and that same killer, wearing a horrific hag mask, starts offing the actresses one by one. Is it one of the actresses eliminating the competition? Is it Stryker? Is it red herring caretaker and Tara's hot-tub buddy Michael (Michael Wincott)? It's doubtful even the filmmakers knew until the footage was assembled.
PROM NIGHT and was finishing production on the child-custody drama MELANIE, which was eventually released in 1982. Simpson fired MELANIE director Rex Bromfield and assigned the film's cinematographer Richard Ciupka to handle some post-production reshoots involving a character played by Guess Who frontman Burton Cummings. The Belgian-born Ciupka was making a name for himself in the Canadian film industry with numerous Canadian/French co-productions: he was the chief camera operator on two Claude Chabrol films (BLOOD RELATIVES and VIOLETTE, both 1978) and was promoted to director of photography on Nicolas Gessner's IT RAINED ALL NIGHT THE DAY I LEFT (1980) and, most importantly, Louis Malle's ATLANTIC CITY (1980). After agreeing to finish MELANIE for Simpson, Ciupka was rewarded with what was to be his official directorial debut with the $4 million CURTAINS. Working from a script by Robert Guza Jr, who would go on to be the head writer on GENERAL HOSPITAL from 1984 to 2011, Ciupka shot CURTAINS, with Simpson frequently checking in but more or less leaving him alone to work, as he was a businessman who had other projects going on at the same time and Ciupka knew what was expected of him. When shooting was finished and Simpson asked to see Ciupka's rough cut, their relationship quickly soured. According to editor Michael MacLaverty in the "Ultimate Nightmare" supplemental feature, Ciupka made an art film when Simpson wanted a slasher thriller, and on top of that, "it was only 45 minutes long and it was boring."
memorable death scene as Ciupka slowly, almost hypnotically, moves in on her wonderfully expressive face, accompanied by Zaza's haunting piano theme, before the killer's black-gloved hand enters the frame and covers her mouth--it's another example of a powerful moment indicating what could've been. There's another scene where Samantha is burning photographs of the other actresses and talking to a woman who helped her escape. We only see this other woman's legs and hear her voice. This mystery woman is neither seen nor mentioned again (Griffin on the commentary: "Who is this woman supposed to be?"). Simpson's closing scene is an effective reveal that works well, but still feels like a last-minute decision on who the killer should be.