The 80’s slasher craze may seem like an inherently American moment in cinema, but our exploitation inclined neighbors to the north seized the opportunity to capitalize on the formula as well and were responsible for some rather well known titles in addition to some lesser known, though fervently appreciated, gems. Canada’s slasher film legacy owes everything to Bob Clark’s seminal, and rather genre defining, Black Christmas (1974), and the country would go on to release favorites such as Prom Night (1980), Terror Train (1980), My Bloody Valentine (1981), The Burning (1981), and Happy Birthday to Me (1981). In 1983, the much revered, though far lesser known, hag mask/creepy doll fueled Curtains would be released and it would be nothing like the films Canada, or any other country, released in the genre prior.
Curtains announces itself as a “slasher” film in the basest of ways: A killer with a creepy mask and an equally creepy edge weapon is stalking and offing folks one-by-one. But, unlike most other entries in – or films that just happen to get lumped into – the genre, Curtains has a lot more going on in the way of the (potentially) supernatural and (absolutely) dreamlike. It deals so much with dream logic and nightmare inducing imagery, that it pre-dating 1984’s A Nightmare On Elm Street comes as a surprise and it may even be, dare I say, more unsettling than Craven’s high-concept slasher.
The story here concerns method actress Samantha Sherwood (Samantha Eggar) who desires the part in the newest film by Stryker (John Vernon) and is admitted into a mental institution to better understand the part. She soon seems to slip into insanity, which causes Stryker to pursue a different lead for his film. He invites six hopeful young ladies to his ominous house in the snow covered woods for a casting session, that is anything but conventional. And then they start dying.
Curtains‘ concept is actually fairly unique even if it trades originality for formula once things really get going, but even then it manages to be more memorable than some of its better known peers. If nothing else, the old hag mask and hand scythe are images that are hard to shake and the kills – which I’m not about to spoil – don’t disappoint. But what really sets Curtains apart from the rest of the pack is how eerie it is, much of which has nothing to do with the slashing. Curtains plays out like a twisted dream, where you may find yourself questioning whether all of this is actually happening or not. I’m not going to attempt to interpret any of it here, but if you’re scared of dolls at all, this is a movie for you.
Home video has not been kind to Curtains over the years, with no truly acceptable version available until now. Bootlegs circulated for years, made from materials of varying degrees of mediocrity and even the Echo Bridge DVD from 2010 left a lot to be desired. Synapse’s presentation of Curtains is everything that fans could have hoped for, with a 2K scan of vault materials resulting in a near pristine 1080p 1.78 OAR transfer that pops with color, has a healthy grain structure and minimal noticeable damage. This is exemplary work and is the bar that subsequent genre film restorations should be holding themselves to going forward. Audio fares just as well with a very nice DTS 5.1 HDMA track that presents the score, effects and dialogue evenly across the channels with no issues present that I noticed. Awesome work here.
As far as supplements go, Synapse isn’t known for being light in that department and they come through again. It is worth noting that there are separate DVD and Blu-ray releases of this title and that the Blu-ray does feature an exclusive supplement. That supplement is “Ciupka: A Filmmaker In Transition” which runs about 15 minutes and was made on 16mm featuring a lot of footage from the production of Curtains. What it lacks in length, it makes up for in quality and is an essential piece for fans. If you’re on the fence about format, it pretty much tips favor towards the Blu-ray 100%, if the overwhelming HD presentation didn’t already do that. Also on disc is a new, 36 minute retrospective titled “The Ultimate Nightmare: The Making of Curtains,” which is fantastic, filled with new interviews, and a whole lot of information on the film’s troubled production. There are also two audio supplements: a commentary with two of the actresses and a track compiled of interviews about the film but not running as a scene-by-scene commentary. I can’t say that I ever saw this coming. Great stuff.
Fans of Curtains rejoice! The Blu-ray is here, it looks great, sounds great, and has enough supplements to consider this definitive. If you’ve never experienced the madness of this one, there is really no better way to and if you have, you likely already have this on pre-order. Synapse have outdone even their typically high standards in the restoration department and the features are plentiful and thorough. It’s not going to get any better than this.