Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Census Bloodbath: Ice To Skate You

Year: 1983
Director: Jonathan Stryker
Cast: John Vernon, Samantha Eggar, Linda Thorson 
Run Time: 1 hour 29 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

It's the accepted party line in the slasher fandom that Canadian slashers are as a whole superior to their American counterparts, and I'm inclined to agree with that assessment. However, for every Visiting Hours or My Bloody Valentine, there's a Prom Night or Humongous (come to think of it, maybe I'm just not a Paul Lynch fan). But Paul Lynch had nothing to do with Curtains, a movie that was created by a Who's Who of Canadian slashmakers, including composer Paul Zaza, producer Peter R. Simpson, and Funeral Home and Happy Birthday to Me actress Lesleh Donaldson. So I guess there's a hole in that theory, because Curtains is an absolute mess.

And not just because they left doll heads all littered about.

Curtains is a uniquely unfocused film due to its notorious troubled production, a three-year exercise in frustrating rewrites and additional photography that led the director to remove his name from the project entirely. At first it's about actress Samantha Sherwood (Samantha Eggar), who is preparing for a role in her director boyfriend Jonathan Stryker's (John Vernon) upcoming movie about an insane woman. She's method (AKA irritating) so she wants to be checked into a mental institution, which Stryker helps her accomplish before completely abandoning her and refusing to check her out. That's one way to ghost somebody you're dating.

Cut to years later and he's prepping for the very same film once more, gathering six young actresses from all over into his secluded cabin for a weekend of hardcore auditioning. They wonder what his scheme could possibly be, because they're all so very different. What right do a skinny white lady with short hair and a skinny white lady with long hair have to audition for the same part?

Anyway, there's clearly no possible way this could go wrong. Of course, Samantha breaks out of the institution at the exact same time that the girls he's gathered start dying off one by one? Is this the work of a jealous, aged actress? Is one of the young and hungry actresses a little too hungry? Or is Stryker just the psychosexual maniac the whole premise of this film would show him to be?

But seriously, I have no answers about the dolls. Don't even ask.

The reason Curtains enjoys any sort of cult status must be the ice skating scene. For one thing, it's the only scene I seem to be able to find screen grabs of online. For the other, it's the only scene that is actually creepy or remarkable, and it's a heck of a lot of both. The killer, bestowed in their trademark "hag" mask, skates after one of the girls bearing a curved scythe, and the film's music and cinematography lurch into pure psychedelia. In or out of context, it's an off-kilter and exciting moment, but it's a diamond in a whole lot of rough.

Unfortunately, not a single one of the other kills in the film are an ounce as outré or exciting. The bulk of the deaths in the back half are relegated offscreen, and the ones we do get to see are bloodless and uneventful. I definitely think there's something there in the killer's getup, thematically evoking the fear and horror of women aging out of Hollywood, but other than Samantha Sherwood being a delightful vamp, the film doesn't seem particularly interested in pulling at that thread. 

Also, I'm sure the months and months it was knocking around in the back of some producer's trunk probably helped with its uncanny, withered look.

Really, pretty much every element of Curtains is lacking in one way or another, especially the plot, which is meandering nonsense. I know it took three years to make, but it shouldn't feel like it takes three years to watch. There is no apparent structure to the film, which makes it difficult to set up the series of red herrings and twists that a whodunit like this desperately needs. 

Even if it doesn't have that, the whodunit at least needs to have who's that "it" is done to. OK, that line might not have worked, but I'm saying the characters are entirely interchangeable. It's even more ironic that the girls are so perplexed by how deeply different they are because I literally had to look up a plot synopsis to figure out who died when. I usually have a Meet the Meat segment in my plot synopsis where I run through all the characters and their one personality trait, but I don't think this collected group of six girls has two interesting traits to rub together. The only one of them who's had a career worth mentioning anyway is Sandee Currie, who played Mitchy in Terror Train. Here she's a character called Tara, who... does something, I guess.

Curtains isn't necessarily a bad film, but it's just so thoroughly unremarkable that every detail slides right out of your brain by the time the credits roll. It certainly joins the pile of exceptions to the Canadian slasher rule, though. I will always perk up when I see a movie in the schedule that hails from the Great White North, but if there are more cracks in the armor like this one, that enthusiasm may fade sooner than later.

Killer: [Patti (Lynne Griffin)]
Final Girl: Patti (Lynne Griffin)
Best Kill: C'mon.
Sign of the Times: A man suggests Pac-Man themed role-play.
Scariest Moment: The mask is pretty creepy.
Weirdest Moment: There are definitely parts where this movie wants us to think a sentient doll is the killer, at least for a couple seconds at a time.
Champion Dialogue: "All's fair in love and auditions."
Body Count: 8
  1. Mandy is stabbed to death.
  2. Christie has her throat slit with a scythe.
  3. Laurian is stabbed.
  4. Brooke is shot.
  5. Stryker falls out of a window.
  6. Matthew is stabbed in the back offscreen.
  7. Tara is killed offscreen.
  8. Samantha is stabbed in the gut.
TL;DR: Curtains is a messy, largely incoherent slasher that leans on one iconic kill to prop up its reputation.
Rating: 5/10
Word Count: 1030


  1. Okay, that spoiler makes for an intriguing idea.

    I mean, not so intriguing I think this one sounds worth tracking down (though I've watched plenty a terrible slasher)

  2. "A man suggests Pac-Man themed role-play."


    Echoing Brian re: the spoiler. So it's how Happy Birthday to Me was originally supposed to end. Not that there appears to be any connection beyond the one actor, and she was barely in it!

    "Jonathan Stryker" turns out to be a pseudonym for Richard Ciupka, a factoid I reproduce only because I want to justify learning it, rather than because he had any kind of interesting career.

    1. Oh yes! Whenever a director makes a movie under a pseudonym, I usually credit the pseudonym out of respect. And I find it super interesting he chose to use the name of the character from the movie! It adds a meta element that makes the film seem more layered and interesting than it deserves.