Sunday, July 27, 2014

CURTAINS (1983) (Synapse Films Blu-ray Review)

Label: Synapse Films
Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 90 Minutes 
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio Mono, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p Widescreen (1.78:1) 
Director: Jonathan Stryker
Cast: John Vernon, Samantha Eggar, Lesleh Donaldson, Lynne Griffin

CURTAINS is a true slasher classic from the land of bacon and maple syrup starring John Vernon (CHAINED HEAT) as pompous film director John Stryker and Samanatha Eggar (THE BROOD) stars as Samantha his aging muse who just cannot seem to nail the mental state of 'Audra', the lead part in Strker's next film'. She is such a method actor that she has herself committed to an asylum so she can research the role - only she and Stryker are aware that she is not crazy... not yet anyway While there she soaks up the insanity but when she awakens to find that her screaming roommate has been lobotomized she thinks that maybe this was not such a smart move on her part. Her own sanity starts to crumble and she becomes non-responsive during Stryker's regular visits. Instead of informing the doctors that this was just research for a role he stops visiting. Afterward he announces via the trades that he will be auditioning for the role of 'Audra'. 

Hoping to land the role are comedian Patti O'Connor (Lynne Griffin, BLACK CHRISTMAS), seasoned actress Brooke Parsons (Linda Thorson, TV's THE AVENGERS),  dancer Laurian Summers (Anne Ditchburn), musician Tara DeMillo (Sandee Currie), and professional ice-skater Christie Burns (Lesleh Donaldson, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME). That's only five, the sixth unfortunate young woman is stabbed to death before she can make it to the audition. This first kill is a lot of fun - not only do we get some kinky sex but a prescient waking nightmare with some echoes of Argento's DEEP RED with a creepy doll! 

Once Samantha discovers that Stryker is recasting the role of 'Audra' she escapes from the asylum showing up at the mansion which causes a bit of friction as she and Stryker trade barbs back and forth. Things heat-up as the Stryker puts each of the actresses through auditions playing mind-games with each which they suffer through intent on landing a role worth killing for. The smooth talking director ends up bedding several of the actresses which further enrages his former lover Samantha, pretty soon thereafter the actresses are murdered one by one by someone wearing a creepy old hag mask which leads up to a shocker finale. 

A particular scene that has stuck with me through the years since I initially saw this on TV is the surreal ice skating sequence, a very weird scene which has an almost Lucio Fulci nightmare quality about it. Christie the skater is performing a routine on a frozen when the killer in that frightful hag mask skates up in slow-mo and slashes Brook with a razor-sharp sickle - it's a classic scene and one that you must see as the description I offer does not do it justice in anyway.

One of the other memorable scene is the final cat and mouse chase through a prop room with some cool Mario Bava-esque lighting with a few good moments of pulse pounding suspense, ll of which leads up to a champagne toast and a shocker ending which does feel like it was tagged on - because it was. . 

The set-up for each kill is pretty decent with some nice suspenseful moments even if the kills themselves are pretty bloodless. The film was a very troubled production with more than one director and at times can feel a bit piece meal with some glaring plot holes and sub plots that are not followed through on - including a possible co-conspirator who is only glimpsed once. Somehow the film manages to overcome these issues with a prevailing sense of dread and suspense - the original director Richard Ciupka wanted to make an art house psychodrama while the producer Peter R. Simpson - who took over the production when Ciupka was removed from the project - wanted to do more of a straight-up slasher film. And you can feel the it as they try to marry to the two together but it results in some strange tonal shifts. 

Considering how long the production went on for including re shoots many months later the performances throughout are strong. For starters we have character actor John Vernon as the pompous, mind-fucking director and Samanatha Eggar as the unhinged actress - if you've seen her in Cronenberg's THE BROOD you know she does crazy just right, plus she has a lot of presence. After that we have a nicely vulnerable performance from Lesleh Donaldson as the ice skater and a pretty good turn as comedian turned actress from Lynne Griffin from BLACK CHRISTMAS. 

Considering the schizophrenic shifts in tone I was quite entertained by CURTAINS and seeing it again restored on Blu-ray was a blast - not a perfect film but a perfectly entertaining slasher that I would place on par with HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME or APRIL FOOL'S DAY as a not-too-gory slice of cinema with some great atmosphere and a tagged-on shocker ending.

Blu-ray: Synapse present CURTAINS in HD widescreen in the original aspect ratio which has remastered in 2K resolution from original vault materials which sat  virtually untouched for over thirty years. Previous the films was only available on a budget DVD set from Echo Bridge which looked awful.The new restored transfer is a stunner. Colors are vibrant, there's a nice layer of film grain with some decent fine detail and a level of clarity that is beyond what I could have imagined for this one. 

Audio option include the original mono mix and a new DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 option. Glad they included the original mono for the purists but I'm quite a fan of the newly created 5.1 which exports the sound effects and the Paul Zaza (MY BLOODY VALENTINE) score to the surrounds with the dialogue kept to the front, creating a nice atmospheric presentation. There are English subtitles provided on the disc. 

Onto the extras we have brand new retrospective featuring interviews with Director Richard Ciupka, Stars Lesleh Donaldson and Lynne Griffin, Editor Michael MacLaverty, Special Make-Up Effects Creator Greg Cannom, and Composer Paul Zaza. This Red Shirt Pictures produced extras is fantastic with some great discussions about the troubled production and on-set anecdotes. We also have a vintage making-of featurette with some cool behind-the-scene video on the set of the film before the director was yanked off the production - this is exclusive to the Blu-ray version.

There are two commentary options on the disc, the first is with actresses Lesleh Donaldson and Lynne Griffin moderated by Edwin Samuelson as the ladies reminisce about their experiences on set and making the film. The second is not a scene specific commentary but actually two separate audio interviews with producer Peter R. Simpson and star Samantha Eggar conducted via telephone for The Terror Trap website which play over the film. The audio quality is not the greatest but both offer some decent insights, particularly Simpson who speaks at length about his relationship with Ciupka and the problems on the troubled production. The interviews end at just under an hour and do not play for the entirety of the film. 

Special Features
- THE ULTIMATE NIGHTMARE: THE MAKING OF “CURTAINS” – An All-New retrospective featuring interviews with Director Richard Ciupka, Stars Lesleh Donaldson and Lynne Griffin, Editor Michael MacLaverty, Special Make-Up Effects Creator Greg Cannom, and Composer Paul Zaza (35:52) HD
- CIUPKA: A FILM-MAKER IN TRANSITION - Vintage documentary short featuring rare, behind-the-scenes footage from the making of "CURTAINS" (165:09) HD (Blu-ray Exclusive)
- Audio Commentary with Stars Lesleh Donaldson and Lynne Griffin
- Audio Interview with Producer Peter R. Simpson
- Audio Interview with Star Samantha Eggar
- Theatrical Trailer (1:44) HD 

Synapse have continually raised the bar for hi-def transfers and their release of CURTAINS is a stunner - after years of cruddy home video viewings I dared not dream we would see such a loving restoration. This just might be the release of the year for slasher fans who have long suffered with inferior versions of the beloved title. Coming up next from Synapse is the Blu-ray restoration of the classic American/Canadian slasher classic PROM NIGHT (1980)!