Sunday, September 16, 2012

No Call Backs: "Curtains" (1983)

John Vernon and Samantha Eggar add a certain weight to this otherwise routine slasher film.

Vernon is director Jonathan Stryker, who is readying a new film with his star Samantha Sherwood (Samantha Eggar). To get into the part, Stryker and Samantha conspire to check her into an insane asylum so she can do research on the character. The asylum eventually turns Samantha insane for real, and Stryker leaves her in there and decides to recast the role.

Stryker invites six different actresses to his country home. Stand up comedienne Patti (Lynne Griffin), serious actress Brooke (Linda Thorsen), mousy dancer Laurian (Anne Ditchburn), slutty Tara (Sandra Warren), and ice skater Christy (Lesleh Donaldson). There are just five who make it to the house. The sixth actress, Amanda (Deborah Burgess), is stabbed and a giant doll is taken from her apartment.

Samantha shows up at the house, as well, after escaping from the asylum to needle Stryker. The unhappy group are snowed in, and the "auditions" begin. Also at the house is the actor Matthew (Michael Wincott), doing nothing more than to service Tara and be a red herring suspect. The next victim is Christy, who sleeps with Stryker, then gets up to go skating. She is killed after finding the giant doll, slashed by a black clad killer wearing a weird old lady mask with long orangish hair. The same mask is used in Samantha's audition, but disappears. Christy's explanation is also explained by a note left under Stryker's door, although Christy's head makes a reappearance in Brooke's toilet. Someone removes the head again, and Stryker takes the opportunity to bed Brooke, too.

I cannot really give away too much more about who dies next, since you can figure out who the killer is through the process of elimination. The motive is crystal clear, however: someone REALLY wants this part. The been-there, done-that ending leaves no surprises.

Ciupka takes the character Jonathan Stryker's name on the credits as director of the film. Eggar uses her real first name as Sherwood, but this is as far as the "is this real?" jokes go. Expanding this idea may have been entertaining. The killings, for a slasher film, are relatively gore-free, setting the viewer up for an "April Fool's Day" denouement that does not happen.

The Canadian location is great, complete with snow, but boy that lake sure freezes quick after the rainstorm the day before. Ciupka tries his best, but he pads all the wrong scenes. Amanda is stalked by a man who breaks into her apartment and "rapes" her, and this takes forever. Of course, the guy is her boyfriend and the entire scene is useless, except to show us how sexually depraved she is. Also, watch for the almost twenty minute scene in the basement as the killer tracks one of the actresses!

The giant doll, creepy in its own right, plays a small role in a couple of scenes, but is dropped. The old lady mask, while scary, has no basis behind it. The villain is not very graceful, taking spills and getting knocked down more than their victims.

Vernon, Eggar, and the rest of the cast could have done a lot with the psychological aspects of being snowed in and reading for the part of an insane woman. Instead, the viewer just waits for someone to get killed, all leading to the inevitable conclusion. Stryker has some weird audition scenes here and there, but he is more of a jerk than menacing.

The film boasts early appearances by Wincott, and Maury Chaykin in one scene as Brooke's agent. Kate Lynch is here as a receptionist, and the auditioning actresses all looked familiar. Unfortunately, this familiarity translates into the film's structure.

Substitute a group of horny teens for the actresses, and you have every other slasher film to come out of the 1980's. Despite the cast and scary old lady mask, keep these "Curtains" closed. (* *) out of five stars.