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July 31, 2014


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Jonathan Stryker - 1983
Synapse Films Region 1 DVD

As the "Making of . . . " supplement explains, there's a good reason why the director's credit for Curtains is that of the character in the film, a film director named Jonathan Stryker. The released film was was actually the work of original director Richard Ciupka, completed by producer Peter Simpson. For all of the problems, with Simpson shooting approximately two years after Ciupka left the set, this is pretty good "body count" film.

The basic premise is that the fictional Jonathan Stryker has invited six actresses to his mansion to audition for the starring role in his next film. The main character is a woman, gone mad with jealousy, who kills her philandering husband. The part was originally slated for Stryker's live-in love, Samantha Sherwood. In order to understand the character's mental breakdown, Sherwood has herself committed to an insane asylum, which as everyone who's seen at least one movie with this kind of set-up knows, is a terrible idea. Stryker decides to make his movie without Sherwood, who in turn manages to escape from the asylum to claim the part she knows should be hers. Not so coincidentally, the other actresses competing for the same part have unexpected dates with the grim reaper.

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Just don't look too closely because there are a few bits and pieces that don't quite make sense, like the creepy dolls which appear in a couple of scenes and then seems to have been forgotten as a recurring motif. Unlike many of the films of this type, this one has an older cast, led by John Vernon, virtually typecast as an aloof and arrogant character, as director Stryker. Almost as much fun to watch in his brief scene is that axiom of Canadian cinema, Maury Chaykin, as the agent of one of the actresses. As for playing the part of a woman with issues, Samantha Eggar probably found this part to be a breeze compared to her work in The Brood. Too bad Peter Simpson had issues with the accent of French-Canadian actress Celine Lomez, she was (and still is) far more attractive than Linda Thorson, a woman best known for attempting to step into the boots worn by Diana Rigg in the television series, The Avengers.

That said, what is nice here is that the film takes time to allow for some distinction between the six actresses, among them a stand-up comic, an ice skater and a dancer. It should be no surprise that care was taken visually - Ciupka worked as a cinematographer, for Louis Malle prior to Curtains, and Claude Chabrol a few years later. In the meantime, Simpson, as a producer, made the far better known Prom Night and that film's three (!) sequels.

This is one of those times when it's worth watching the DVD supplement with several cast and crew members discussing their experience with Curtains. Everyone seems to have been embarrassed that they participated in making this film, which seemed to take on cult status on cable television and home video following a desultory theatrical release.

I hope someone has told Lynne Griffin, who plays the stand-up comic, Patti, that the Embassy Theater, where Curtains had its New York City premiere, was not in the Lower East Side. For a former New York City resident like myself, such a geographical faux pas is scary.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at July 31, 2014 07:10 AM