Thursday, October 25, 2012
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *psychological*
CURTAINS is a stylishly photographed (by cinematographer-turned-director Richard Ciupka) Canadian take on the then-prevalent slasher genre. It's possibly a little too "tony" for anyone looking for a festival of "babes and blood," but it delivers some good shocks despite the lack of the more visceral elements. The writer, interestingly, was also responsible for one of the best known exemplars of 80s slashers, 1980's PROM NIGHT.
CURTAINS' script puts a high emphasis on creating a back story for the first two characters, Stryker (John Vernon) and Samantha (Samantha Eggar), a movie-director and an actress respectively, who have enjoyed both professional and private relations together. Samantha purchases the rights to a property called "Audra," concerning a madwoman, which she wants Stryker to direct. The film fails to get financing, but Samantha decides to research the role anyway. With Stryker's help she gets herself committed to a mental asylum, so that she can play the Audra character with conviction. Her expectation is that Stryker will release her when she's completed her research, but the cold-blooded producer sees her commitment as an opportunity. He simply leaves her in the asylum, plannning to promote the film with a new and younger actress in the role. Samantha escapes and learns that Stryker is auditioning six young actresses at a mansion in the snowy hill-country.
The script deftly juxtaposes images of youth and age in keeping with Stryker's courting of younger actresses to replace Samantha. While in the asylum, Samantha, though not an old woman, feels her sanity threatened by her interaction with the real madwomen of the asylum. Stryker uses the auditions as a 'casting-couch' whereby he seduces at least one of the aspiring actresses. And when the expected killings of the young actresses commence at the mansion, the mystery killer-- whose gender can't be decisively determined-- wears the mask of an aged hag as she cuts down the young girls (and Stryker for good measure).
The middle part of the film creates some tantalizing resonances. The first actress-victim is actually killed before she ever reaches the mansion, after having a premonitory dream in which she encounters a female baby-doll that attacks her before she is killed. Following the dream, she's killed by the Hag. Some time later, the second victim-- and the first victim to be killed at the mansion--finds a doll in the snow. It just happens to be an exact replica of the dream-doll, save that this doll doesn't come to life, serving only to distract the second victim a moment or two before the hag-killer comes for her. There's no explanation of the coincidence between one victim's dream and the other's reality, but it adds an extra level of creepiness to the second killing-sequence.
The apparition of the hag-killer is probably the film's strongest moment, though the actual killings are rather mundane and, of course, not overly bloody. A few scenes after the first mansion-killing, the hag-mask is seen in the equipment Stryker brings for the auditions. Samantha, despite her status as an escapee, shows up to claim the part of Audra by vying with the younger women. Stryker, rather than throwing her out, tries to humiliate her by making it part of her audition to wear the mask as she attempts to seduce him-- a patent attempt to portray Samantha as completely "over the hill." Samantha's humiliation serves to convince the average viewer that she must be the killer, that she stole the mask from Stryker for her first murders. But of course, all is not as it seems.
The film's biggest flaw is that though one doesn't expect deep characterization for the victims in a slasher-movie, the movie might have profited if there had been a little more to keep one victim from blending in to another, precisely because this was a tonier, less visceral representation of the subgenre.