FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Jun 22, 2007

Great Scenes in Mediocre Films: CURTAINS

Reader and commenter rural juror chimed in to let me know that he (or, I guess, she...damn internet anonymity! Mystery solved- it's a boy!) had watched Curtains on my reccie and was overall less than thrilled. It wasn't a surprising reaction: Curtains (1983) isn't a great film. Instead, it's a fairly by-the-numbers slasher set in the world of theatre and filled with histrionics and melodrama (you know how actresses can be, right?)- I mean, Samantha Eggar (The Brood) gets her crazy on in full force.

What sets Curtains apart from other middle-of-the-road slasher flicks, however, is a single scene. Talk to anyone who's seen this film and undoubtedly they'll mention "the ice skating scene". Sure, you could delve into the plot a bit and come up with the theory that Curtains actually has something to say about the way the shelf life of an actress ends around 40, the way women in Hollywood are inevitably replaced by a newer, younger model...but this is a horror movie and Feminist Film Theory 101 don't bring the scary. Or should I say, it could, but in an entirely different fashion.

Thanks to the glory of The Internet, the infamous ice skating scene is online for the world to enjoy. Its power is weakened a bit by the fact that the clip is completely out of context, but here it is. Spoilers obviously abound.

So many elements fall into line perfectly in that sequence, and in my opinion it's simply one of the most stylish and effective kill scenes in any slasher film. The tight framing adds a sense of urgency, the ultra-bright daylight is unexpected and unsettling, and the slow-motion is used to maximum effect. I've seen far too many horror films that use slo-mo arbitrarily, rendering sequences silly and useless. Here, the slowness of the chase only adds to the terror by imbuing the scene with a surreal, dream-like quality- as does the sound, which doesn't quite seem to match up with reality. And the killer grunting as the scythe swings again and again? Horrifying.

Then, of course, there are the visuals...the humongous doll buried in the snow and that fucking mask. If anything, the scene solidifies that whole Curtains-as-Feminist Film Theory 101 thesis I mentioned earlier: the black-clad old hag seeks vengeance against her young, beautiful, pink-clad, ice-skating replacement (Lesleh Donaldson)...I mean, what's an aging actress to do? If I were Dakota Fanning, I'd cut a wide swath around Susan Sarandon.

I'm such a sucker for good horror that sometimes an effective scene can redeem an entire film. Curtains isn't a terrible film, certainly- if anything, its biggest crime is mediocrity. The rest of the film, though at times suspenseful and scary, simply fails to live up to the promise of the ice skating scene. Overall, I'd still recommend this film to slasher fans- it most definitely deserves a spot in the subgenre pantheon.

While it's still awaiting a DVD release, you can generally find the VHS on the cheap here and there (I would just like to point out again for the record that I have Tori Spelling's copy of Curtains. I heart Tori Spelling...she was in Co-Ed Call Girl AND she has great taste in horror movies!), you can see the entire film (broken up into 10-minute increments) beginning here. Undoubtedly, it's not the best way to watch a scary movie, but then again you're probably a big cheapskate.

But I still love you.


Amanda By Night said...

Because I'm lame, I never even put any feminist theory to this movie, but yeah, the thing about the mask and the murderer really struck a cord with me.

Plus Lesleh Donaldson is hot.

I need to give this one another go.

Anonymous said...

You just made my week! It's HE by the way.

Yeah..I agree that the problem is mediocrity, and that it just never lives up to the promise in this scene. Even the 80's tune I'd never heard of that echoes around the lake as she's ice skating adds SO MUCH tension. It's a great scene.

Anonymous said...

By the way, I cannot wait for my copy of Killer Workout to get here.

M said...

I feel the same way about Roger Corman's The Tomb of Ligeia: I don't care about the movie as a whole, but I do love the funeral scene. It's a great idea for a series of posts, I look forward to them!

Anonymous said...

yeah, I know...more of me. I just wanted to say that I rewatched some parts of Curtains and thought about it a little, and I think I like Curtains a little more than at first. I still think there are some major pacing problems, but reading up on the produciton issues, I know where they came from.

Anonymous said...

Great scene!

That mask always has -- and always will -- give me the hibbily-jibbilies.

In other news, I still have not seen THE DESCENT because, you know, I suck.

Anonymous said...

I haven't seen "The Descent" yet either. I, too, suck...

Anonymous said...

Leave the sucking for late friday nights, go rent the awesome THE DESCENT now!

I highly agree about CURTAINS. The movie as a whole is good, not great not bad, just good. But that scene is fucking awesome, excuse my much needed profanity.

Great idea for a series of blog posts stacie!

Anonymous said...

I haven't watched this movie in years, and it is a GREAT scene. I too think the slo-mo was done well, and added to the suspense.

Part of what makes the scene "unique?" for me is the trees, cars, cabins, sheds, caves, coffins, or pumpkins to hide behind, in, or under. It's not very often the victim sees the killer at a distance, and doesn't really have anywhere to run...

Oh and I suck too, cause I haven't seen The Descent either :(


Stacie Ponder said...

CURTAINS was plagued by behind-the-scenes crap, and it really shows. It bums me out because it could have been stellar all the way through. It's still better than most slashers, though, I'll give it that...there's actually pretty few "great" films in the subgenre.

I can't believe so many people still haven't seen THE DESCENT. Maybe I should make it a Film Club pick again. :P

Anonymous said...

Yeah, for those interested there's a great interview about everything CURTAINS at The Terror Trap.

Anonymous said...

^ I've read that's good. There's one by the director/producer AND by Lesleh Donaldson.