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!

Jul 22, 2014

It's CURTAINS for you, pal

For the last 30 years or so, Curtains (1983) has languished in the blackness of Negative Zone, home to all the horror movies lacking a proper release. Fans and curious newbie viewers alike have suffered through beyond subpar-quality versions of the film, found on the internet, bootleg copies, or VHS tapes. Orrrrr on VHS tapes formerly owned by Tori Spelling...and I know I've talked about that plenty of times before, but listen, I'm going to talk about it plenty of times in the future, too, and I'll probably be buried with that thing. But! The important thing here is not all those cruddy versions of the film. The important thing is that no longer must the world endure cruddy copies of Curtains! No more must we squint into the deep dark of the movie as we try to figure out what's going on. No more must we deal with bland colors and middling sound and mushy visuals, for the wonderful wizards at Synapse Films have painstakingly restored Curtains for a DVD/Blu-ray release next week. Y'all, it is a thing of beauty.

Truly, it's a sight to behold. I've seen Curtains several times, but this was like a whole new movie for me. the famous ice skating scene? The killer's ice skates are fuzzy! Who knew? From the glint on the edge of the sickle to the killer's eyes darting back and forth to every nook and cranny on that terrifying mask, all the little details that come shining through on the Blu-ray got me all giddy. I am only a little bit ashamed about that.

Now, here's the thing: gorgeous picture quality doesn't mean that Curtains is a good movie. We can all admit that, can't we? Undoubtedly it's got some pretty high highlights- come on, the aforementioned ice skating scene sits well-deservedly in the genre's Hall Of Fucking Creepy As All Get Out. Lynne Griffin is terrifically charming as comedian-turned-actress Patti (makes you wish she'd been able to stick around longer in Black Christmas...), and if Lesleh Donaldson isn't one of the horror mavens of your heart then I'm not sure what kind of problems you have, frankly.

A movie about six actresses and two guys snowbound in a mansion, should be straightforward and full of tension, but somehow Curtains just plain ain't. It's saddled with a meandering, largely nonsensical plot and characters that are, for the most part, severely underdeveloped. Mmm, make that completely undeveloped- does Laurian even speak? And what the heck is with that Matthew guy? Meanwhile, it's nearly devoid of explicit violence and/or gore- not that bloody mayhem is essential in a good horror movie (often, it's a detriment if you ask me) (GO AHEAD, ASK ME), but for a film that came out during the slasher heyday and features so many of the genre's tropes, it's surprising.

So if it's not good, why is Curtains so beloved? I mean, I love the hell out of it, not even ironically! Why have fans been clamoring for this film forever? I've long tried to figure this out- is it just that a few stellar moments are enough? That's partially it, but I think Lesleh Donaldson is absolutely spot-on when she says "They love it because of the idea of what it could have been." That's a quote from The Ultimate Nightmare: The Making of "Curtains", an all-new retrospective included in this release. Lemme tell ya, that documentary is pure gold to a horror nerd as it lifts back the curtains (sorry) on the messy story behind the making of this film.

It's the tale of a director and producer at odds- the former wanted to make an artsy psychological thriller, the latter wanted a straight-up slasher flick- whose differing visions all but tanked the film. Curtains is notoriously disjointed, and you'll learn why that is as everyone interviewed, whether actress or composer, sheds light on the interminable production. They all disparage the film in the end, and they're baffled as to why anyone would enjoy it- pretty hilarious and refreshingly frank, really.

Again, Donaldson perfectly articulates the way fans feel about Curtains- it's not the movie's fault it's so bad- it was doomed nearly from the start! Of course it could have (and should have) been better, but what it gets right, it gets really really right, and now it looks better than ever. Better than it has any right to, probably. But what can I say, it's always been a movie I feel oddly defensive about. Even when I (secretly) agree with those who'd put it down, I find myself wanting to throw a blanket around Curtains's shoulders, pat it on the head, and tell it, "Don't worry, at least you tried."

Jul 17, 2014

Coven Lovin'

My movie coat is a coat of many feelings. Love, hate, super love, wicked hate, ambivalence...every time I watch a film, I add another technicolor dreampatch to this hideous emotional trenchcoat of mine. The rarest patches of all– the ones made of human skin (just kidding, they're actually velour), the ones that I sew in ever-so-rarely– represent the movies that make me feel happy to be alive. Chock full of joie de vivre! You know how it is, life is a drag. People get sick, you lose your job, there's never enough money, it's too hot, it's too cold, all of a sudden you remember that the Macarena was a thing, and every day is just another day without Ecto Cooler. Then you see a bitchin' sunset or whatever, or you see a movie like Bay Cove (1987) and you feel the power of FUCK YEAH coursing through your veins, and "La Vida Loca" is stuck in your head for the rest of the day.

If you're dubious as to how it's possible that Bay Cove gets me all kinds of feelin' that way, then hang on to your bloomers because I'm about to lay it down. It's really very simple: Bay Cove is a made-for-TV movie about witches. Witches, of course, are vastly underrepresented in horror and so whenever I catch the slightest whiff o' witch (smells like peppermint!) I'm automatically on board. Throw "made-for-TV" into the mix and I'm so much more on board that I become the board. But Bay Cove doesn't stop there, oh no. The hits, they just keep comin'!

Pamela Sue Martin- yes, Nancy Drew herself! Fallon Carrington Colby herself!- stars as Linda Lebon, a hotshot young Boston attorney in desperate need of an Alberto VO5 Hot Oil Treatment. Linda's got it all: a hunky hubby (Jerry, played by Tim Matheson), a new work promotion, a pretty cute dog, and a cool city apartment. You know the kind: lofts and modified lofts, full of all sorts of clean lines and crazy crap. The crazy crap in Linda's case is a saxophone in the corner; sadly, it's never played. And boy do I mean "sadly" because lawd a-mighty I wanted to see Pamela Sue Martin play the saxophone.

You know what, though, Jerry doesn't feel like he has it all. Sure, he's got the apartment and the wife and the dog and the saxophone and his own contracting company. But now that he's a "boss" he spends too much time in suits and not enough time working with his hands. His dissatisfaction makes him particularly susceptible to the idea of a more rustic lifestyle, just like the one pitched by new friends Josh and Debbi (Jeff Conaway and Susan Ruttan) (I'm telling you, this movie never stops with the delightfulness). Devlin Island is great! they said. It's remote and peaceful! they said. Well, it will be a long daily commute for Linda and she'll have to rely on a ferry which will surely suck come winter, but I don't care, let's buy a house! Jerry said. And so buy a house they did, from the recently widowed Beatrice (Barbara Billingsley) (THIS MOVIE). You'll be happy to know that Jerry and Linda bring the saxophone to the new house. You'll be sad to know that still, no one ever plays it.

When Beatrice is all "I'm selling you my house, but I'm going to continue to live 15 feet away in the back house, and also I will walk in and out of your new house as often as I please," Linda should have slung that sax right over her shoulder and caught the next ferry right back to the mainland, but as you'd expect, she doesn't.

Actually, all of Bay Cove plays out exactly as you'd expect. The bulk of the movie consists of Linda gettin' her Nancy Drew on and discovering clues that point to the true nature of her new neighbors, but then the witches change those clues so Linda looks crazy. There's a scene, for example, where Linda finds incontrovertible evidence that a neighbor is actually 300 years old: grey hair dye! He's got to dye his hair to look older, see? But when Linda shows the bottle to Jerry, it's changed to brown hair dye. What the heck! Is Linda just breaking under all the strain of the new house and increased workload at the law firm? Nope. The people you think are witches are actually witches, the people you think are going to be vulnerable to or doomed by the witches end up totally vulnerable to and doomed by the witches.

Yes, the familiarity runs strong in this one, with hints of Dead and Buried, Rosemary's Baby, The Wicker Man, and The Stepford Wives throughout. That's not to say it's off-putting or boring; rather, it feels like reuniting with an old pal. And let's face it, a world without a movie featuring Barbara Billingsley, Susan Ruttan, Jeff Conaway, and Inga Swenson of television's Benson as a coven of robe-clad witches is not a world in which I want to live.

There's a brief showdown (complete with Dracula's Castle-style organ music) and Bay Cove ends like all the best made-for-TV movies do: incredibly abruptly. You're in the middle of some action and BAM, end credits. You'll be left wondering how Linda is going to explain everything to the police (oh, spoiler, she lives) and what it was, exactly, that the witches were after. They say they want to continue livin' la vida immortal, but that can't be right. Who wants to live on a tiny island with the same 12 people all up in your business forever? That sounds like a nightmare to me. Although, gimme a DVD copy of Bay Cove and I might think about it, not gonna lie. Pamela Sue Martin vs. Barbara Billingsley with a pentagram around her neck? Viva la vida!