22 October 2014

[continued from Part I]

TT: Did Curtains begin shooting in November/December 1980?

PS: (Laughs, hesitantly.) That's right. And we shot some of it a year later. [Following final production in 1982, Curtains saw a U.S. theatrical release in March 1983].

Here's the thing. We talked earlier about Curtains being troubled. It was more than troubled. When Ciupka left the picture, I had half a movie.

So you sit there and you say that half a movie is about as valuable as half a fucking car. What do you do with half a film? If you don't have inspiration, you bide your time. It was the cost of money...let's say I was running up an interest tab of whatever...vs. the fact that I had an unsalable piece of merchandise.

TT: So was Richard Ciupka fired or did he leave amicably?

PS: Well, it's always great when I think he's in over his head...and so does he. Let's say he wasn't invited back to the re-shoots.

TT: Sounds like it was mutual.

PS: Don't get me wrong...I love Ritchie. There are no hard feelings. We kissed and made up a long time ago. He was just the wrong guy for this picture. He didn't really know how to stage for the camera. He was more worried about shot composition than he was with the energy.

TT: And crediting the director of Curtains to 'Jonathan Stryker'? Various folks seem to think this was Ciupka's decision to distance himself from the film. But considering the nature of the distended re-shoots, it's fairly obvious that would have been your decision?

PS: Yes, it was. And as we weren't DGA, no need for Alan Smithee!

TT: For a slasher, the two most inspired scenes of energy in Curtains are the ice skating scene and the cat and mouse chase in the prop shed. What do you recall about the latter with Sandra Warren (AKA Sandee Currie who also appeared in Terror Train)?

PS: The scene with the hag sitting in the back of the car? That was a nice little jolt.

TT: The hum of the neon signs...the mannequins...the hanging curtains in primary colors...and that bricked up door. It's well done. And Warren does a good job.

PS: I feel there were a lot of good actresses in the movie. One of the things that I always thought held the movie together was essentially the drama remains pretty good between all the horror stuff.

TT: The one you see least of is the ballerina (Anne Ditchburn).

PS: You know what? Fucking Anne couldn't walk and chew gum at the same time. I absolutely loved her and if you've never grabbed a ballerina's ass...well, you ought to try it some time. The hardest butts in the world.

TT: But her acting left something to be desired?

PS: In another kind of movie, Anne could have done other things. It's just that she wasn't up to fighting with Thorson, Griffin and Eggar. She probably could have held her own with young Lesleh and Sandra...

You know, it's a very obvious omission but we should have had more bits of stuff...even short scenes with Anne to pay off her death. She's not in it enough. She was a major ballerina in real life.

TT: Was there a language barrier there?

PS: No, she had this mousy little voice. And I think quite frankly, Samantha Eggar and Linda Thorson are just ballsy broads. They stand up and take total control. I think it was Anne's little complex.

TT: For an ingenue, Lesleh is quite good in the movie.

PS: Lesleh always looks terrific. She had the perfect naivete for the young little figure skater who knew she was in over her head.

TT: There's a real mid-western virginity there that works, even though she's from Canada.

PS: I shot a great little scene with Lesleh and her skating coach that didn't make it to the final cut. We had a little back story with her. The character had been having an affair with her coach. She was jilted and that was supposed to resonate when she sleeps with Stryker.

Want another bit of trivia?

TT: Yes!

PS: Sandra's left breast...where Anne is touching her, pretending to be a man. We needed a close-up. And we had to cast a body for it. So I saw this girl and I remember she had a hat on and bandages all over her nose.

TT: Bandages...on her nose?

PS: She just had a nose job! I went down this line-up of four girls to see if there was a good match for Sandra. You know who I picked?

TT: Who?

PS: Shannon Tweed, who went on to live with Hugh Hefner and is now with KISS frontman Gene Simmons. We ended up being good friends and she did two or three films for me.

TT: Ah, a KISS/Curtains connection!

OK. Let's talk about the identity of the killer. Curtains ultimately works but there's something odd about the last ten or fifteen minutes. Was there some confusion about who the killer would be?

PS: It was always going to be Lynne Griffin.

TT: That was in Guza's original screenplay?

PS: I believe so.

TT: Then it's not true that several different endings with different killers were filmed?

PS: No...although technically there ARE two killers in the final version because the Eggar character kills Stryker.

TT: And Thorson. Lynne kills everybody else as a mad hag.

PS: Right.

TT: Let's talk about locations. Where was Stryker's retreat, in actuality?

PS: Well, the house in the country with the snow...that was all exterior shooting in the wintertime.

TT: Where is that exterior?

PS: It's about one hundred miles north of Toronto. The insane asylum is in Toronto. In the asylum, the two attendants who wrestle the strait-jacket on Eggar...one of them is Bill Marshall, the founder of the Toronto Film Festival.

TT: Neat. Where is the rainy road that the doomed blonde (Deborah Burgess) drives on...in her nightmare, at least?

PS: That's a popular area called Caledon, a hilly area that we used as the transition to go from the city to the snowy countryside. Norman Jewison's farm is out that way.

TT: What do you recall about some of the other actresses, namely Griffin and Burgess?

PS: Deborah Burgess is still doing very well. She was a newscaster who did acting. I used to bump into Lynne Griffin at LAX. I was very pleased with Lynne's performance in this film.

TT: How about composer Paul Zaza? We find his score for Curtains to be very effective.

He scored for all of your Prom Night movies as well as 1981's My Bloody Valentine and 1983's American Nightmare...

PS: Paulie. We're very good friends. He co-scored the first Prom Night with Carl Zittrer, who had done Black Christmas.

The dance piece that Paul did for Anne Ditchburn in Curtains when she dies is a great piece. He's a terrific composer but he's also a businessman.

Paul is not confused about what pays the bills. I think he's not a "tortured starving artist" like certain people. You know what he is? He's totally and absolutely a producer's composer.

In other words, Paul sits down and tries to really get what you need. I've always gotten along with him. The two people who have kept him in business during the '80s and '90s are me and Bob Clark.

TT: Is he based in Canada?

PS: Yes. Toronto.

TT: What's your relationship with Bob Clark?

PS: We're friendly. I've never worked with him. I was a young guy starting in the business when Black Christmas was done. As a matter of fact, the managing partner of the firm that financed BC was a very good friend of mine. He died really young but he was one of the reasons that I got interested in the film business early.

TT: One of the promotional lobbycards for Curtains shows Griffin standing on a theatre stage surrounded by her recent bloody kills (which are positioned for maximum shock effect). This seems to be either an alternate approach to the ending or a setup to be intercut with the 'Griffin in the asylum' ending.

PS: Yes, this was the original stagey ending. It didn't really work.

TT: We'd love to channel fan enthusiasm for Curtains towards a DVD release...perhaps a special edition with cast commentary, deleted scenes, etc.

PS: If you think there would be some interest, we can see what we could do.

TT: Regarding deleted footage for Curtains, we show a running time of 90 minutes but we've seen various running times listed ranging from 100 to 110 minutes.

PS: There might have been a longer cut. This was edited over a long period of time. There were more cuts than I've had with a bad razor. I remember all sorts of stuff that was shot but I really remember most of all a scene with a skating instructor and Lesleh.

I thought this sequence made the final cut but it clearly didn't. It must have been trimmed. Alliance's material is only as good as mine.

TT: If anyone were to have some of this ancillary/deleted material for Curtains, it would be Alliance?

PS: Absolutely.

TT: What are you thoughts on the horror genre today?

PS: Interesting question. It's hard to take anything seriously after Scream and Scary Movie. I mean, Scream was a well-done movie but it was what it was, right?

TT: You mean the thematic deconstruction...the sarcasm...the glib one liners...'The Modern Sneer'?

PS: There's this awareness of everybody being in the business. Everybody's vocabulary about a movie imitating a movie. Even Scream 2 is about the book coming out about the first film, isn't it?

I have a very good ghost story that I'm hoping to shoot in October called Keepers. It's about a young female writer who's having a bit of a breakdown and seeks refuge in a country house that's haunted by the ghost of a nine year-old girl. I think it will be a very scary movie. Heather Graham is attached to it.

The problem is that small horror films don't fit with the current studio mentality. The mentality right now is big, big, big, big, big. Open Water, for example, about the two people left behind from the boat...I was rooting for the shark. I don't know what that means about your character development.

TT: That's why The Terror Trap has a timeline that we cut off at 1987. By the late 1980s, slashers in particular and horror in general, well...it's a snake eating its own tail. Self cannibalism.

PS: In its own way, Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (which was originally called The Haunting of Hamilton High) was going to be my fucking best horror film.

But once again, I hired the wrong director and we had to re-shoot it. Samuel Goldwyn and I re-shot about half the movie. I had five bidders for it. Sam said to me that this is my Nightmare on Elm Street.

TT: For the overly slick late '80s, the opening sequence of Mary Lou (her prom in 1957) has a surprisingly gritty feel. The fire and all.

PS: Kevin Thomas of The LA Times called it the 'Blue Velvet of horror films.' But Sam never had the courage of his convictions and it was released in a capricious and silly fashion. He wanted to build on Prom Night so we changed the title, which I think hurt the movie.

The Haunting of Hamilton High would have been more of an original title and it wouldn't have had to carry any baggage of Prom Night.

It's got some very heavy scenes in it but even then, there is a slight awareness that was creeping in to MY vocabulary. Now that you mention your timeline of 1987, when I rethink about Mary Lou now, well I can see that creeping in.

TT: Canadian horror from the late 1970s and early 1980s have a great vibe to them. Is it because of that said straightforward storytelling approach?

PS: Horror was always the domain of the independents. It's not the domain of the studios. Canadians by definition worked outside of the purview of the studios and we were in the independent stream. The first thing, as you know, that most directors do when they do a horror film is they do something else.

TT: Anything you want to add about Curtains?

PS: Well, I was amazed that you guys had done all this work and that you mentioned the re-shoots and the history of the film. I couldn't find any inaccuracies. I do have to tell you, one of the things I thank you for is you made me go back and watch Curtains again.

TT: That's so cool. And did you enjoy it?

PS: I did. There are some real jolts that I had forgotten about!

TT: Well, we thank you for making both Curtains, as well as all of the Prom Night films. You've given us some real insight into a golden time for horror.

PS: My pleasure.

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