Behind the CURTAINS (1983) Terror Tuesday Screening
(Why do I feel the compulsion to pronounce it “coi-tins”? like I’m Betty Boop or something?)
Last Fall, the American Genre Film Archive (AGFA) threw a kick-ass kickstarter to purchase a 4K scanner in order to preserve 35mm film prints from the Something Weird collection. An absolutely worthy cause to support in itself, but when I saw that one of the perks was to select a film for screening, program and co-host the much beloved Terror Tuesday at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz, there was no question about supporting their project.
So why did I select CURTAINS?
I remember seeing the Curtains (1983) VHS cover when I was a kid, but for some reason I never picked it. I suspect it’s because the cover had a doll (walking out of what now looks to me like a va-jay-jay), and I most likely assumed the movie was about a killer doll. I’ve never been creeped out by possessed toys. Over the years, I would hear about Curtains, and by the time I decided I needed to watch it, the film seemingly disappeared from the earth as did most VHS rental stores.
I stumbled upon Curtains in January and decided it was time. It was one of those films that, after watching it, I immediately had to re-watch it just to make sure I actually saw what I thought I saw. It’s a special gem: a cobbled together mess of a film due to production issues, but that’s actually a gift to us viewers. It’s part Lifetime movie, part female-centric campy slasher, with splashes of breath-taking surrealism.
The scene that really clenched it for me was the iconic ice skating scene – the creepy Audra skating towards Lesleh Donaldson in broad daylight.
There is something so fucking special about a horror scene taking place in full light, in full display, with nothing hidden or lurking in the shadows or under the cover of night. Daymare horror adds a sense of realism; it strips away the security we associate with light; it weighs us down with a feeling of futility. If this can happen in the middle of the day, than anything is possible, and no one is safe, and there is no where to hide. Daytime terror is the reason Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) is my most favorite film. It’s the reason I re-watch Witchboard (1986) more than anyone should. It’s the reason why I can tolerate The Hills Have Eyes (1977 – I’m sorry, and to be honest, I am due for a rewatch). It’s the best part of the recent anthology Southbound (2015).
This is the closest I can come to describing how daytime horror makes me feel: you know when you go to matinee showing of a life-changing film (horror or otherwise), you spend a couple of hours in a dark theater being terrified/transported into another world, and when the film is over, you step outside into the blinding light and have to squint your eyes to see? And a feeling comes over you, this feeling that it’s still light outside and you still have so much time left in your day. You feel a sense of excitement about what’s coming next. Anything is possible.
This is why I selected Curtains for the Terror Tuesday screening. There was something about it that evoked a feeling in me I rarely get in horror these days. A sense that anything is possible.
Of course, there are other reasons to love Curtains… there is a Giallo-ish creepy doll, a hag-masked killer resembling Lisa Kudrow after a shit-ton of living hard, random interpretive dancing reminiscent of Kate Bush circa 1979 The Tour of Life (anything that reminds me of Kate Bush gets a gold-fucking-star), and Lynne Griffin who plays the most awkward and unfunny comedienne in the world, but is saved by saying the phrase “Skate on your face!”
Programming and preparing for the TT presentation was skate-on-your-face amazing. I must thank Joe Ziemba (Director of AGFA & Genre Programming & Promotions) for being incredibly accommodating, generous, and supportive. Austin is super-lucky to have Joe as the Terror Tuesday host every week!
So, I wanted to create an unofficial Curtains pre-show/post-show video as a thank you to everyone who came to the viewing. My BFF Erika Instead from NY came to visit pretty much the day before the show, and the amount of prep work for this video was insurmountable – but to echo the theme of Curtains, “anything is possible,” especially when passion meets determination. Plus, we’re some bad ass bitches. Although we did spend the bulk of our time trying to decide how to pronounce “scythe” (is it sith-ee? sci-tha? skith-tha?) before we began filming Erika dressed as Audra doing Austin-type stuff and thangs. “Audra Does Austin.”
We hit up Pinballz Arcade where Audra won a sombrero, to Graffiti Park at Castle Hill where I fell into the muggiest, muddiest, most flesh-eating bacteria filled puddle I’ve ever seen — and where we met a kind graffiti artist who let us borrow some spraypaint, to Jackalope where Audra faux-pounded some Lone Star, to Bookpeople where I serendipitously found a cat mask, to Veloway where Audra fell about 7 times the minute she put my skates on (so I convinced a bad-ass roller derby girl Randi Adams, aka Audra 2.0, to perform the creepy skate stalk scene), and finally to the Alamo Drafthouse.
I edited the video that same night in order to go live on Tuesday morning. By the end of it, I was exhausted and loopy, and coming up with weird shit to film like ‘Meta Curtains‘ where Audra is watching herself watch herself watch herself watch Curtains, and then gets killed by her own scythe. Totally worth it. These will forever be our little home videos of an amazing day, and we hope you enjoy it.
I also wanted to make and hand out audio cassettes with a shitty recording of “Saved My Soul” by Canadian songster virtuoso Burton Cummings, which is the song that plays during my favorite scene in Curtains. The only issue with this idea is that we had to listen to the song about 50 times in one day. I find myself singing it throughout every day now. Burton can’t be stopped.
The screening was magical and glorious. I shared my feelings of what horror means to me (more on that in the ‘Love Letter to Terror Tuesday’ below), and Audra did an interpretive dance onstage. Practicing for the dance was great in itself – I made Erika watch Kate Bush videos to prep. When you find a friend that is game to do random, “weird” things like dance publicly on stage in front of 150+ people… well, you fucking keep em. You hold them close.
My favorite part of the whole experience that I will cherish forever was hearing from people after the show. There is nothing quite like laying your heart out on the stage, and having people pick it up, hand it right back to you, and say they feel the same way.
Love Letter to Terror Tuesday
When I was a kid, my mother would take me to the movie rental shop on the weekends, and I was allowed to pick out 2 or 3 horror movies. Those films would end up being my babysitter when she was out at the bars. I would gravitate towards the VHS covers that looked mysterious and gory, pick up the tape and feel the weight of it in my hands, and decide “this is the one.” I clung wildly to this ritual as I was starving for stability – it was a comfort to know that I could escape for 6 hours into a world that fascinated me. I began a relationship with every one of those movies I watched during that time in my life… it’s how I was introduced to Tales from the Crypt (1972), The Girl in Room 2A (1974), Demons (1985), etc. They shaped who I am today. They temporarily filled a space that was left in me, a hole I didn’t even know was there until I grew older and felt the weight of its persistent emptiness.
Terror Tuesday has replaced that old, weekly childhood ritual of wandering the VHS horror aisle; searching, exploring, deciding. Now, incredible programmers bring amazing films for my eyes to feast on every week. It’s the place I can go to revisit the movies — these old friends — the ones that kept me grounded when I was a younger. It’s a place I can go to start a whole new relationship with a film that may keep me company for the remainder of my life.
I live with debilitating social anxiety and depression. It is what it is. But nothing gets me out of my shell quicker than horror movies. And nothing gives me the courage to embrace my weirdness and otherness like talking with people who also love horror movies. Terror Tuesday is a consistent feeder of this much needed connection. It’s not a small thing. Not for me or people like me. Not for people who may feel crushing loneliness even when they’re surrounded by people, or feel completely empty even when their dreams come true – but isn’t it amazing how quickly that hole inside you fills up just by the thought of having the option to come home and watch A Nightmare on Elm Street? It’s a nostalgia, a stability that some of us are still needing, even in our 30s and beyond. And honestly, it’s very beautiful and mysterious to me. I will be forever grateful to the Alamo Drafthouse for creating such a comforting and safe space for people like me to escape for 2 hours a week while being surrounded by others who are just as intimately passionate about horror.