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Curfew
(1988)

Director: Gary Winick 
Cast:
Kyle Richards, Wendell Wellman, John Putch


Long time readers of The Unknown Movies will likely have seen several patterns of mine when it comes to the movies I choose to review. One of the most obvious is probably the fact that I don't like to review two or more movies of the same genre in a row - I try my best to make every new review from a completely different genre than the previous movie. That's because the last thing I want to do is make my web site one note and predictable. Another reason for this policy is to help give my reviews variety, something for every possible visitor to my site. Another pattern that long time readers may have noticed is that when I review a certain kind of movie - the best way to put it is a genre in a genre - I hold off for a long time from reviewing another example of it for many months or even years. For example, in the action genre there are Die Hard rip-offs. I've reviewed a few, though you will see that there have been plenty of reviews of other kind of films between each of those examples. The reason for that is also because I don't want the web site to become one note and predictable. However, due to a concern that my unpredictable practices are in a way becoming predictable, I am going to shake things up with the movie I reviewing right here, Curfew. I got this movie quite some time ago from my father, who knows how much I love unknown movies and reviewing them afterwards. But it was around the same time I got the movie Hostile Takeover, and that movie dealt with the same topic as Curfew does - hostage taking. I reviewed Hostile Takeover only a few months ago, but I'm deciding to review Curfew now to shake you readers and your expectations up a little. As I indicated earlier, never expect the expected with The Unknown Movies.

As I said earlier, Curfew deals with the topic of hostage taking. The topic of hostage taking, though not completely ignored by B movie makers, hasn't exactly taken the B movie world by storm. This is kind of puzzling to me, because the hostage taking genre has a lot of attributes that I think many B movie makers would be attracted by. Although there are the occasional exceptions like Die Hard, most hostage movies tend to spend the bulk of the running time in one general place - this means less sets have to be built, or less actual locations have to be secured. Another attractive feature of many hostage movies is that the majority of the hostage taking time involves people simply talking - which means less money and time has to be budgeted for special effects or action sequences. Anyway, while there are attractive things about the hostage taking genre for both B and A movie makers, I would like to talk about one certain kind of hostage taking movie. And that is the hostage taking movie that takes place in a home. It's been done by mainstream movie makers, (like the two Desperate Hours movies) as well as B movie makers. I have to confess that these particular hostage taking movies - dare I say it - tend to hit home for me. The reasons for that I think are pretty simple. Home is where you tend to feel safe and secure, and to have that safety and security shattered is a real shock. Also, in these movies the hero character's fellow hostages are not just acquaintances or fellow workers - they are his own flesh and blood. If one of them were to be hurt or killed, it would be a more devastating blow than suffering by a non-family member.

Setting up a hostage taking movie in a home certainly gives you an instant boost, if you ask me. Of course, you still need to give the project some care. You need a good screenplay that makes the protagonists Curfewsympathetic and the antagonists to be real louts. Then you need some good actors who are able to successfully interpret their scripted parts so they become alive and believable. And you need a good director to both unfold the events of the screenplay in a satisfying manner, and get the actors to give it all that they've got. It's a lot of work, but if you really nail it you can make something as good as If I Die Before I Wake. I thought that Curfew might also be a gem, judging from a few positive reports I uncovered while researching the movie before watching it. The movie concerns what happens one night to a family called the Davenports. Man of the house Walter (Frank Miller) is the town's successful district attorney, and he is married to a woman named Megan (Jean Brooks). Both are parents to a teenage girl named Stephanie (Richards, Halloween). One night, Stephanie leaves the house in order to go on a date with the high school quarterback, and is told by her parents that she must follow a curfew and be home by 10:00 PM. While she is out, her parents get a rude reminder from the past. Some time earlier, Walter had successfully prosecuted the Perkins brothers, Ray Don (Wellman, The Klansman) and Bobby Joe (Putch, Chain Of Command), and got the judge to sentence them to death. But both brothers have escaped from prison, and are dead set on getting even with the people responsible for sending them to death row. After first dealing with other people at the trial (including the judge), they now set their sights on district attorney Walter and his family. While Stephanie is out, the Perkins brothers make their way into the Davenport home and quickly take Walter and Megan captive, and start their long and torture-filled plan of revenge. Of course, when Stephanie eventually has to come home, she too is taken hostage, and soon the question that comes up is if the Perkins will kill Stephanie and her parents before help arrives - if ever, that is.

I have to admit that I had pretty high hopes for Curfew. Though it was an independent production, it had been picked up for distribution in North America in 1988 by New World Pictures, which was a respectable sized distribution label at the time. If they thought it was worth picking up, chances were that the movie was worth something. Sweetening thing further was a report I came across when I was doing research on the movie, the report being that back in 1988, the British Board of Film Classification banned the movie from getting released on video in England. True, the BBFC has often proven to have grossly overreacted to content in movies (and they did allow the movie to be released on DVD fourteen years later) but news of this lengthy ban did give the movie a glimmer of promise. I am sure that this news of the ban is the aspect of the movie you are most curious about, so I will first answer the question as to if the movie's ban had any justification. Well, for the most part, the answer is no. Although I saw the full length version of the movie, I was struck by how most of the brutality the Perkins brothers inflicted seemed to be directed in a manner that could be labelled "good taste". The mother's torture by electricity is heard but not seen. The rape and murder of a friend of Stephanie is also not seen, and we only realize what happened when we see the undressed corpse after the fact. An elderly man is beaten, but the camera focuses on the witnessing Stephanie for almost all the blows that are inflicted. Don't get me wrong - there is some on-screen violence that is not directed with restraint, but even in those scenes the violence is no more graphic than your usual R-rated B movie production.

So why did the BBFC ban the movie for such a long period? I am not sure, except maybe they though that the criminal violence that the Perkins brothers inflict might inspire real life viewers to inflict violence on innocent Brits. If that was the reason, I would have to say "hogwash", because there is much about the movie that makes it hard to believe what's going on. This includes the production values. The general look and feel of the movie has an unconvincing taste to it. If you are familiar with movies from PM Entertainment made around 1990, you'll have a good idea of how much of Curfew comes across. The interiors often have shabby set dressing despite much of the movie taking place in the homes of upper class citizens. The unprofessional cinematography adds to the cheap feel of the entire enterprise, and the recording of the dialogue often sounds hollow in a way that your ancient camcorder's microphone gave the sound for your old home movies. But it isn't just what's behind the camera that often makes the events of the movie hard to take seriously, but what is in front of the camera as well. You haven't heard of any of those actors I mentioned two paragraphs ago? There's a reason for that. For the most part, the amateur cast members of Curfew give very amateurish performances. In fact, there are times when you'd swear that some of the actors never acted before in their lives and it's their first time acting that you are witnessing. The level of acting is so bad at times that it's hard to get involved with many of the characters, and that includes the central Davenport protagonists. While Kyle Richards gives a mediocre performance as the daughter, it shines next to the actors playing her parents, who more often than not greatly restrain their emotions instead of going all out in a situation that would warrant such great emotion. In fairness, I will say that not everyone in the cast is bad throughout. Some praise has to go to Wendell Wellman and John Putch as the Perkins brothers. At the beginning of the movie they do seem a little unsure of themselves, resulting in their acting tough coming across as stilted and almost laughable. But as the movie goes on, their acting does improve considerably, and by the second half of the movie their characters become genuinely creepy and come across as a real threat.

As the acting by Wellman and Putch was improving, I couldn't help but wonder what on earth made this aspect of the movie change for the better. One possible theory might be that the movie was shot in sequence, and as the shoot went on, the two actors eventually found their groove. It would also explain why much of the rest of the movie greatly improves as time goes on. I have to admit that some parts of the second half of Curfew did manage to land a wallop. For example, there is a sequence when the Perkins brothers force Walter to walk barefoot through broken glass. It has a very effective build up, and while we never see Walter's feet stepping on the glass, director Gary Winick (13 Going On 30) pumps up the energy of the sequence so we feel Walter's excruciating pain. Later scenes with the Perkins are equally tense, and the question as to if the Davenports would survive crossed my mind several times. As you can see, there are some really good sequences in Curfew, but at the same time the movie has some sequences that will have you groaning out loud, mostly in the first half. Stephanie's clueless friends several times harass the local sheriff, who, by the way, never thinks of arresting them for abusing him and the law. Later, when Stephanie momentarily gets away and flags down a car, minutes later she and the driver bump into one of the Perkins driving on the opposite side of the road instead of him catching up behind. The movie even resurrects the tired old supposed shock of a noisy cat suddenly jumping into the frame. It was mostly dumb scenes like those that got me preparing to write an overall negative review of Curfew some time before the closing credits scrolled on the screen. Yes, the second half of the movie does sometimes deliver the goods, but what happens before that point is more often than not so dumb, and has been made to be so cheap and unprofessional, that I think many viewers will turn off their televisions before discovering the genuine merit the movie has to offer.

Check for availability on Amazon (VHS)

See also: Clownhouse, Hostile Takeover, If I Die Before I Wake

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