The Toxic Avenger (1984)

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About:

Melvin is a hopeless dweeb working as a health club janitor in Tromaville, New Jersey.  Continually drawing the ire of the roid-raging club members, one day a prank goes too far and sends Melvin careening out a window and into a barrel of toxic sludge.  However the green goop transforms him into a 7-foot muscle bound monster, and he takes it upon himself to stand up to the corrupt forces that are ruining the city.

Review:

While the Toxic Avenger is a spoof of campy 1950′s horror films, it is not really much of a horror film itself.  It is, however, one of the campiest and goriest movie I’ve ever seen and therefore has done more than enough to earn its place here.

I’m convinced!

The ridiculous tone is immediately set as the opening credits are shot over a hyper-sexualized gym scene with girls in skimpy bikinis and guys in those high-hemmed Umbros we’re all familiar with.

The fat guy in the above clip eating the 6-foot hoagie while getting a massage is the corrupt mayor of Tromaville.  (On a side note, don’t try to eat anything while watching this movie.)  He and his henchmen facilitate the rampant drug-running that takes place in the gym and out on the streets.  A quartet of juiced-up meatheads, brothers Bozo and Slug and their two hot girlfriends, are the main tormentors of poor Melvin.  The group organizes a prank that ends up with him dressed in a pink tutu kissing a gussied-up sheep.  Ashamed, Melvin is chased by the other gym members through a second story window and in to a barrel of toxic waste.  Horribly disfigured, but now a huge-muscly beast, he absconds to the city dump, reemerging when the good citizens of Tromaville need someone to fight for them.

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…although though he’d prefer to love…

The Toxic Avenger was produced and distributed by Troma Entertainment, the namesake of the fictional town in the film, which has made a name for itself creating over-the-top shock value farces since 1974.  Indeed, The Toxic Avenger seems to be the precursor for ‘violence for the sake of violence’ films like Hobo With a Shotgun.  Some of the uncouth scenes include a bandit blowing a hole through a blind girl’s seeing-eye dog.  Another scene shows a Bozo, Spud, and their girlfriends hitting pedestrians with their car, with a point system based upon the race and age of the victims.  After they run over a kid the girls jump out and take polaroids of the corpse so they can get off to them later in the steam room.  This is the kind of sick stuff that makes you feel gross just watching it.

Yea, sick stuff like this

But there also is a candidly humorous side of The Toxic Avenger that helps take the edge off the shock scenes by reminding you that this is just a big joke.  There are several funny moments, although the main gags in the film include getting hit in the balls, a blind girl bumping into things, and said blind girl bumping into a pair of balls.  I wish I could tell you this type of humor was banal and childish, but you know I was laughing the entire time.

Overall: 9

I remember The Toxic Avenger as an action figure and a spinoff cartoon when I was a kid.  I was vaguely aware it was based on a movie, and after finally seeing it, can’t believe it’s remained such a hidden gem for so long.  This movie is fantastic!  It’s hilariously campy and gory and disgusting in all the right ways.  You can bet this won’t be the last Troma movie reviewed on here.  Go find this movie and watch it right now!

Bonus**

The rare laserdisc edition of the film, released in 1998, includes an introduction in which Lloyd Kaufman, co-funder of Troma, interviews a homeless and destitute Toxie.  During their exchange Toxie gives a guy a blow job in exchange for crack.

These Troma guys just can’t stop 

New Year’s Evil (1980)

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About:

Blaze, the sexy host of LA’s hottest call-in radio show, is hosting a New Year’s Eve extravaganza that she hopes will send her to the top of the ratings.  A mysterious caller promises to kill someone every time a time zone rings in the new year, and continues calling back to play back recordings of his victims’ screams every time the clock strikes 12.  If the killer isn’t found before midnight Pacific Time, Blaze can New Year’s kiss her ratings and her life goodbye.

Review:

New Year’s Evil exists simply because some moron felt there needed to be a New Year’s Eve themed horror movie.  There really are no redeeming qualities to the film other than it acts as evidence of some of the more excessive 80′s fashion trends.

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How did this ever go out of style?

The movie starts out with radio personality Blaze, a career-driven witch who is a negligent wife and mother, hosting some New Year’s Eve rock and roll show/telethon.  It’s never clear why there is a telethon going on, or how she’s supposed to hear them with all the rock music going on.

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But with a face like that, does it even matter?

Speaking of the music, there was an original rock n’ roll soundtrack written for this movie.  The first band at this rock show gets up to the stage, and they start playing the same New Year’s Eve punk song you just heard five minutes earlier in the opening credits.

It’s a crime this was only in the movie three times

One of the first callers tells Blaze that his name is Evil and he’s going to off some random girl at the stroke of midnight for each timezone in the country.  He’s also supposed to be using a voice scrambler, but its clear that this was one of those corners the director decided to cut, because he’s obviously just changing his voice a little.  Anyways, the maniac is running around, using different disguises and seducing a woman every hour so he can kill her and record her screams to later torment Blaze over the phone.

This movie is plodding and boring, not unlike the New Year’s Eve I spent playing Monopoly with my parents.  The kill scenes are all pretty much the same, except for one time when the killer asphyxiates a woman with a bag of weed.

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Far more effective than any D.A.R.E. ad 

By this point we know that most 80′s horror movies are not Citizen Kane, but the one thing that is inexcusable for me is when the killer has a crummy motive.  That should be the first thing the writers come up with, right?  Come up with a story, THEN make it take place on New Year’s Eve, not the other way around.  In this case the bad guy reveals that he needs to kill a bunch of women because Blaze is a bad parent.  And if that isn’t convincing enough, there is an off-handed reference to him having spent some time in the looney bin, thus revealing that any plot loop can be closed with a history of mental illness.

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Ah yes…it all makes sense now

Overall: 4

There is no sugar-coating it: this movie sucks in every conceivable way.  They couldn’t even get the tagline to make any sense: “Don’t dare make any New Year’s resolutions – unless you plan to live!”  Thanks for that witticism, Dr. Obvious.  I doubt there are many resolutions being made by people who fully intend on dying within the next year.  By the end of the film, even the movie itself seems very aware of how bad it has become.  The killer, out of nowhere, is now wearing a Stan Laurel mask and quoting Shakespeare – it was not unlike watching someone condemned to die being led to the gallows, trying desperately to plead his case one last time before finally fizzling out of life.  My New Year’s resolution?  Never to watch anything this bad again.

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Yeah right.  Also, I’m going to work out more. psh

Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

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About:

The holidays can bring about a bit of stress for some people.  They bring a hell of a lot of stress for Billy, who saw his parents brutally murdered by a guy in a Santa suit when he was a kid.  That, coupled with years of abuse in an orphanage, and it was only a matter of time before this nut cracked.  Now he’s donning the red suit and beard and has taken it upon himself to separate the naughty from the nice.

Review:

So this kid Billy has been dealt quite the shitty hand – it’s really no surprise he grows up to become an axe murderer.  The movie begins in 1971 and his family is driving up on Christmas Eve to visit his comatose grandpa in the old folks’ home.  When no one else is around gramps finally comes back to life long enough to tell Billy that Santa is real and he’s out to punish naughty boys like himself.

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Thanks for reminding us why we threw you in here in the first place, gramps

That alone would be a little traumatizing.  However it gets much worse when on the drive home their car is flagged down by a psycho in a Santa suit who shoots the dad and slits the mom’s throat.

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This has been the shittiest trip to grandpa’s ever!

Fast forward to 1974: Billy is sporting a sweet mullet and living in a Catholic orphanage.  One day he’s walking down the hall from his room and finds two teenagers scrumping it down – just two random kids getting busy in an orphanage.  No, of course it’s not explained – look, there’s a horror story that needs to be told here and the writers don’t have time for silly things like details.  Anyways, Mother Superior explains to Billy that what he saw is naughty and that naughty people are punished.  Also, Billy was naughty for seeing it so he’s punished too.

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And a serial killer is born

Fast forward once again to the present.  Billy has blossomed into a strong and handsome young man, working as a stock boy in a toy store.  It doesn’t take a genius to see where this is headed.  Come December the store is packed with all things Christmas and Billy starts getting those same queasy feelings.  Seems like it’d be simple enough to explain that your parents were killed by Santa and ask the boss for the week off.  Instead the guy who is supposed to be dressed up as Santa broke his ankle so Billy has to fill in.

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Guess how that ends up?

Why does no one in this town have anything better to do on Christmas Eve than engage in debauchery?  As soon as business hours end, his coworkers start getting hammered in the store and raping each other in the back room.  Unfortunately for them and everyone else in town Billy just became the judge of naughty and nice, and he’s doing a lot worse to the naughty than stuffing coal down their stockings.

Overall: 7

It’s got to be pretty hard to find a way to harmonize the Christmas and horror movie genres, but Silent Night, Deadly Night pulls it off.  The series of events leading up to Billy’s psychotic breakthrough are pretty creepy as well as convincing.  No argument here that seeing your parents slashed up by a mall Santa and then growing up in a strict Catholic orphanage would result in a one-way ticket to crazy town.  The killings are pretty sweet, including strangulation by Christmas lights and a particularly gruesome scene involving a mounted deer head.  If you’re looking for a movie the whole family can enjoy this holiday season then break out the egg nog, fruit cake, and barf bags, and settle into Silent Night, Deadly Night.

Bloody Birthday (1981)

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About

Three kids are born in the same hospital at the exact moment of a solar eclipse.  Ten years later they go on a killing spree, without motive or remorse.  A suspicious pair of siblings are the only ones to suspect that the children are responsible for the string of recent deaths.

Review

What in the hell did I just watch?  This is the second worst movie I’ve reviewed on here so far.  The fact that there is any plot at all, however lame and soporific, keeps it a notch above the Hellgate benchmark.  However, critics don’t seem to hate it nearly as much, so view it at your own risk.

So this trio of ten year olds just decide to start greasing everyone they know, and thats pretty much the whole movie.  Only about halfway through are we offered up a weak ass motive for their kill-fest when this bozo girl who apparently has been tracking the entire town’s horoscopes reveals that the solar eclipse at the time of their birth blocked out Saturn, which caused them to be born without a conscience.

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Good for nothin’ no conscience-havin’ pricks

It’s never revealed why they waited a couple of days before their tenth birthdays to go apeshit, but I’m assuming there’s an astrological explanation for that as well.  The title of the movie indicates, obviously, that this is a birthday movie.  Sounds fun!  However the movie takes place over a few days and, yes, there is a short birthday scene, but the fact that it is these kids’ birthday has no significance on the plot.  That really bummed me out.  I was hoping for someone to choke and die on a piece of cake or get stabbed with one of those pointy birthday hats.  No such luck.

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Who needs birthday parties when you can hang with your sister and play with a kick-ass model of the solar system?

This trio of imps consists of an albino-looking doofus who doesn’t say anything and seems like he was only included as part of a last-minute rewrite, a prissy and primped little biatch, and a bespectacled poindexter prancing around like a badass in a Steve McQueen Baracuta jacket (definitely on my birthday wish list) who seems to be the leader of the group.  This dork is a particularly stinking asshole, and a creepy little pervert to boot.

Gotta respect the cool of that jacket though

Usually there is some kind of mystery over who the killer is in these types of movies, but we find out in the first 15 minutes that its these little gremlins doing all the damage.  On top of that these are just some normal-ish looking twerps, thus, there is nothing scary about this movie.  There’s no frightening guy with a burned up face and knives for fingers, nor is there any shock scares of someone being chased by the unknown.  Nope, it’s just three little kids beating up on adults in broad daylight.  Because there is nothing left to the imagination the plot plateaus almost immediately.  Consistent intervals of gratuitous boobs was the only thing that kept me from dozing off.

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Come on…make with the boobs already

Even the killings are boring. Maybe the whole creepy kid angle would’ve worked if they cannibalized their victims or something, but aside from an arrow here or there their preferred method of killing is a shoot and run.  And that’s just not going to cut it for someone who’s high tolerance for horror demands some seriously sick shit!

Overall: 3

The worst kind of horror movie is a boring one.  It was hard to get into this from the get go, and instead of ever being scared, I only ended up getting mad that no one was beating the shit out of Curtis.

Sleepaway Camp (1983)

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About:

Most preteens are pretty awkward to begin with, but when Angela returns to the campground where her dad and brother died 5 years earlier, she has an especially hard time stepping out of her comfort zone.  As if that weren’t enough, a series of gruesome accidents befalling her fellow campers have some wondering if there is a killer amongst them!

Review:

Let’s start with the end and work backwards: the ending, without giving away any spoilers, is incredible and solidifies its spot among some of the genre’s best.  “Twist” doesn’t really do it justice; terrifying, confusing, gut-wrenching, and completely unexpected, it is widely considered one of the most shocking horror movie endings of all time.  The killings in this movie are also creative and unusual, and filmed using some pretty top-notch special effects.  The best death scenes include a giant pot of boiling water, a precariously placed curling iron, and a weaponized bee hive.

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Bees: nature’s thumb tacs

The camp is run by a stogie-smoking dried up old prune who looks and sounds like a real-life Moe Szyslak.  The campers are mostly represented by a group of young awkward teens and a rival sect of much taller and developed older teens.  The guys in both groups are fighting over a mean hot girl, which is hard to take seriously because she’s not hot.  I know that sounds terrible, but picture Iggy Pop’s head with a horse tail sprouting from the back of it.

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Wearing t-shirts with her name on them sure isn’t helping 

It’s your average tale of young love lost until kids and counselors start dropping like flies.  Nothing kills a summer romance like untimely death.

It’s becoming harder and harder to believe that the men’s short shorts scene of the 70’s and 80’s was ever really a thing.  The guys in this movie are pushing that nefarious hemline to an absolutely absurd height, and I can’t tell if it’s a joke making fun of that whole fad or a genuine anachronism of the times.  Nary is there a scene that doesn’t include a ridiculously intrusive bulge just begging to pop out of those paper-thin Umbros.  On that note the homoeroticism in this movie is impossible to ignore.  Not only is there a scandalous homosexual relationship portrayed in the film, but those cool older guys I mentioned?  They’re looking for any and all opportunities to go into Lady Gaga backup dancer mode with each other.  This includes but is not limited to a midnight swim in tighty wighties (bulges aplenty) and a rooftop waterballoon fight that for some reason must be carried out without pants.

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Don’t act like you’re not impressed

There are also no boobs in this movie – a cardinal sin of the summer camp subgenre, and a slap in the face to the horror movie community as a whole.  Adding insult to injury is the substitution of boobs with dong.  Now, hanging dong in a movie is unacceptable[1] in most cases, but given the specific context of this particular scene, it is downright traumatizing.

Overall: 7

Because the wild ending was the last part I saw, I thought this movie was really good.  Then I watched it again and remembered everything before the end was actually pretty dumb.  Clearly the writers came up with the kick-ass ending first, and it’s really too bad they diluted everything preceding it with stupid dialogue and poor character development.  I still think the ending saves it though, making it a must-see flick.  And, in spite of its shortcomings, this movie touches upon some heavy topics that are unusual to the genre, including homosexuality, the modern familial structure, and prescribed gender roles.  Oh, and don’t forget the bees!


[1] The only exception I can think of is Michael Fassbender in Shame; you’ve just got to tip your hat to that one and try not to let it ruin your self-esteem.

 

The Burning (1981)

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About:

A group of summer campers conspire to put the camp’s drunken surly handyman in his place by scaring the the living shit out of him with a prank.  Scare him it does, as the prank quickly gets out of hand and burns him to shit.  After spending five long years undergoing unsuccessful skin grafts in a burn unit he is sent on his merry way.  Now he is returning to Camp Blackfoot to take vengeance upon those responsible for…”the burning.”

Review:

The Burning is the big screen debut of future stars Fisher Stevens, Holly Hunter, and a beautifully hirsute Jason Alexander.  Now I’m not trying to accuse Alexander of being one-dimensional, but it’s funny that the only real difference between his character in The Burning and the George Costanza we all know and love is the hair.  In one great scene that is regrettably not on Youtube, he approaches a group of girls the night before a canoe trip and asks, “So you girls all set for the trip tomorrow? There’s nothing I can get ya?  A lifejacket? Spermicide?”

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Oh, George…classic ladies’ man

The Burning inevitably draws comparisons to the Friday the 13th franchise because of the obvious plot similarities, namely, murderous revenge against horny camp counselors.  The Burning was released a year after Friday the 13th and was subsequently brushed off by critics as a rip-off.  The DVD commentary alleges that the script was actually written before Friday the 13th, but due to some lame excuse or another the release date was postponed.  In any case, The Burning is a great stand-alone film for any fan of the genre.  One thing that differentiates The Burning from Friday the 13th is that camp is in full session in the former, so in addition to the counselors there are a bunch of teenage kids running around too.  The shorts are short and the bras are nonexistent, making for one memorable softball game scene in which everything is just flapping in the wind.

The bad guy in this movie is Cropsy, a name probably derived from the nefarious 1970′s Staten Island child-knapper.  When the docs kick him out of the hospital after years of unsuccessful treatment they remind him not to go on blaming those pesky kids for turning his head into a blobfish.

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After all, boys will be boys

Needless to say that advice goes unheeded as Cropsey makes a B-Line for Camp Blackfoot to wreak havoc.

Kudos to the writers for sparing us the overacted dialogue so common to these types of flicks, usually some forced attempt at comic relief meant to show the human side of the victims before they’re chopped to pieces (see: Hellgate).  Rather, the interactions of the kids in The Burning are refreshingly believable, and even seem unscripted at several points.  Further, when shit hits the fan we don’t see these guys regress to a bimbo mentality and run up the stairs when they should be going out the front door.  Instead we have a bunch of scared shitless kids who just saw their friends pureed regroup and try to form a veritable defense.

The gore in this movie is absolutely gut-wrenching.  Cropsey’s weapon of choice is a pair of garden sheers, and there’s no shortage of prolonged close-ups of them twisting around in peoples’ guts.  Special effects man Tom Savini, who also did the Hellraiser movies, gives a great interview in the DVD special features detailing his methods behind all the on-screen blood and guts.  Probably the crowning achievement of this film, and certainly a part of Savini’s legacy, is an epic scene in which Cropsy ambushes a bunch of campers as they try to make it back to camp on a makeshift raft:

Overall: 8

I really liked The Burning, and find it more reminiscent of Wet Hot American Summer than Friday the 13th because of all the goofy characters running around.  Usually I don’t care who gets sliced up, but in this movie I was definitely cheering for the kids (except for Alfred.  He was a douche.)

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Alfred the douche

While the summer camp sub genre seems a bit overdone, it’s such a great setting for a horror movie: You know there will be boobs (that’s a given), the woods are dark and creepy to begin with, and you are bound to get some sweet murder scenes with garden-shed weapons.  What’s not to love?

Curtains (1983)

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About

Six girls head to director Jonathan Stryker’s isolated home for the weekend to audition for the lead role in his much anticipated film, “Audra.”  Samantha Sherwood, who committed herself to an insane asylum to research the role that was once promised to her, is none too happy to learn the project is moving on without her and breaks out of the nut house to crash the casting session.  Nothing wrong with a little friendly competition, right?  Everything is going just swimmingly until someone realizes their chances aren’t looking too good and decides to shallow the talent pool.

Review

Wow, that trailer was incredibly misleading.  This is not a movie about a killer demon doll, but it’d probably be a lot better if it were.  I had recently been reading a lot about this hard-to-find Canadian film, and was bummed that it looked like I’d need to spend a small fortune on ebay if I ever wanted to see it.  So imagine my delight when I found this puppy sharing a disc-side with “Secrets of the Clown” on the Midnight Horror Collection for $2.99 at Piggly Wiggly.

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Riding along the coattails of success

Unfortunately this was hard to watch because the DVD quality was atrocious.  The sound was soft and droned out by a continuous static hum and the picture was dark and choppy.  I had to watch it twice because all the actresses looked and sounded the same to me during the first go-round.  Synapse Films has recently announced plans to re-release a high-definition DVD, but unless they make some serious plot changes as well it’s not something I’ll be getting too excited about.

The director, Jonathan Stryker, pretty much uses this casting session as an excuse to get a bunch of hot young women to his wintery estate and take them to pound town when they get scared, which happens a lot since there’s a killer running around.  Interestingly, Jonathan Stryker is the name of the actual director of Curtains, so I don’t know if this is meant to be some sort of confession, but if so, high five to that dude.

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“Quick, hide! He’ll never find us under the sheets!”

Among the actresses gunning for the part is the distinguished Samantha Sherwood, who was once already promised it and agreed to commit herself to the loony bin in order to research the role.  You can imagine she’d be more than a little upset to find out the project has moved on without her, all while she’s still locked up in the nuthouse pretending to be bonkers.  The way she breaks out is a bit dubious – we know she does so with the help on an anonymous friend, who we hear but whose face we never see.  This mysterious figure is obviously going to come back into play later on, right?  She’s going to turn out to be the killer, or the killer’s mom, or at least a distant cousin of the killer.  Um, no, actually we never hear about her again.  We’re just supposed to accept that Ms Sherwood knows a lady in the ‘breaking out of insane asylums’ business and that her methods are sound and don’t need to be explained.  In fact there are more than a few inconsistencies like this one that really get in the way of enjoying the movie.  I wont get into them all – and I realize pointing out stuff like this for these sorts of movies is petty and takes the fun out of watching them – but the mistakes are made that much dumber because they could have been easily done away with without affecting the plot.

Some of the good things about this movie: there is a very cool murder-on-ice scene, in which one of the actresses is practicing her figure skating routine (you know, just ‘cuz) on a frozen pond and gets sickled-up pretty good.  There’s also a decapitated head that ends up in a toilet, which is pretty terrifying when you think about it.  Imagine heading in for your midmorning dump and meeting eyes with an agape shriveled head when you lift the toilet seat.  And when you’ve already got one in the chamber ready to go, there’s no way you don’t shit your pants in that situation.

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“Hi, Doc?  I’m a bit concerned – I just shit a head”

And the rubber old hag mask the killer wears, representing the killer’s own insecurity with aging in the cut-throat acting business where younger, sexier actresses are always the premium, is downright freaky!  Not to mention on par with cramming a head into the shitter, as far as the symbolism goes.

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See if you hold it together this well when you’re over the hill

Overall: 4.5

All in all I was a little let down by Curtains.  I just didn’t really find it all that imaginative, and, as I mentioned above, I really let all the plot holes get to me.  But most reviewers seem to really like it, so I would suggest seeing it so you can form your own opinion.  It is hard to find, so hit a brother up if you want to borrow my copy.  I will say I was a big fan of the ending (SEMI-SPOILER!), which shows the deranged killer performing Audra in an insane asylum to a scant and disinterested audience of fellow loony toons.  Pretty chilling.  There is also something to be said for all the sweet Powerpoint-esque curtain pull scene-change effects, reminding you that you are indeed watching a movie called Curtains.