We revisit The curve…a Matthew Lillard horror movie you may have missed…
Scream is rightfully considered a classic these days, but it wasn’t after its release in 1996. Just like Saw a decade later, the derision towards Scream had little to do with the original film; it stems in large part from the seemingly endless barrage of inferior imitators that followed in its wake. While undeniably derivative, these teenage slashers from the late 90s and early 2000s often play better today than they did when they first came out.
Like many, the new Scream made me nostalgic for the days of genre films with high budgets, big name sets and brilliant aesthetics. After having exhausted Screammost obvious descendants – I Know What You Did Last Summer, Urban Legend, Final Destination, The College, Valentine’s Day, etc – I started to dive into less discussed titles of the time, like Cherry Falls, Cup, Campfire Talesand the one I’m here to talk to you about today: the twisted and twisty The curve (also known as dead man’s curve).
There must have been something in the air in 1998. Armageddon/Deep Impact, A Bug’s Life/Antz, The Truman Show/Ed TVand The Curve / Dead Man on Campus are all pairs of “twin films”—films with similar plots produced at the same time—that were released that year. In the latter’s case, they both revolve around the “going through disaster” urban legend that a college student will receive free A’s if their roommate commits suicide.
While dead man on campus takes a dark but offbeat comedic approach to the material, with two friends looking for a depressed roommate to push overboard, The curve uses the notion as the conduit for a teen thriller involving a murder plot and a cover-up. Jet black humor is inherent in the outrageous concept – as evidenced by the school therapist (Dana Delany, tomb stone) citing listening to The Cure and watching “anything from a first-time writer-director” as suicidal warning signs – but more often than not he’s aiming for anarchy.
There is no cut in itself, but Scream almost certainly helped to get The curve green lit, until throwing an unbalanced Matthew Lillard in the lead role. In fact, he almost plays as if his character of Stu Macher had survived the events of Scream and left for college under a new identity but with the same sociopathic tendencies. Clues to the pop culture referential dialogue popularized by Scream even crawl, including a wink at Species.
A lesser effort might produce a first explanatory act in which one friend convinces the other to commit murder, but The curveThe plot of is already in motion from the opening frame. Unseen (and uncredited) stand-up comic audio tells viewers everything they need to know during the opening credits: “Have you heard of this weird policy they now have in the most colleges?…If your roommate kills himself, you an automatic 4.0 for the semester…Those kind of finals take the heat away, don’t you think?It’s like giving you a license to kill!
Indeed, college seniors Tim (Lillard) and Chris (Michael Vartan, A.k.a) agreed to kill their obnoxious roommate, Rand (Randall Batinkoff, buffy the vampire slayer), and make it look like suicide so they can fulfill their aspirations to attend Harvard Medical School. Tim is the dominant manipulator behind the operation, with Chris conflicted but desperate after a B+ knocks his GPA down. As the authorities get involved, suspicions escalate, beatings to the back ensue and more deaths ensue.
Lasting 91 minutes, the film kicks off and rarely gives way to the climax, in which the viewer is bombarded with a series of increasingly wacky twists that would give M. Night Shyamalan pause. Each character is toxic, but Lillard steals the show by leaning into their absurdity with his chaotic magnetism. Vartan, on the other hand, takes a more grounded approach that suits his character. Keri Russellin the same year Congratulations created, has a pivotal role as Chris’ girlfriend who becomes embroiled in the scheme.
Shot on location in Baltimore on an estimated budget of $1 million, the film marked the directorial debut of the writer-director Dan Rosen after gaining influence for the writing of the 1995s The last supper. by Alfred Hitchcock Rope – another thriller about two men trying to cover up the murder of a classmate – is a likely inspiration, but sonically the film has more in common with Scream, Heathersand wild things.
To be inspired by An American werewolf in London, the soundtrack is populated with needle-on-the-nose drops such as “Teenage Suicide” by Unwritten Law, “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” by Bauhaus, “Die” by Starbelly, “You Could Make a Killing” by Aimee Mann, “Girlfriend” of the Smiths. in a Coma,” Brian Jonestown Massacre’s “Going to Hell,” and a punk-rock cover of Jan and Dean’s “Dead Man’s Curve” by The Belljars playing over the end credits. These selections accompany a score composed by the mononymous Shark, whose band Wild Colonials also has two songs in the film.
The film premiered at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival under its original title, dead man’s curve. It was picked up for US distribution by Trimark, who renamed it The curve to avoid confusion with dead man on campus. Despite purported promise of a theatrical release – not to mention more entertainment value than many of its contemporaries – it was unceremoniously dumped straight to VHS and DVD in March 1999.
Since then, with the exception of a rudimentary 2004 DVD re-release from Lionsgate (which is still in circulation), The curve has been consigned to oblivion. With a plot that would never be realized today, this 90s relic is just waiting to be picked up and restored to Blu-ray by a company like Scream Factory, Arrow Films or Vinegar Syndrome. Until then, it is streaming for free on Tubi.
Head to the Comics Archive for more hidden horror gems.