Screenplay : Reb Braddock and John Maas
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1996
Stars : Angela Jones (Gabriela), William Baldwin (Paul Guell), Bruce Ramsay (Eduardo), Mel Gorham (Elena), Lois Chiles (Katrina Brandt), Daisy Fuentes (Clara), Barry Corbin (Lodger)
Reb Braddock's "Curdled" answers a question I had never thought to ask: who cleans up all the blood and guts at the crime scene after a grisly murder? Obviously, somebody has to do it, especially when the murder takes place in a nice home that other people might someday occupy. Who mops up the pools of blood and picks up the pieces of skull after someone has been obliterated by a shotgun blast?
"Curdled" thinks that at least the murders in Miami are taken care of by a group of shapely Latin American women (including MTV's Daisy Fuentes) working for a company called PFCS (Post Forensic Cleaning Service). Most of the women working for PFCS appear to be doing it because they can't find any better work, but not Gabriela (Angela Jones). She works there because she has a perverse fascination with murder, ever since she witnessed a dead body fall from an upstairs window when she was a little girl in Columbia.
Her fascination is perverse not because of her arousal at the sheer spectacle of murder (aren't we all?), but rather because she takes that extra step that 99 percent of the population won't do to feed her curiosity. She's not a "gore freak," as her boss, Lodger (Barry Corbin), fears she might be. In fact, she's not particularly interested in the blood; she's just wants to know exactly what happened. How did the killer do the deed? How did the victim die? Was she struggling, or did she go down easily? What position was the body left in? Gabriela is so fascinated with murder that she keeps a macabre scrapbook of newspaper clippings about them, complete with her own illustrations in the margins.
"Curdled" was based on a 20-minute student film by Braddock and co-writer John Maass, who expanded it into a full screenplay at the behest of writer/director Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino first saw the short at a film festival when he was shopping around "Reservoir Dogs" in 1992, and when Maass and Braddock brought him an expanded screenplay, he agreed to produce it. While it certainly bears some resemblances to Tarantino's eclectic taste in cinema, it is far inferior to anything he's done, although he borrowed a great deal of Gabriela's character for the death-obsessed taxi driver, Esmerelda Villalobos (also played by Jones), in "Pulp Fiction."
In simple description, "Curdled" sounds sick, and in some ways it is. Gabriela is certainly an original character, but she's not one easy to identify with. Jones is a capable actress, but she has an odd way about her that makes her distant and hard to reach. She is immersed in the same kind of bizarre, off-setting behavior that characterized her "Pulp Fiction" character.
"Curdled" tries to humanize her somewhat, by giving her a cute romance with a shy baker named Eduardo (Bruce Ramsay), but it doesn't stick. If we are to accept Gabriela, it must be on her own terms, which are pretty damn unsettling. The movie's fascination with Gabriela is almost as weird as Gabriela's fascination with murder, especially those committed by the infamous "Blue Blood Killer" (William Baldwin), an upscale sociopath who has been decapitating rich Miami socialites.
"Curdled" doesn't come off nearly as twisted as it should, mostly because it plays itself so lightly. It's black comedy satire, with a few potshots at all the media attention given to serial murderers, ala "Natural Born Killers" (my favorites was an obnoxious show called "Miami D.O.A."). Sick or not, "Curdled" runs its short length with a distinct sense of playfulness.
But still, for all its playfulness, the movie isn't much fun. It's pretty much a one-joke freak show that betrays its origins as a short film. There's only so much that can be done with this premise, and by the last twenty minutes, when Gabriela finally meets the Blue Blood Killer face-to-face in a bizarre re-enactment of one of his earlier murders, the movie feels more strained than ever, even when it strikes its final punchline.
©1998 James Kendrick