Sky’s street racing drama Curfew is a veritable feast for genre fans. Starring Sean Bean, Phoebe Fox, Billy Zane and Miranda Richardson among many others, it’s set in an alt-present London, where a curfew has been put in place to protect ordinary people from flesh-eating ‘mooks’ who hunt at night-time.
Understandably, a lot of people are sick of being under the government’s thumb, not to mention fending off mooks, and Curfew follows a set of characters who attempt to race their way free from this hellish existence, and earn a place on a paradise island devoid of infected creatures. Easy, right?
Not exactly, but that’s all part of the fun in a series that wears its influences like a blood-smeared badge of honour. We here at Den of Geek love a TV show that embraces genre, and unravelling Curfew’s DNA is a fun trip through cult classics and geek favourite filmmakers. In our eyes, there’s shades of everything from John Carpenter to Roger Corman, Wacky Races and Hunter S. Thompson. Quite the cocktail!
With all eight episodes of Curfew available to binge watch now on Sky and NOW TV, it’s a good time to go for a pre-journey wee, stock up on ham sandwiches and have an ’80s mixtape at the ready, because we’re heading on a road trip through Curfew’s many genre influences…
Death Race 2000
This, clearly, is a big one. Curfew’s premise draws from Death Race 2000, the 1975 cult classic directed by Paul Bartel. In that film, five drivers get behind the wheel for a race to the death, all to entertain the citizens of a dystopian America.
Gory, super-violent and hella entertaining, its competitive racing element provides a blueprint for Curfew, which similarly revels in auto-carnage of the highest, rubber-burning order.
Game Of Thrones
At first glance, this neon-soaked series bears little resemblance to the high fantasy of Game Of Thrones, but the two do share one big thing in common (aside from Sean Bean): basically, you should be careful who you pick to champion in this show, because Curfew is a series that’s unafraid of killing off big characters. We won’t spoil here just who ends up as roadkill, but suffice to say, there are some big shocks, not unlike George RR Martin’s Westeros saga.
“Like Game Of Thrones, we go through fairly unexpected journeys with the characters while they’re driving at 200 miles an hour,” says director and co-executive producer Colm McCarthy (The Girl With All The Gifts). That’s putting it lightly.
Every nigh, the curfew is announced, with phone box-like curfew stands turning red. “Remember, the curfew is here for your own safety,” says an automated voice (itself a seeming nod to the Nostromo’s ‘Mother’ in Alien) . “Breaking the terms of the curfew is a serious offence. Thank you for your understanding.”
You might call it the anti-Purge – The Purge, of course, being the cult US horror series about the one night of the year in which any crime is legal. While the curfew in this series is intended to protect people from the infected ‘mooks’, it actually creates a twilit realm of lawlessness, where danger lurks in every back garden.
Like The Purge, Curfew revels in that feeling of dread and anticipation – and, like that series, there’s always a messy clean-up afterwards. Cue scenes of maintenance guys power washing blood off the streets…
Although none of the Curfew characters drive vehicles quite as outlandish, there is an obvious parallel between it and the 1968 Hanna-Barbera cartoon, in which a variety of eclectic racers vied for supremacy in a seemingly never-ending race to the title of ‘World’s Wackiest Racer’.
Like Wacky Races, Curfew has the requisite assortment of vehicles and eccentric racers (some of whom, like the Wacky Racers, resort to extreme measures to take out the competition). There’s even a dog along for the ride, although he’s not called Muttley.
The Hunger Games
At the start of the race in Curfew, a video plays, depicting the event’s mastermind, Max Larssen (Adam Brody), standing in a tropical paradise. “You opted in,” he says, “nothing about the race is easy, but it is going to be worth it.”
Promising a place without creatures, a place “with hope”, where you can sit out with the stars, he’s selling an idealised version of the race that recalls the propaganda of The Hunger Games. In that book/film series, citizens are forced to compete in battles to the death (a la Running Man and Battle Royale), while also forming alliances and attempting to overthrow authoritarian rule.
There are obvious parallels between it and Curfew, and the show’s mantra – “Race yourself free” – is on the same empty-promise level as Hunger Games’ “May the odds be ever in your favour”.
The spirit of the Master of Horror infuses Curfew, from the race-against-the-clock premise to the gorgeous synth score – you’ll be bopping along to the ice-cool opening credits every episode.
Of all of Carpenter’s films, though, the show most resembles Escape From New York, his 1981 sci-fi in which criminal Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) is jetted into a Manhattan that has been sealed off by an enormous wall and turned into a maximum security prison.
There’s a similar wall in Curfew – a massive, black edifice with red lights burning on top – which ensures the mooks aren’t able to get in.
This pioneering JJ Abrams/Damon Lindelof saga – in which a band of survivors attempts to escape a paradise island – excelled at juggling an expanding ensemble cast. Curfew plays the same clever game by using each of its episodes to zoom in on a different cast member, with often surprising results.
Oh, and there’s also “an island” in Curfew, which may or may not exist. “It’s like a myth; it’s like believing in Father Christmas or the tooth fairy,” reasons Meg (Jessye Romeo) early on. Does the island exist? That would be telling.
Aside from featuring Cameron favourite Michael Biehn (as Roadkill Jim), Curfew also revels in paying homage to the blockbuster director. Computer screens show green text on a black background, while there’s a scene in which the ambulance crew enter underground tunnels that recall the abandoned, xenomorph-infested colony of Hadley’s Hope.
Not content with just that, the show goes one brilliant step further by giving the Curfew characters a radar sensor screen, which counts down how close the ‘mooks’ are to them. “Ten meters… five meters…” reads one of the characters. And instead of motion sensor guns taking out the mooks a la Aliens, protection comes in an altogether less predictable form.
The Cameron-isms don’t stop there, though. There’s also a Terminator-style cop (Richard Riddell) who runs like the T-1000 – relentless and almost indestructible, he’s one of the show’s most memorable characters. And, on top of that, the final episode of season one reveals a character who’s a Schwarzenegger clone, right down to his hilariously monotone European accent. Excellent.
Hunter S. Thompson
Heading up ‘Team Awesome’, Billy Zane’s Joker Jones is the definition of Gonzo. Swigging cocktails out of glasses he routinely smashes, and driving a camper van that’s crammed full with colourful paraphernalia, he’s anarchic, stylish (he’s rarely seen without his fedora), and winningly sardonic. In other words, he’s every bit the successor to Hunter S. Thompson.
Clad in a bright red Hawaiian shirt that recalls both Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas and Raising Arizona, Jones might just be the best character in the series, and we couldn’t get enough of him.
Cult road movies
We could write a whole other feature about the many road movies referenced in Curfew, but we’ll stick to the big hitters. The biggest, of course, is Mad Max, which lends the show its pimped-out vehicles and wasteland-like future, plus the concept of people fighting to survive in a lawless future society.
Meanwhile, the show’s mother-daughter team of Lou (Miranda Richardson) and Hanmei (Thaddea Graham) drive a Dodge Challenger, the same car that appears in Richard C. Sarafian 1971 classic Vanishing Point.
Other non-’70s cult movies are also referenced. Curfew owes a lot of its kitsch spirit to Mick Jagger’s 1992 Freejack, while there’s a school bus right out of Speed. And the spirit of Drive infuses the wardrobe of kick-ass pregnant woman Faith (Rose Williams), who wears a metallic gold driving coat for the entire series. We’re sure Ryan Gosling would approve.