The degradation of the horror genre through taming it for the teens and pre-teens has to have the horror community at its wits end by now. Gone are the days of mainstream blood-soaked, sleep-with-the-lights-on tales of terror. You know the genre is in dire shape when one of the founders of modern horror as we know it, Wes Craven, is reduced to trimming his already trouble-ridden film to PG-13 to suit the kids waiting for their first facial hair or bra. This is all at the expense of Miramax and Dimension films, owned by Disney, who specialize in doing the hacking of otherwise adult-friendly fare.
Cursed has been through the production ringer. Originally filmed in 2003, the film suffered multiple production problems and script issues. So much, in fact, that in the end over half of the film had to be re-shot with several of the characters being replaced by different actors. Had director Wes Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson not been involved, this film could have very well ended up collecting dust as a straight-to-video crap shoot.
But, alas, here in 2005 Cursed is finally seeing the light of day. The fact that the film had so many problems and is still remotely entertaining separates it from so many other films who have suffered the same fate. Cursed may as well be retitled “Guilty Pleasure,” because that’s exactly what it is.
Ellie (Ricci) and Jimmy (Eisenberg) are siblings living in a big, dark house in the Hollywood Hills. Their parents have recently perished, but this is not a film concerned with family relations. Ellie works for The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn (the film’s age is apparent immediately, as Kilborn left the show last year), and Jimmy spends most of his time getting harassed by a gang of homophobic bullies who are convinced he is just another gay nerd.
On the way home one night, the two get into an auto accident with another driver (Elizabeth). While trying to pull her from the toppled vehicle, a strange, monster-like creature emerges from the woods and takes off with the driver, shredding her to pieces. During the fray, both Ellie and Jimmy suffer cuts from contact with the entity.
Over the next few days Ellie and Jimmy begin experiencing heightened senses, a never-ending hunger for raw meat, and various body alterations. They soon discover that they are gradually transforming into werewolves, and to stop the curse (which lasts over a three day period), they must find the top dog werewolf (rimshot!) and separate his head from his heart. A playboy (Jackson) and Scott Baio are thrown in for good dramatic mix.
For the vast majority of its runtime, Cursed plays like a hybrid of Kevin Williamson’s bread and butter, Scream. There is the dry, sometimes morbid humor, a “whodunit” of sorts, and plenty of extended death scenes. This is not exactly a bad thing, but there’s not really anything new or exciting story-wise. It’s enjoyable, but familiar. What pushes Cursed over the “Fresh” hump is its creature effects. Clearly not CGI, Craven knows the kind of impression that solid creature effects can sustain. Sure there are CGI transformation scenes, but the bulk of the werewolf scenes feature the makeup of master Rick Baker, and it looks fantastic. So confident is Craven in his makeup effects that he even uses multiple full shots of the creature, which is something we don’t see often in this age of mishmash closeups and quick cuts. The illusion and effects make for some thrilling scenes.
Christina Ricci is so far above this material that her very presence in this film may demand a “what!?” from the audience, but she’s having fun. Joshua Jackson also adds a familiar face to the lineup playing a complete ladies man. He’s as stone-faced as Steven Seagal in the dead of winter for most of this one. The supporting cast gets the job done in some fairly undemanding roles, but at least everyone seems to be in on the joke that Williamson has bestowed upon them.
Wes Craven, while making one of the benchmarks of modern horror with The Nightmare on Elm Street in 1984, seems more interested in pleasing the crowd who has never seen that aforementioned jewel these days. He still displays a keen eye for solid shots and can always build up suspense, but it is still hard to watch a man who was once one of the gutsiest filmmakers around resort to such mainstream studio agenda fare. Although, one could easily argue that he started the revolution with his Scream films.
Are there problems with Cursed? You bet. Aside from the punch in the face the film received during production and massive cuts to ensure a PG-13 rating (it is glaringly obvious which scenes were edited down), the film is remarkably and sometimes annoyingly talky. Characters explain their hearts away in scenes of never-ending motivation confessions. The presence of Scott Baio (of Happy Days and Charles in Charge fame) seemingly serves no purpose other than for a “point and laugh” effect, but I learned with just a few clicks on the Internet that the original cut of the film had him playing a larger, more sinister part in the film. I will save this factoid should an unrated DVD surface, which I hope it does.
Cursed is far from the masterpiece of horror that die hard Craven fans have been lusting after for years now, but it is an entertaining no-brainer with some good talent involved. I can’t give it a glowing recommendation, but compared to the dismal likes of White Noise, Hide & Seek, and Alone in the Dark, it gets the job done.
Studio: Dimension Films
Length: 96 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for horror violence/terror, some sexual references, nudity, language and a brief drug reference. (edited version)
Theatrical Release: February 25, 2005
Directed by: Wes Craven
Written by: Kevin Williamson
Cast: Christina Ricci, Jesse Eisenberg, Joshua Jackson, Shannon Elizabeth, Portia de Rossi, Mya