Sunday, February 8, 2015

Review: Cursed (2005)

Cursed (2005)

Rated PG-13 for horror violence/terror, some sexual references, nudity, language and a brief drug reference (unrated version reviewed)

Cursed isn't the total disaster that its reputation suggests. Is it bad? Oh, absolutely. It's easily among the worst films of Wes Craven's career, a tonal mess filled with bad acting, embarrassing CG effects, and no tension or real frights. The problems started early enough for me to tell five minutes in that I knew I was in for something bad. However, it doesn't belong in the same category as dogshit like the remakes of A Nightmare on Elm Street or Prom Night. Perhaps the main reason why Cursed has such a bad reputation is because a) it's a team-up of director Craven and writer Kevin Williamson, who had previously made the stellar horror-comedy Scream, which this was marketed as a spiritual successor to, and b) it gives the viewer so many glimpses of a much better film lying just under the surface. Cursed was the victim of a very long, troubled, and drawn-out production, taking three years to make it to the screen. The script was rewritten multiple times, a 90% finished film was thrown out completely at one point as a result, several major cast members dropped out and were replaced due to the long delays in production eating into their schedules, and to top it all off, the film was cut down to a PG-13 rating for its US release to make it more marketable. (It did screen unedited in Canada, though. Um, lucky you?) How bad were the delays? The female lead in this film works on The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn, the man himself making a cameo appearance in one scene. By the time this film came out in 2005, it was The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.

Still, in spite of everything this film went through, it's actually... okay, it's kind of terrible. But only kind of. It's not a film I can bring myself to hate, especially not in its unrated version, which adds several quite grisly gore scenes that make the film slightly more bearable. (It goes without saying that, if you must see this film, seek out the unrated version.) It's like Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, another intriguing "what if" that was destroyed by studio tampering, albeit with a finished product that I can actually sort of, kind of enjoy at times. Having read an early version of the script, I'd love to see a director's cut made up of some of that lost footage. Still, in its final state, it's a film that I can only recommend for Wes Craven completionists and diehard fans of werewolf movies. For everyone else, Ginger Snaps is a much smarter, funnier, and all-around better take on the basic concept.

The film is about two siblings, Ellie and Jimmy Myers, played by Christina Ricci and Jesse Eisenberg. Ellie is a production assistant, while Jimmy is a high school dweeb who's been raised by his older sister after the death of their parents. One night while driving home, they get into an accident, where they and the other driver they hit are attacked by a wild animal; the other driver gets ripped to shreds, while Ellie and Jimmy get away in one piece but not entirely unscathed. Before long, they start having strange dreams, they find themselves waking up outside naked, they develop heightened senses, strength, and reflexes, they're allergic to silver, and people are suddenly a lot more attracted to them. Ellie gets a strange new man named Jake (Joshua Jackson) following her around and becomes a rival to her catty co-worker Joanie (Judy Greer), while Jimmy makes it onto the wrestling team, starts going out with the hot cheerleader Brooke, and finds his new magnetic sexuality attracting more than just the girls once the head jock/repressed gay guy Bo (Milo Ventimiglia) develops a crush on him. Unfortunately, the "animal attacks" are continuing, and both Jimmy and later Ellie begin to fear that they too might turn into monsters unless they either learn to control their new animal instincts... or break the curse by killing whoever turned them.

The script is where this film's problems begin, and oh, are there a lot of problems. It's obvious watching this how many untold rewrites this film went through on the road to completion, containing all manner of plot threads that are raised and then unceremoniously dropped. Ellie and Jimmy's parents died, but we never learn how they died, or how that relates to the plot in any way. Becky and Jenny, the two friends played by Shannon Elizabeth and R&B singer Mýa, serve no purpose except to get killed off, yet they're the only characters we're introduced to in the opening -- we never meet Ellie and Jimmy until around ten minutes in. It's not like Becky and Jenny are the opening victims, like in a Scream film, since neither dies until later in the film. Brooke, Jimmy's girlfriend, may as well be a lamp for all the purpose she serves in the film, as she's completely forgotten in the third act. A scene of Bo coming out as gay to Jimmy is used to juxtapose his repressed homosexuality with Jimmy being a werewolf, but it's never built upon, and the character is virtually forgotten for the rest of the film outside a small handful of brief scenes. To go back to Ginger Snaps, that whole film was built around its "lycanthropy = puberty" metaphor and was all the better for it, giving a ton of satirical bite, humor, and resonance to its story. Here, though, the subtext the film raises is only used for a one-scene joke.

Finally, there are actually two evil werewolves running around, Jake and Joanie, which throws a big monkey wrench into both characters' motivations and the film's coherence. In Jake's case, Joshua Jackson's hopelessly wooden performance does the character no favors, but even taking that out of the equation, his stated goals constantly shift. In one scene, he tells Ellie that he can teach her how to control the curse, but in the ending, he's trying to kill Jimmy so he and Ellie can be together, all the while saying that he was the one who turned them and killed the other motorist. He felt like a poor man's werewolf version of the killer from Scream. As for Joanie, Judy Greer was clearly having fun hamming it up as a campy diva before and after the reveal (her death scene especially was hysterical), but there was really little point in her character being a werewolf. Was it funny seeing the vain, skinny blonde publicist turn out to be a hideous monster? Absolutely. Did it seem like whoever wrote that bit might have been trying to go for some deeper message about vanity and image? Yes. (And indeed, they kind of did that in the original script, though you'd probably never believe me if I told you how.) Did it serve much of a purpose in the story we got, and deserve a whole finale built around her fighting the heroes in a wax museum/nightclub? No, especially when we get a fight between the two of them and Jake right afterward, while I was checking the time wondering when this movie was gonna be over. We already got a big final battle that seemed to have wrapped up the film just nicely, we don't need another one.

What partly redeemed this film for me were the production values. Christina Ricci and Jesse Eisenberg were both pretty good as the protagonists, about the best I'd normally expect from a subpar Hollywood horror movie, even if the writing really gave them no character to chew on. Both of them got in the sort of great zingers I'd expect from characters created by Kevin Williamson. The wax museum set for the (false) finale was amazing, filled to the gills with horror memorabilia. Whoever created it clearly loved classic horror, and I wish it was where the film really ended rather than back at the house. The legendary Rick Baker, the man responsible for the excellent effects in the far superior An American Werewolf in London, worked on the werewolf design here, and when the film committed itself to using practical effects, the werewolf and the damage it did, eviscerating people left and right (again: if you're gonna watch this, watch the unrated cut), looked as spectacular as I'd expect from him. The thing looked like a friggin' beast, and with Derek Mears under the suit, it acted like it too. Unfortunately, the same can't be said of the CG effects that were often used to render the wolfman in motion. The transformation scene especially was simply embarrassing, a mess of terrible computer effects that looked hideous for all the wrong reasons. When placed side-by-side with the amazing practical effects, it yanked me right out of the film.

Score: 2 out of 5

It has a few things that keep it from being a complete waste, but at the end of the day, it's far more interesting for the story of how its production went wrong than for its own merits. Easily among the worst films of Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson's careers, and a pale shadow of both Scream and other, far superior werewolf flicks.


  1. Nice review! Wes Craven said he was thinking of sending all the cut footage to college kids in an interview made two years ago or so. He said they could re-edit the film with all the new footage. I found that idea really interesting but maybe it's just a fantasy he has. I found the film to be enjoyable, but a better film is one we haven't seen.

  2. That'd be awesome if it did happen.

    1. It probably won't because the ending is not completed.

      The same thing happened with Carrie too. :/