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Cursed (2005) Print E-mail
Friday, 25 February 2005
Both director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson (who did the three “Scream” movies) have complained about the treatment this film received by distributor Dimension, the “schlock” arm of Miramax. The movie was originally completed with an R rating, but Dimenson clumsily cut out all the gorier moments, essentially emasculating the movie. What were they expecting? This is about werewolves, and they have long claws and sharp teeth; the audience simply expects a certain level of violence. But the released version of “Cursed” is annoyingly tame. Early on, one of the characters exclaims “we saw a girl torn apart!” You couldn’t prove it by me—in that sequence, we don’t even see a single drop of blood.

This is not to launch a crusade for extreme gore, but a certain level of gore is entirely appropriate for some categories of horror movies. Cutting the gore merely means that ticket-takers at theaters don’t have to check the i.d.s of kids going to see the movie. Presumably, Dimension thinks this will increase the boxoffice, but the response to this movie is likely to be so tepid precisely because of the avoidance of gore that the distributor will probably make less than if they had let the movie alone. Ah, well—there’s always home video.

Not that this is that great of an idea to begin with. If you’ve seen the ad—a woman’s face with tears in the “poster”—it probably looks familiar; it should, it’s a direct steal of the impressive ad for another werewolf movie, Joe Dante’s “The Howling.” Released near one another, “The Howling” and “An American Werewolf in London” boldly showed that werewolf stories could effectively be set in the here and now. Both movies were buoyed by inventive, eye-popping effects, by Rob Bottin in “The Howling” and by Rick Baker in “An American Werewolf.” Baker is listed in the opening credits of “Cursed,” but we see so little of the werewolf (or werewolves—it’s a little confusing) that it’s hard to judge Baker’s work. It’s hard to tell, in fact, if any of what remains is Baker’s work; there’s a lot of CGI going on here, and other effects houses, including busy KNB, are listed in the long end credits.

The story opens no new doors. “The Howling” and “American Werewolf” both had a lot of humor; so did all three “Scream” movies, so you’d expect a Craven-directed, Williamson-scripted werewolf epic to at least occasionally be funny. But “Cursed” is remarkably lacking in humor; there are a few clever ideas, but they’re mostly amusing in context and hard to describe in words without stomping the funny elements to death. The characterizations are generally stronger than in movies of this nature, and the game of “who’s the wolf” is played out more inventively than you might expect. It’s definitely a smart movie. But it’s not an especially good one. Evidently the removal of the gore was not the only changes Dimension made in Craven’s finished—or so he thought—product. There were casting changes, plot changes and other alterations over the last couple of years. The movie went into production in late 2002 and was initially scheduled for release in August, 2003. But here it is a year and a half later, stealthily released in the part of the year when movies studios have little confidence in are frequently dumped. There were no press screenings of “Cursed,” another strong indication that no one expects the movie to do well.

Two girls are told by a fortune teller than they are in danger from the “beast that feeds by the light of the moon.” The two give this little thought, but since this is even before the credits, we know they’re doomed. Then we meet teenaged Jimmy (Jesse Eisenberg) out on Hollywood Boulevard. He runs into classmate Brooke (Kristina Anapau) who’s never noticed him before, but is on the verge of warming up to him when her (of course) jock boyfriend Bo (Milo Ventimiglia), a wrestling star, shows up to make gay jokes at Jimmy’s expense.

Later Jimmy is riding home with his older sister Ellie (Christina Ricci), a publicist currently working for her verging-on-a-boyfriend Jake (Joshua Jackson), who’s about to open a house of horrors in Hollywood. A few nods are made to classic horror movies, including “The Wolf Man;” a replica of the silver-headed cane Claude Rains used to beat son Lon Chaney Jr. to death in that film is prominently displayed. On Mulholland Drive, something—an animal? (never explained)—caroms off their car sending into a collision with another, knocking the second car off the road and down the hill.

Jimmy and Ellie try to help the girl (whom you may recognize as one of the two who spoke to the fortune teller, but I didn’t) out of the car, but something big and hairy shows up and pulls the driver into the forest. In the struggle, Ellie is bitten and Jimmy is scratched.

This is the setup. Jimmy, a horror comics fan, soon figures out that what they fought was a werewolf and that he and Ellie are cursed to become werewolves themselves. Williamson plays fast and loose with werewolf mythology here; yes, the full moon causes the transformation, but silver only hurts, not kills, werewolves. Their heads need to be cut off or destroyed. But if they can slay the werewolf that attacked them, the curse will be lifted.

So the rest of the movie skitters around offering one suspect after nother. Is it the earnest, rugged Jake? The wimpy but adorable Kyle (Michael Rosenbaum, unrecognizable as “Smallville”’s Lex Luthor)? Bitchy Joanie (Judy Greer), who seems to have it in for Ellie? Or is it someone else on the sidelines?

Hunting the werewolf down isn’t very interesting, and aside from messing around with the mythology, “Cursed” doesn’t offer anything new to werewolf movies. This is especially disappointing, because “Scream” and its sequels showed Williamson was pretty sharp as a writer, knowledgeable about slasher movies, aware of where to place clues and how to change things without disappointing the audiences. Craven, too, is very experienced with horror movies; in a thirty-year career, he’s rarely made anything else.

“Cursed” is slick and entertaining much of the time, with a good cast and imaginative use of locations and sets. There are a few inventive, if peculiar, ideas, such as a golden retriever also becoming a werewolf (if that’s the right term). Why can the not-quite-transformed Jimmy scuttle around on the ceiling? There’s a small attempt made to suggest parallels between being gay and being a werewolf, but this leads nowhere. I admired the siblings’ Little Red Riding Hood cuckoo clock, and it’s great that acknowledgement is paid to classic horror movies. But mostly it’s all very familiar, and sometimes pointless. Why is Scott Baio in the movie, playing himself? Surely it couldn’t be for name value.

The effects are variable; there are some shots of a two-legged werewolf—with wolf feet—as seen under a car that are remarkably convincing. There are few transformation scenes, usually the big deal in werewolf movies, and the full-blown werewolf that battles the cast survivors in the Hollywood horror house isn’t especially interesting. There’s another climax after that one, but the actual end of the movie is (blessedly) low-key and warm.

Although vampires get more movie play—possibly because werewolves are more effects-intensive—there have been a few interesting werewolf movies in the last few years. The Canadian “Ginger Snaps” is well worth looking for; it’s smart, scary and admirably dispassionate (though not quite cold blooded) in its goals; it led to two sequels. “Dog Soldiers” was a ferocious, well-produced entry set in Scotland; like “Ginger Snaps” it went straight to video in this country, but again is worth seeking out.

It’s impossible to speculate on what “Cursed” might have been, had Craven and Williamson been left to their own devices. All it can be judged by is what it is: an interesting but confused, compromised failure.

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