Judge Brett Cullum threw this disc into his vat of holy water, just because he likes all the sparking and smoking and screams of the damned and stuff.
Joanie: I guess there's no such thing as safe sex with a werewolf.
I remember hearing about Cursed when the film first started production, and thinking this could be a classic. Horror director Wes Craven (Nightmare on Elm Street) and genre-defying scriptwriter Kevin Williamson (I Know What You Did Last Summer) brought us the first two movies in the Scream trilogy; the idea of them taking on a werewolf movie sounded like it could be a whole lot of frightful fun. One of my favorite actresses, Christina Ricci (Sleepy Hollow) was on board to make the project even more appealing. How could anything go wrong?
Well, Cursed turned out to be an ironically apt title for the movie. To start, there was the stage when over half the movie was ditched, and a new cast was brought in after quick rewrites. Reshoots were completed, then the movie stayed on the shelf for almost a year. At a final test screening the marketing department of Dimension Films decided cuts were needed to insure Cursed would get a mall-friendly PG-13 rating in the United States. It seemed the werewolf had been neutered, and Wes Craven was crying foul to anyone who would listen. Everyone seemed to disown the movie, and it was released at a dead time of the year. It quickly vanished from cinemas, and seemed destined to be forgotten as a flop. Then the DVD was released in two flavors—the drastically cut PG-13 edition, and a tempting "Unrated" edition packed with extras. Could the magic of the DVD format save this utter mess?
Facts of the Case
Ellie Myers (Ricci) is a serious-minded career gal working on The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn and taking care of her high-school-aged brother Billy (Jesse Eisenberg, The Village). She's doing the best she can after her parents have passed on, and seems to be getting little help from her nightclub owner boyfriend Jake (Joshua Jackson, Pacey from Dawson's Creek), who seems afraid to commit. Then fate deals her an odd hand. After hitting "an animal" on Mulholland Drive, her car swerves and knocks another vehicle off the road. After Ellie and Billie run down a hill to see if everyone is alright, they find a girl (Shannon Elizabeth, American Pie) hanging upside down begging for help. Before anyone can say "Who's your insurance company?" the girl is mauled by the animal and reduced to half the woman she used to be. During the attack both Ellie and Billy are scratched by the beast. Soon they start having troubling dreams, their senses are heightened, and the two siblings develop a strange attraction to human blood. Can the pair find the head werewolf and stop the "curse" before it's too late?
Werewolf movies have a long tradition, yet they are often swept under the rug when compared to the more sexy and prolific vampire stories. Few of them are any good; a lot of that has to do with the unique special effects challenges that face filmmakers when they want to reveal "the beast within." There are two roads you can take when filming a werewolf story: innovate by spending a fortune on cutting edge transformations, like the practical ones in An American Werewolf in London, or never really show the change in detail and create a really good story, like in Ginger Snaps. One thing you do have to do is take the whole business with deadly seriousness. The problem with Cursed is that it does absolutely none of these things. It has some of the worst werewolf effects in the last two decades coupled with a thin story that tries to save itself with some inappropriate humor delivered at times when we should be biting our nails. Though the unrated DVD may add more gore, it can't fix the fundamental problems that plague Cursed in any form.
American horror films have found themselves in dire, critical condition in the last few years, and Cursed is a prime example of everything wrong with the genre. Studios treat their projects as marketing products, and make destructive decisions about what a horror movie should be. Cursed should have been dark and gory; and envisioning it as something else proved disastrous. Horror is based on sadistic principles of ratcheting up the intensity, and that is not possible when you have to create a film that will earn a PG-13 rating. Look at the original Halloween, which is actually pretty skimpy when it comes to the gore. It still could never pass as a PG film simply because it's too dark psychologically. Cursed is not allowed to go to the lengths it needs to, and the result is a formulaic teen drama rather than a horror flick. It should be called The Gilmore Ghouls. Somebody spayed this werewolf, and I suspect it was a studio who demanded changes be made to make the film more friendly to a teen demographic.
A long time ago, the original script of Cursed had three absolute strangers getting into an automobile accident and attacked by a werewolf. The movie was to star Christina Ricci, Jesse Eisenberg, and Skeet Ulrich (the boyfriend in the first Scream). Mandy Moore (Saved) was to play Jenny; Ileana Douglas (Stir of Echoes) was a gypsy. Heather Langenkamp (Nancy in A Nightmare on Elm Street), Scott Foley (Scream 3), Omar Epps (Scream 2), Robert Forster (Jackie Brown), and Corey Feldman (The Lost Boys) were all cast in the project. They filmed a good amount of footage for a story that opened at a PETA party and had its climax in a wax museum. It was supposedly very dark and extremely gory. But that footage was scrapped; the official line from Dimension was that the filming was stalled due to technical problems with the werewolf effects. Other people contend that the studio had problems with the tone of the script and the intensity of the violence. They demanded rewrites, and the production did not pick up for several months.
The version of Cursed (Unrated Version) on this DVD is this reshot version, which had to change most of the cast due to scheduling issues and artistic differences. Skeet Ulrich declined to return because he was unhappy with what happened to his character in the rewritten script, so Joshua Jackson was brought in as Jake. Portia de Rossi (Arrested Development) was cast in the gypsy role which was now less significant. Mya (best known as an R&B singer) came in to shoot the part of Jenny. Scott Baio stepped in for Corey Feldman, playing himself as a washed up actor trying to get on The Late Late Show, and Judy Greer (Jawbreaker and Arrested Development) came in as his hyperactive, bitchy publicist, Joanie. And the odd thing is even though she's named Joanie, nobody even makes a feeble attempt at an obvious joke about her and Scott Baio. The wax museum props were now used as decorations for a nightclub, and the sequences were reshuffled. The only remaining bits from the first version included Milo Ventimiglia (Gilmore Girls) as an abusive jock with a secret, and Kristina Anapu (Cruel Intentions 3) as his girlfriend. The rest of the movie was reshot and retooled beyond recognition and at a frantic pace.
Cursed was seen with all the gore intact in Canada, so this unrated edition is the Great White North version. It runs about two minutes longer than the theatrical US version, but all Cursed (Unrated Version) adds are extended scenes with intact shots of gore. Most noticeable are the sequences with Shannon Elizabeth who is dismembered in the car accident. A dream sequence is elongated, and the final fights are extended to include more spectacular demises for the beasts. No plot points are expanded, and it does little to the performances of the actors. The movie is still a mess; it's just a bloodier one. The gore sequences range from impressive to laughable. I'm not sure if it's going to make a difference to many people, because the gore (or lack of it) was never a problem with Cursed to begin with.
The stumbling blocks with Cursed include a whole array of issues someone could write a nice term paper on in film school. The biggest issue is—it's not scary. We see too much of the werewolf, and the final fights are all in human form for the most part. I want to see wolf fights, not humans working on wires doing karate moves. There's no real problem figuring out who the head beast is, since the cast is too small and most of the suspects are dead three-fourths of the way in. You have a movie without much suspense or any truly frightening sequences. The cast seems to be sleepwalking through this whole project as if they know it's not going to offer much. Ricci looks amazing, and we all know she can carry a film with a few looks from those saucer-sized eyes of hers. In Cursed she seems strangely miscast and under-used. The rest of the cast turn in forgettable performances without much passion, except for Judy Greer, who at least seems to be having fun with her diva bitch persona. Despite the studio's claim that the special effects were the reason for the break in production, the CGI used to amp up the wolf attacks backfire against the movie. Anytime the werewolf is computerized, it looks like somebody plugged in a GameCube and let it take over the movie. The final climactic transformation is laughable, and sets back werewolf transformations sixty years. The original Wolfman with Lon Chaney, Jr. was more effective. The trademark post-modern humor Craven and Williamson brought to their Scream projects also works against the film. A werewolf gives someone the finger at a time when it should be scaring the pants off of us—and boy, does that ruin everything. Had Cursed shot for comedy from the start, it would have been much better off. Instead it starts off scary and can't sustain anything, so it opts for some easy, predictable laughs that undermine the entire story.
Another major problem with Cursed is the way it doesn't effectively create its own world. There seem to be no rules established for the werewolves. At varying points in the movie the moon changes them, blood triggers the transformation, and extreme emotions also seem to lead to unleashing your inner dog. Even the family's pet seems to be prone to the curse. Cool as that could be, it makes zero logical sense. Sets seem to be what they are—holdovers from the previous shoot. They use a hall of mirrors and some wax figures, which made more sense in the first draft but seem out of place with the new story about the nightclub. Things also seem not to make sense as we move from scene to scene. Ellie drives a black sedan at the start of the movie, yet when she and her brother get into an accident they are in a silver Volvo. The next day the black sedan is back, and it is not damaged. When did Ellie swap out cars? Jenny shows up at a PETA fundraiser later on in the movie, and seems to be a completely different character than what she was at the start. She also seems to be ignoring that her best friend just died so she can flirt with her boyfriend. It feels like the sequence is out of order with the rest of the movie.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The DVD treatment of Cursed is actually strong when you look at the technical side of things. The anamorphic widescreen transfer is clear as a bell, though some of it looks a little glassy. There are no problems with artifacts, halos, or any compression issues. It's beautiful to look at, but so clear it shows the CGI flaws a little too well. The sound mix is an aggressive 5.1 affair that really goes for broke using all of the sound fields to thrilling effect. The music seems a little loud in contrast to the dialogue, but who cares when the lines are this lame? Extras include a rather derogatory scene-specific commentary over the werewolf sequences from make-up supervisor Greg Nicotero and the man in the wolf suit, Derek Mears. They harp on the CGI, and bemoan the fact they wanted to use more practical on-set solutions to create the transformations. Also included are featurettes which seem like your standard electronic press kit interviews mixed with footage from the film. There is no mention of the struggles with the film. A final featurette is a homemade documentary by cast member Jesse Eisenberg, which is cute but adds little. At least the DVD is pretty solid, even if the movie doesn't quite deserve it.
I'd say rent this bad puppy if you are a fan of the horror genre. The starting sequences are actually pretty solid, and there are some genuine thrills in the car crash sequence and an elaborate stalking scene in a parking garage. Too bad the movie derails itself soon after, but you do get a sense at some point there was an actual movie in here somewhere. And it is in these scenes we see the real Wes Craven emerge as a horror director, even if it is a fleeting glimpse. Several scenes that remain from the original script/shoot include a rather witty resolve to the stereotypical "geek vs. jock" subplot. You may see it coming, but it's still a lot of fun to see a glimpse of Kevin Williamson actually writing something that feels genuine. It's not all bad, and considering its checkered history Cursed could have been worse than it is. It's still not a great movie by any stretch of the imagination, and the glimpses of the good makes it all the more frustrating.
Cursed, unfortunately, lives up to its title. It's not scary, makes little sense, and plays fast and loose with the conventions of the traditional werewolf movie. It feels like a rush job that few of the participants seemed to care for. The DVD is well produced, but it misses the boat as to what it could have offered. Too bad studios are so sensitive about what they include in official releases, because I would have killed to have seen the footage that was shot before the entire project went to rewrite hell. How about a commentary with Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson telling us what they really intended to do with the project? Dimension should have let us see and hear what really happened to make Cursed such a letdown. The scariest thing about it is this project came out of such a competent team of people who know their stuff.
The makers of Cursed should be sentenced to go back to junior high, so they can learn how the "teen demographic" hates crappy horror movies as much as the rest of us. If you're going to unleash a dog on us at least let it have some teeth. Better luck next time, Mr. Craven and Mr. Williamson.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Dimension Films
• Scene-specific Commentary by Make-up Supervisor Greg Nicotero and Werewolf Actor Derek Mears
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