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After almost three years and more news stories than I can count, CURSED is at last upon us. And while I wish I could bring you all a happy ending to the ongoing saga, I instead report on a career low for all involved. CURSED is a film that has been completely castrated of anything that would make it a risky film, a scary film, a film that resembles anything but a cheap marketing ploy.
CURSED makes its point early on. We are barely seconds into the opening credits when we see exactly what the film is selling. Unfortunately, that is not a horror, it is not humor, it is not even a movie. No the first thing we linger on is the top 40 band Bowling for Soup playing a bad cover while a crowd of teens dance enthusiastically. The film strategically allows them to get through the first verse and chorus before plunging into the story like a bull in a china shop. In fact, this happens at numerous points in the film. Any time they can get away with blaring a few seconds of a generic pop-rock tune, they do, at any time and any instance, momentum be damned. CURSED is shameless in this respect. It is not interested in telling a good story, it may have been at one time but not anymore. It is interested in getting you to buy a ticket. And once you buy a ticket, it does nothing but try to sell you on other goods for the next ninety minutes. The plot is secondary.
And how about that plot, huh? Well, considering it took a full rewrite midway through, I expected there to be more of one. Ellie and Jimmy (Christina Ricci and Jessie Eisenberg, respectively) are brother and sister. It seems their parents are dead and Ellie is raising her younger brother herself. We don't really know much about how they get along before the film gets underway. The two get into a car accident, hitting an animal and then slamming into another car. They try to rescue the passenger from the other car (Shannon Elizabeth - AMERICAN PIE, THIRTEEN GHOSTS), but something drags the girl off and kills her. It drags Ellie and Jimmy a bit too, and they each get scratched by the animal, which Jimmy swears was a giant wolf.
Naturally, this was not just any wolf. Now, Ellie and Jimmy each find themselves cursed with lycanthropy and they turn into werewolves themselves. Oh wait, actually they don't. See, that would have been interesting. Instead, they merely exhibit symptoms of wolf-like behavior and proceed to bitch and moan about it. The effects aren't even as dramatic as you might think. Jimmy is able to try out for the wrestling team, beat up some school bullies and impress a cute girl. It's a short and none-too-sweet storyline that only reminds the viewer of TEEN WOLF. Wait, make that TEEN WOLF TOO. Ellie meanwhile begins to think that a small amount of blood smells pretty good although she doesn't act on it. Both of them begin to eat their meat rare. That's it, that is the sum total of what we are dealing with in terms of the "curse" for these two.
While these two are wrapped up in themselves, the werewolf has been killing people they come into contact with. Ellie tries to figure out what's happening to her and what is killing her casual acquaintances. Meanwhile, her boyfriend Jake (Joshua Jackson, looking less puffy-faced than he did on DAWSON'S CREEK) starts acting weird, especially when she starts showing her signs of wolfiness. This is the new and improved script we have been hearing so much about, and I can't help but think how we were all fed a line of bull from everyone involved.
A bit of history for those of you who haven't read my endless ramblings on this film. CURSED started production in 2003. It was the reunion of Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson, who hit big with SCREAM back in the 1990s. Early on, there were rumblings that all was not well on the set. Shortly after gathering a large and impressive cast, certain crew members began to leave. One of the group was Academy Award winner Rick Baker, arguably the most talented makeup artist alive today. More people jumped ship until 11 weeks into production, the whole project shut down for what we were told was a brief hiatus to last no longer than a few weeks. We were told that Williamson's script needed some work in the third act (the last 20-30 minutes of screen time for those who don't read Syd Field books). The idea was to bring everybody back in a few weeks once the bugs had been ironed out. But those few weeks turned into 10-11 weeks and when the new script was turned in, it was not just a different ending, but a different story altogether. Many actors either left the project or were written out. Nearly all of the footage that was shot in those first 11 weeks was dumped. A mostly new cast was hired, with the exception of some key members like Ricci and Jackson who stayed on for both periods. Among the cast members scrapped: Omar Epps, Scott Foley, James Brolin, Illeana Douglas, Robert Forster, Corey Feldman, Skeet Ulrich and Mandy Moore to name a few. They reshot the film and waited for the film to be released. And they waited, and waited, and waited... The film was still being bumped from the schedule before settling on a February 2005 release which is a far cry from the August 2003 release originally planned. Even then the story was not over. Dimension, who had been behind the on set interference, severely cut the film with just a few weeks to go before its premiere. They even screened an uncut version for critics before releasing a kid-friendly "PG-13" version.
Many great films have dealt with hurdles. From GONE WITH THE WIND, THE ALAMO, APOCALYPSE NOW, ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, THE COTTON CLUB, HEAVEN'S GATE (I love it, got a problem with that?) or just about any film Kubrick worked on. Many fine films have had production histories that would cause anyone to worry about the end result, only to be revealed as masterpieces. There is no reason the same could not happen to a genre picture and I was hoping. Really, I was. Sure, I wrote a lot of stories and marvelled at this production that started so promising and snowballed into a nightmare for all involved. But I never wanted the film to fail. Why would I revel in paying good money to see a bad film? No, I wanted good things from CURSED.
Unfortunately, CURSED plays like a step-by-step process of how too much studio interference can turn great art into just another Happy Meal and one with rotten meat at that. There is absolutely no originality left to Williamson's screenplay. Oh sure, it has plenty of the nods, pokes and winks he has become known for, but none of the irony that made SCREAM a success. After all these script revisions, the final story is amazingly simplistic. Craven is off his game as well. There is nary a single shot in the film that suggests ol Wes was having any kind of fun making this picture. The shot composition, the camera movements, everything feels like a poorly staged TV show. He shows no style. I hate to say it, but the direction plays like someone who is just going through the paces, tired and disillusioned. Even the performances are lacking, and what can you expect from a cast that learned and worked with their characters only to be fed entirely new characters which they were told to invent on the fly? Hence, no one shows much depth. Even the talented Ricci, who is always a sure thing, turns in a bland, one-dimensional performance.
Rick Baker's effects work was taken over by KNB, known for their work on the EVIL DEAD movies and FROM DUSK TIL DAWN. But aside from a few cuts and scrapes and the occasional claw hand, you won't see any of it. Anything more intense than a nasty bruise was cut by the studio, so KNB's footage too wound up on the cutting room floor. What we get instead is some CGI work that looks about five years out of date. The werewolf is about as frightening as Oscar the Grouch and looks far too much like the cartoon I use as my avatar. It's likely the design wasn't done until midway through filming since the film offers us some unintentionally funny werewolf POV shots that do not match the movements of the actual monster.
It's a shame that this is what the special effects budget went for. You would think they could have spared a few bucks to fix the noticeable errors throughout the film. For instance, since Ellie works as a production assistant for THE LATE LATE SHOW WITH CRAIG KILBORN, maybe they could have updated her resume to a TV show that hasn't been off the air for a year. Maybe they could have patched up the numerous script problems. For instance, since werewolves tend to go by a strict lunar cycle, why does one person turn into a beast while the rest of the "cursed" cast retain their movie star good looks? Or maybe they could have just done some cosmetic work, covering up how Ricci and Jackson's hair changes length, style and color from scene to scene.
In over thirty years of filmmaking, this is Wes Craven's worst film. That's counting VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN, DEADLY BLESSING, the porno work he doesn't talk about, everything. Craven may want to send Uwe Boll a bouquet of flowers, because Boll is the reason and perhaps the only reason, why CURSED is not in danger of being named the worst horror film of 2005. But blame cannot be placed on Craven's shoulders for what a colossal failure this is. This does not feel like Craven or even Williamson. It doesn't speak to any original artistic talent whatsoever. Everything in the film was molded and re-molded in the boardroom of artless greedhead studio execs and it shows. You can almost imagine a machine randomly piecing together bits of film stock based on figures fed into it by focus groups before releasing it to the masses. No doubt, the "PG-13" rating has severely crippled this one. But even an uncut version would not be able to erase the multitude of problems.
CURSED is a film without one scare, without one laugh. It's hard to imagine anyone but the most undemanding junior high girls liking it. What makes it all the more painful is that it's worse than merely being a bad movie. CURSED is a film that leaves you feeling hollow and numb. You exit the film with the knowledge that you haven't seen anything remotely interesting.