There’s nothing much a horror fan can do with the dead-on-belated-arrival Cursed other than attend the wake, pay respects, pat Wes Craven on the arm, and say “Sorry for your troubles.” Craven, who hasn’t had a film in theaters in five years (the lame Scream 3 in early 2000 was the last to bear his signature), chose for his comeback an overly touchy-feely script by Kevin Williamson, who wrote his and Craven’s biggest hit, the original Scream. The result has become semi-legendary among horror buffs for its tortured backstory; shelved for over a year, about half of it was reshot, then watered down to a PG-13 for mass teen consumption. It really never deserved to be more than a quickie TV-movie on the WB, where it would’ve aired around Halloween and then faded into oblivion.
Christina Ricci, attempting her own comeback (2001’s Prozac Nation, the drama that was supposed to do it for her, sat unreleased for years), takes a deep breath and dives into the cheese. She’s playing Ellie, an assistant on the Craig Kilborn show, an indignity perhaps even greater than turning into a werewolf. But the latter appears to be in her future, after she and her teenage brother Jimmy (Jesse Eisenberg) are scratched by a lycanthrope one night. Soon, they share a craving for raw meat, an aversion to silver, and a willingness to deliver bad Kevin Williamson dialogue. Who knows why this werewolf story is set in Hollywood, on the margins of a late-night show that was cancelled a year before this movie came out? Who can explain the presence of Scott Baio, who gamely appears as himself and comes on to Ellie when she starts throwing off full-moon pheromones?
Cursed may once have been a nastier affair, even verging on the incestuous (why else bother to have a brother and sister share a blood curse?). What we get, though, is any number of subplots that barely make sense, such as the one in which a homophobic jock taunts Jimmy and then, allegedly shockingly, turns out to be gay himself (Williamson’s seen American Beauty one too many times, I suspect). Ellie has a boyfriend, a bearded designer (Joshua Jackson) putting together a horror-movie-themed restaurant/club, just so that we can get many shots of people framed next to a Lon Chaney Jr. Wolf Man statue. The wit of 1980’s The Howling (which featured a shot of Allen Ginsburg’s Howl) and 1981’s An American Werewolf in London (prankishly edited to the rhythm of several moon-related tunes) is far beyond Williamson’s reach.
Speaking of American Werewolf, Rick Baker — who won an Oscar for his groundbreaking transformation effects on that film — is mentioned here in the credits as “special make-up artist,” which, on the evidence of the movie, must mean “applying eyeliner to Christina Ricci.” Looking at the badly executed werewolves in Cursed, which move as unconvincingly as any computer-generated werewolf ever has, I refuse to believe that Baker had any more to do with these critters than minor consultation by phone: “Yes, they are supposed to have fur and fangs. Send the check to…” In theory, a Wes Craven werewolf movie with Rick Baker on board should have been dark magic, but Craven long ago seemingly resigned himself to making diversions for high-school kids.
Most of whom, I would think, will skip this (Cursed earned a non-whopping $9.5 million its opening weekend) and wear out their copy of 2000’s Ginger Snaps, a sharp and deadly werewolf movie that happens to center on teenage girls, but offers something to any demographic: intelligence, wit, great sarcastic dialogue, and genuine fright. After that film, as well as other cult favorites like Brotherhood of the Wolf and Dog Soldiers, a werewolf story needs to bring more to the table than a tired sexual metaphor (the culprits are a womanizing jerk and his jilted ex-lover). If the movie is saying that life in Hollywood is red in tooth and claw — that people move in packs, feed remorselessly on the weak, and turn into beasts after dark — we’ve got any random E! True Hollywood Story to tell us that. If Craven and Williamson don’t like it in Hollywood, they should get out; Williamson may be lost to the mainstream, but Craven has made at least three outlaw classics outside the system (Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, and A Nightmare on Elm Street), and he still could, if he learns from this experience, hires a group of grubby unknowns, and sets out to scare us again.