Wes Craven is, to put it mildly, a bit of a funny one. If you look at the horror movies he has been behind we get some of THE greats: Last House on The Left, The Hills Have Eyes, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream. Any director would want that bunch on their list. However Craven, even by his own admission, has also done a load of old pony. He’s directed Deadly Friend, Shocker and My Soul to Take, all of which are terrible. I sometimes think that part of the problem is that when he hits upon a good idea he tries to repeat it, and that’s when it all goes horribly wrong. Shocker, for example, was only made in an attempt to recreate the success of Freddy Kruger, Deadly Friend was.. okay I have no idea what that was made. Anyway the same goes for Cursed. It was made to do for werewolves what Scream did for slasher movies… and it was a disaster.
The plot involves a sister (Christina Ricci) and her young brother (Jesse Eisenberg) being attacked by a werewolf on Mulholland Drive and then having to deal with the curse of becoming werewolves. There’s a lot of wish fulfilment for the bullied Eisenberg and sexy times for Ricci. Also I think the film might be making a commentary about the shallowness of Hollywood types but its really hard to say. There are a number of smaller roles here, mostly there to add a mystery as to who the main werewolf is, for example Judy Greer as Ricci’s bitchy rival, Joshua Jackson as her lover, Lex Luthor from Smallville as some other chap and Portia De Rossi as the least convincing gypsy on the planet. Why they bother with this who-done-it is beyond me as its completely obvious who did do it right from the beginning. They don’t even pretend to hide it. Sure there’s a little twist nearer the end but that’s more of a side step to who the main culprit is.
What’s really surprising is that the film hangs together at all as, despite its faults, it does have a beginning, a middle and an end, well two ends, and its actually fairly entertaining in a casual I-can’t-find-the-remote-ah-fuck-it kind of way. Especially as the production sounds like it was one hell of a nightmare for all involved.
Get this: they shot the first two thirds of the movie before the producers (the Weinstiens of course!) decided that they didn’t like the ending of the film so they shut down production whilst the script was “retooled” – i.e. fucked about so much it would bare no resemblance to what everyone had signed on for. These changes meant that the new climax would need some heavy changes to some of the earlier parts of the film so a number of key characters whose scenes had been shot were chopped out. Skeet Ulrich, who had been one of the main stars of the film, hated the changes so much he walked out of the whole production. Unfortunately Wes Craven wasn’t so lucky and was trapped waiting for the cameras to role again.
Finally they did and this time they shot the new script in its entirety and thought that was that. But no! The producers didn’t like the new ending (the echos of Craven’s head banging against a brick wall can still be heard in various Hollywood backlots) which is kind of weird as surely they read and approved the new ending? Maybe they hadn’t. I mean, not knocking producers but I’ve met a number of them in my time and it is surprising how many work on films they have never read the script for. Who knows what happened in this case. Whatever it was, Craven had to go back and shoot a third climax.
This ending, which is the one we see in the film, is perfectly adequate but feels like it was knocked up in a day with barely functional action scenes, few surprises and terrible dialogue, badly delivered (“Your’e a monster!” says the cursed Ricci. “Join the club!” screams back werewolf person. It like something out of a bad Batman movie). There’s also some really boring camera work – heroes run one way, the camera pans right, the heroes run the other way, the camera pans left. On the positive side there’s the standard issue family dog in this film (a lovely Golden Retriever called Solar in case you’re interested) who doesn’t die for a change, which is a relief. In fact Solar even turns into a weredog for a bit, which is probably some kind of wish fulfilment for dogs.
If Wes Craven’s direction seems to be not lacklustre as such, but lacking in care or attention to detail its easy to see why. “Its just been a matter of trying to get it done,” he said at the time. “It’s been a very long and arduous process, and frankly I’m just sick of the process and want to go out and do something I can feel really good about.” He was on it such a long time that he sounded completely burnt out by this point. It is a testament to his professionalism as a film maker that despite all this he stayed on to the bitter end. Either that or its a testament to the Weinstein’s legal team that he would have had his arse sued to hell and back if he had tried to do a bunk.
What makes it even worse for Craven, who the more I investigated for this review the more I admired, is that he never even wanted to make Cursed in the first place! “We started with me being offered to do a remake of a Japanese film called Pulse.” That could have been good. “Five weeks before shooting Dimension pulled the plug on it. And then for one reason or another they made us an offer that we kind of had to accept to do this film Cursed.” Oh Jesus, strong armed by the Weinsteins into making something he didn’t even want to do, with little prep time by the sounds of things too.
And that’s a little unfair I feel. It was certainly weighed down by expectation – “from the people that brought you Scream!!!!” the posters, well, screamed. Scream is a modern classic and is loved by critics probably more than by audiences. So anything less than that quality was always going to be in for a rough ride. And the notorious production problems were well known and critics always make decisions about those kind of films even before they’ve seen them.
But the actual film does have a number of decent factors. Christina Ricci is excellent in it, giving her all, trying to be breezy and clumsy at the same time and sniffing with excitement at the sight of a nose bleed. Jesse Eisenberg too, in one of his earliest roles, sells the nerd who becomes a wolf really well and delivers the few funny lines on offer with tight timing. Plus Joshua Jackson is all smouldering hairy man coolness even if he does literally pop up in the middle of scenes which he has no reason for being in. Plus Rick Baker’s* werewolves are okay even if the cg replacements are not so good. Note to the world – cg werewolves never work. Stop it now.
And like I said before, its perfectly watchable and never dull either. And knowing some of the background makes it almost a fascinating slice of movie making, not so much for what is on screen but how they ever managed to get it up there in the first place.
* Rick Baker closed his creature shop mid way through the never ending production so KNB had to take over. Who knows who’s werewolf is whose. That’s a lot of Ws.