In Kevin Smith’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, there’s an amusing aside where Wes Craven directs Shannen Doherty in a cheesy horror movie. When the script calls for her to be attacked by an orangutan dressed in a Scream costume, she upbraids the director: “Jesus, Wes, you guys aren’t even trying anymore!” Who would have thought that this bit of satire was prophetic?
Horrormeister Craven has been around a long time — ever since 1972, when he appalled the world with the horrifically tasteless and even more horrifically inept Last House on the Left. It wasn’t until 1984, though, that he came into his own with a genuinely frightening film, A Nightmare on Elm Street, which also worked as a subtle tract against the evils of vigilante justice.
That film, along with The People Under the Stairs, Craven’s not-so-subtle satire on Ron and Nancy Reagan that masqueraded as a horror picture, were the high points in a career festooned with more misses than hits.
It’s instructive that Craven’s best work is in films that strive to be more than just fright flicks. There’s a sense in his other movies that the filmmaker feels constrained by the horror genre, so it was hardly surprising when he started deconstructing the form in the pretentious Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, with its egomaniacal credits: “A Wes Craven Film,” “Based on characters created by Wes Craven,” “Written and Directed by Wes Craven,” etc.
It was even less surprising when Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson created the Scream series, as smug a post-modern take on the genre as could be imagined. The results weren’t very good, but the films at least tried to do something different.
Presumably, the pair’s latest collaboration, Cursed, was intended to be in a similar post-modern form, and perhaps it was — before it was shelved, recut, reshot, rewritten and generally remonkeyed in order to gain a PG-13 rating. There are certainly signs that it may once have borne more than a passing resemblance to Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, with its real-life TV-show setting, though in the film’s final form, the setting serves no discernible function. And neither do guest stars Craig Kilborn and Scott Baio (Scott Baio???).
It seems unlikely this was ever a great movie, but it might have been a more interesting one than the lame, tame and more of the same werewolf yarn that skulked into theaters this week. Here’s the whole plot: Ellie (Christina Ricci) and her 21-year-old kid brother, Jimmy (Jesse Eisenberg, The Village), get bitten by a werewolf and start transforming into such beasts themselves. Thanks to a little research on the Internet, Jimmy concludes that they can only escape this curse if they kill the original werewolf from whose line they were infected. The closest this story gets to original is to come up with the idea that werewolves can only be killed if their heads are separated from their hearts. Ho hum.
Instead of original fare, what we get are stupid retreads of scenes from An American Werewolf in London, The Howling and Teen Wolf (I swear on Lon Chaney Jr.’s grave, I am not making up this last comparison). There are some nice touches, such as when part of the film takes place in a Hollywood-themed nightclub and a silver-topped replica of the cane from The Wolf Man is brought into play.
And there’s an interesting little subplot (credit out-gay screenwriter Williamson), where a homophobic jock (Milo Ventimiglia, TV’s Gilmore Girls) who’s been tormenting Jimmy turns out to be gay; once outed, he turns into a nice character. It helps that Ventimiglia brings a lot of personal charm to the role.
But it’s all too little to help the film rise above the blandly generic. If your idea of a good time is seeing somebody in a werewolf costume flip the bird to the good guys, then this is your movie. All I can do with that level of humor is wonder whatever became of the filmmaker who once made satirical jabs by playing Krystoff Pendrecki’s “Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima” over footage of Baghdad being bombed during Desert Storm in The People Under the Stairs. Cursed offers a comedown that’s not just sad, it’s pathetic.
But don’t feel sorry for Craven, who has no one to blame but himself. Instead, feel sorry Michelle Krusiec — who plays the “Nosebleed Co-Worker” in the film — when she has to explain that role on her resume. Rated PG-13 for violence/terror, some sexual references, nudity, language and a brief drug reference.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke