Cursed (2004)


             When people hear that director Wes Craven and screenwriter Kevin
     Williamson have reteamed on a werewolf movie called
CURSED, I’m sure
     many hope that lightening will strike twice. After all, this is the pairing that
     revitalized the tired slasher flicks by adding a strong sense of humor with the
   SCREAM franchise. Add the fact that Williamson earned extra points for his
     work on TV’s
“DAWSON’S CREEK,” and expectations would ride high. Well,
   CURSED is no SCREAM, but it isn’t exactly a washout either, despite its
     troubled production history.

             Briefly, the film halted production while the script and special effects were
     tinkered with, leading to delays that required recasting of many roles. Initially,
     Craven and company were aiming for an R rating, but after the changes settled
     on the more audience-friendly PG-13.

             The on screen results are a pretty mixed bag, and the repeated delays in
     the film’s release have had a detrimental impact on one of the film’s minor
     plot points. In
CURSED, Ellie (played by Christina Ricci) works at the now
     defunct
“The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn.” Despite all the changes
     to the screenplay, this one stayed in . . . although in retrospect it might have been
     better had the filmmakers fictionalized the show and its host. As pretty much
     everyone knows by now, Kilborn famously left the late night arena over
     contract issues in August of 2004, leading to a much-publicized hunt for a
     replacement and the eventual hiring of Craig Ferguson. The scenes in the film
     still work, but there a jolt when the show’s logo and its host appear in scenes.

             As in
SCREAM, the prologue introduces a “name” performer who the
     audience knows will fall victim to the killer. In the case of
CURSED, there
     are two young actresses, Shannon Elizabeth and Mya. Friends who
     have dipped into the same dating pool, the pair decide to have their fortunes
     read at a carnival. Expecting the reader (Portia di Rossi) to tell them about
     their love lives, they are taken aback when she starts to carry on about a
     beast and impending doom.

             We then meet Ellie (Ricci), a single woman helping to raise her teenage
     brother Jimmy (Jesse Eisenberg) after the death of their parents. Jimmy is
     the quintessential screen nerd. He strikes out while trying to impress
     Brooke (Kristina Anapau), a classmate on whom he has a crush, mostly
     because her boyfriend Bo (Milo Ventimiglia), the captain of the wrestling team,
     pushes him around.

             After meeting with her boyfriend Jake (Joshua Jackson), a mysterious
     nightclub owner, Ellie picks up her brother and while driving home, hits an
     animal and causes another car to careen off the road. That driver, Becky
      (Shannon Elizabeth), is trapped inside the car, and the siblings struggle
     to free her. At which time, the animal -- which in actuality is a werewolf --
     strikes, wounding both of them and dismembering Becky.

             As the siblings begin to notice subtle but unmistakablechanges to
     their bodies, they each deal with the aftermath of the attacks in different
     ways. Ellie goes into denial and sets about to do her job, which entails
     booking guests on the show. She’s dragged to a party by a bitchy public
     relations expert (Judy Greer) to entice actor Scott Baio (playing himself
     in a cameo) into an appearance on the show. Meanwhile, Jimmy begins
     to enjoy the changes wrought by the attack, especially when he’s forced
     to try out for the wrestling team (with the appropriately amusing results).
     Spurred on, he does extensive research on their “condition.”

             The film continues in this vein, alternating amusing and scary, but
     never fully settling on one tone. Perhaps because of the rewriting and
     reshooting, the film begins strongly but lapses into a convoluted series
     of endings. Just when you think the film is over, it veers off into a slightly
     different direction. The cast does well, with Ricci and Eisenberg, in particular
     standing out. There’s a nice, believable interplay between them and it’s
     exciting to watch Eisenberg (who was so good in
ROGER DODGER)
     grow as a performer.

             Coming on the heels of several other bad horror films like
     
ALONE IN THE DARK, HIDE AND SEEK and BOOGEYMAN, and
     in spite of its troubled pedigree,
CURSED still delivers some well-placed
     laughs (look for a surprise confession from Ventimiglia’s character) and a
     few nail-biting chills.


                    
Rating:                      C+
                    
MPAA rating:           PG-13 for horror violence/terror, some
                                                                 sexual references, nudity,
                                                                 language and a brief drug reference
                  
  Running time:         96 mins.
©  2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.