Even a man who is pure at heart
And says his prayers by night
Can become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms
And the autumn moon is bright…
…or you can take the unique approach of not having that man (or teenage kid in this case) become an actual wolf, only gain its supernatural powers. This is just one of the strange and disappointing ways Cursed handles werewolves in its approach to the genre.
For all intents and purposes, Cursed is a camp film straight out of the late 1970s. It captures the unique look and sense of a movie from that era, from its cinematography, to the feel of its script, even down to the patter of how dialog is delivered. The movie feels like a John Carpenter film, or something from the early days of Wes Craven – appropriate since it’s the latest from Craven and writer/producer Kevin Williamson. The two previously paired up for the Scream trilogy.
Like the Scream movies, Cursed is a PG-13 horror flick, aimed at the same teenage audience it portrays on screen. Slashers like Craven’s previous stalkers Ghostface or Freddy Krueger are out (although Krueger does make an amusing brief background appearance). This time the subject matter is werewolves. Brother and sister Ellie and Jimmy (Christina Ricci and Jesse Eisenberg) are driving home one evening when something hits their car, causing them to spin out of control and hit another vehicle, driven by Becky (Shannon Elizabeth). As they attempt to save Becky, trapped within her car, a monstrous form rips her free, killing Becky and injuring Ellie and Jimmy.
Jimmy, the stereotypical high school geek (complete with comic books and a Macintosh computer), immediately recognizes the signs – they’ve been bitten by a werewolf. They are now, as the title says and the movie reminds you constantly, “cursed”. All of the signs are there to see. The mark of the beast shows on their palms, five points that form a pentacle if you draw a star – ignore the fact that any five points will make a star if you draw it using them as your points, whether they are the mark of the beast or just plain freckles. They have hyper developed senses, an increase in strength and dexterity, and sudden sex appeal to people around them. Neither of them appears to have the negative drawbacks of hair, fangs, or claws though, which means for both of them this transformation is a pretty good thing. Jimmy, who was picked on in school, suddenly has wrestling moves that would make Teen-Wolf jealous, and Ellie is more desirable. Not a bad thing to have when working in Hollywood, even if it is on “Late Night with Craig Kilborn”. (Did she not get notice that the show is now off the air?)
Of course, these new powers are not without their bad side. After all, that pesky werewolf who bit them is still out there, and seems to be after Jimmy and Ellie, mauling people around them and stalking the two, particularly Ellie. To make matters worse, Ellie’s boyfriend (Joshua Jackson) is keeping himself at a distance from her while being pursued by other women like Joanie (Judy Greer), and Jimmy just can’t get to the girl he likes without some jock calling him a homo. With all that teenage angst and drama, whatever is a teenage werewolf to do (this is a teen horror flick after all)?
I don’t know if the target audience will appreciate the camp level Cursed manages to obtain. I’m not even sure I appreciate it, because despite their best efforts to maintain that atmosphere, the CGI effects that show up later in the film ruin the 1970’s feel of the flick. If there was ever a modern day film that could benefit from old school techniques like stop-motion animation, this is it. Unfortunately Craven uses modern day wirework and CGI effects, and doesn’t use them well; ripping the viewer from the illusion of time and space the movie works so hard to create. At least they avoid the painful overuse of “bullet-time” which means we may finally be seeing that special effect die down. Needless to say, An American Werewolf in London continues to hold the title for best werewolf metamorphosis, and even the transformations in Van Helsing look more realistic and agonizing than the CGI mess that is used in Cursed. Still, is a 1970s camp-style movie going to appeal to today’s teenage audience? Perhaps Craven would have been better off to leave the film as an Rated-R flick and target it towards long time horror fans.
One entertaining thing about the movie is the way it pays tribute to the long history of the horror genre and the long history of werewolf flicks. From Bowling for Soup’s opening rendition of “Lil’ Red Riding Hood”, to the aforementioned appearance of Wes Craven’s career-defining Freddy Krueger, Cursed is full of clever little references fans of the genre will appreciate. Even more recent references are included, with a guest appearance by “Smallville’s” Michael Rosenbaum (as one of Ellie’s co-workers) and one set that will have fans of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” giggling.
Cursed isn’t a bad film, and actually takes a unique approach to modern day genre movies by styling itself as an older one. I’m just not sure modern audiences, particularly the audience it’s targeted at, will appreciate that. It also makes the mistake of dating itself with a show that isn’t even on the air anymore. Probably the film’s biggest error is in showing a celebrity like Lance Bass, and not having the werewolves go after him. If I were a werewolf, Lance Bass would be one of my first rampaging stops. The film is a fun little romp in the werewolf world, although Cursed never really sets any rules for the creatures themselves, leaving itself open to keep cute faces like Ricci’s uncovered by makeup, but leaving the audience unsatisfied that there aren’t really many werewolves in this werewolf movie.