Combustible Celluloid
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With: Christina Ricci, Jesse Eisenberg, Portia de Rossi, Mya, Shannon Elizabeth, Kristina Anapau, Milo Ventimiglia, Joshua Jackson
Written by: Kevin Williamson
Directed by: Wes Craven
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for horror violence/terror, some sexual references, nudity, language and a brief drug reference/Unrated
Running Time: 97
Date: 02/25/2005

Cursed (2005)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Bite Club

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The post-modern werewolf film appeared as early as Joe Dante's The Howling and John Landis's An American Werewolf in London (both 1981) and as recently as John Fawcett's Ginger Snaps (2001). And despite a screenplay by Kevin Williamson, who wrote the ultimate post-modern horror film, Scream, Wes Craven's Cursed doesn't add anything new to the pot.

Yet viewed as an old-fashioned popcorn-muncher, it succeeds quite well.

Orphaned siblings Jimmy (Jesse Eisenberg) and Ellie (Christina Ricci) are having a rough time of it in Los Angeles, unable to make relationships stick, or even to start any at all. On the way home from one particularly bad day, their car hits something on Mulholland Drive. Rooting around in the woods attempting to help another stranded driver (Shannon Elizabeth), something jumps out, devours the girl and bites them both. They find that they are suddenly attractive to the opposite sex, but also begin craving raw meat.

Meanwhile, a werewolf keeps attacking and killing more women. Williamson and Craven set up the film as a whodunit, and we're supposed to figure out which of the walking humans is really the killer beast, but it's more fun watching the horror conventions unfold though Craven's skillful camera. Unlike most modern horror filmmakers, Craven believes in the old-fashioned, steady-and-clear school of filmmaking. He practically invented the jump-shock effect, and once again shows us how it's done.

Cursed also benefits from its palpable Los Angeles atmosphere and its warm summer nights; the whole affair actually begins at a carnival with a gypsy fortune-teller (Portia de Rossi) warning of the danger! Serviceable in-jokes also help, like a new nightclub full of wax horror figures and props -- including Lon Chaney Jr.'s famous cane from the original The Wolf Man (1941).

Nerdy Eisenberg (Roger Dodger) and sexy Ricci (Monster, Sleepy Hollow) make great heroes, and it's fascinating to watch them make their way through this weird, yet familiar world, discovering new and exciting things about their "curse." Moving beautifully in her wardrobe of sleek black suits, Ricci in particular sells the animal magnetism theme; when interviewing Scott Baio for her job on "The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn," he suddenly stops talking and gazes at her. "You know, you're really beautiful," he says. The camera cuts to her, and, yes, she is.

Unfortunately, all the wolf effects are computer generated, and they look cheap and phony. Strangely, neither Jimmy nor Ellie suffers a werewolf transformation scene, which I found refreshing, but which probably disappointed many horror fans.

Indeed, this enjoyable film has received nothing but backlash, probably because Miramax/Dimension has repeatedly changed its release date and finally opened it without any press screenings (I paid to see it). According to the rumor mill, the film has also been edited several times, although probably in hopes of earning the more box-office friendly PG-13 rating.

Most times, bad films deserve this kind of treatment, but occasionally a little gem like Cursed gets lost in the machine. It certainly won't make history; it's not as good as Craven's best films, but it's much better than his worst films.

DVD Details: Miramax/Dimension has released Cursed in two DVD editions the theatrical edition (97 minutes) and the unrated edition (99 minutes). The only real change I was able to detect in the unrated version is an extra scene of Shannon Elizabeth's legless torso writhing on the ground after the first wolf attack. This version should not be confused with Craven's director's cut, however, which still does not exist. Extras include a couple of the usual talking-head-and-clip featurettes, none more than ten minutes long. And the makeup artists provide a few scene-specific commentaries. Best of all is a fun, short film made by Eisenberg, hanging out with the makeup artists for a day.

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