As the originator of the immensely popular Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, Wes Craven is one of the most recognizable names in the horror genre, right up there with Stephen King. His name has been attached to many films since Freddy Krueger first appeared in theaters, such as the successful Scream trilogy and such lesser works as They and Dracula 2000. Fans would say he has an impressive body of work, but frankly his track record seems spotty at best. Craven’s most recent trip to the director’s chair, Cursed, may finally prove he’s lost the spark from his Nightmare days.
When siblings Ellie (Christina Ricci) and Jimmy (Jesse Eisenberg) get into a nasty car accident after a werewolf hits their windshield, you can almost hear the creaky gears of the screenplay in motion. The pair attempts to help the girl they hit out of her mangled car only to watch her lower half get eaten by the wolf, which then proceeds to scratch them for no apparent reason. If you ask me a werewolf would have had enough of an appetite to eat three people, but I guess since they were all hip young adults it couldn’t stomach the zesty flavoring.
Time passes and strange occurrences come to pass. Ellie is told her life is in mortal danger by a psychic, but since the woman is auditioning for The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn, the warnings are not heeded. Later Ellie is captivated by the scent emitted from the nosebleed of a co-worker. Meanwhile Jimmy is waking up naked in the holly bushes, eating raw steak, and standing up to the bullies at school with his newfound strength. Oh, and they both have pentacle points on the palms of their hands. Obviously they’re displaying the traits of the beast, and unless they can find and kill the original werewolf they’re doomed to become furry brutes themselves.
Therein lies the first of many problems I had with Cursed, as it boils down to nothing more than a Scream rehash. Just replace the serial killer with a werewolf and you have the exact same mystery over just who the characters can trust. Why, the wolf could be anyone! Could it be the snotty publicist? Or how about Ellie’s moody love interest Jake, played by a drunken Joshua Jackson? A better question would ask if anyone cares, since no one in the movie is appealing enough to warrant any interest.
Like the Scream films, Cursed is unabashedly self-referencing; sending up the werewolf genre with so many knowing nudges my body felt violated by the time the credits rolled. Craven throws in everything but a fur-covered kitchen sink to let us know this movie is about werewolves, including a band who sings the old rock tune “Little Red Riding Hood,” a Wolfman mannequin at a club, and a costume party where a man is dressed up as said Wolfman. There are also a lot of jokes about the entertainment industry, with cameos by Craig Kilborn, Lace Bass and even Scott Baio as themselves. See, it’s amusing because they’re making fun of their real-life personas. Laugh. You know it’s funny. Laugh.
By making his film so obviously campy and stupid that no one could take it seriously, Wes Craven sacrifices any chance of scaring his audience. So why does he even make the attempt? Cursed is riddled with horror clichés, with about half a dozen jump scares and a supposedly creepy sequence that actually ends up being a dream. None of this material works because A) even average moviegoers aren’t scared by this crap and B) the movie wants to be hip and silly at the same time. When a werewolf actually flipped Christina Ricci the bird after having her skin tone insulted, any chance this film had of being entertaining flew out the window. While it is one thing to be satirical, you have to be a great filmmaker to do a good balance of satire and moments of true fright. Wes Craven is not such a filmmaker, and so he should have picked one direction to pursue instead of trying to nab slices from two pies.
One last matter must be addressed before I wrap up this review: the truly bizarre comparisons Wes Craven draws between being a werewolf and being gay. See, there’s a homophobic bully character who taunts Jimmy constantly for supposedly being a fruit. At one point he even says, “Come on guys, let’s leave before we get homo stains!” Tasteful, am I right?
Anyway, the bully ends up being gay himself and comes out to Jimmy, who is currently being attacked by his werewolf German shepherd. When Jimmy reveals he is a werewolf, a gag begins where the bully compares their situations. See, because they both have to keep a secret and are afraid it will hurt the ones they love. Get it? Funny, yes? Actually, no. I find it offensive how Craven would go for such a cheap joke, especially since his target audience of hip teens might be homophobic themselves. I can almost hear the jeers and boos from the crowd when the bully revealed his secret. Because as Teen Wolf taught us, it’s better to be a werewolf than a homo.
The only truly positive thing I can say about Cursed is its use of practical effects for the various werewolves. While an ample amount of shaky CGI was on hand for most of the film, every now and then you get some cool shots of someone simply in a wolf costume. It was really well designed and actually pretty freaky to behold, so the film gets a few points in that respect. As for the writing, acting, and directing, let’s just say Cursed should have gone straight to the rental shelves instead of receiving a full release.