Sunday, February 27, 2005

REVIEW: Cursed

MovieBob to Universe: You can please stop with all of the you-asked-for-it ironic/karmic signs already, we get the idea. The 90s are over.

Our latest exhibit that the preceeding decade has, officially, passed into the ether comes in the form of "Cursed," a teenaged-werewolf entry from the former "Scream" team of director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson, which arrived in U.S. theater's yesterday to snatch the title of "worst excuse for a horror movie in 2006 thus-far" from "Boogeyman." Yup, it's as bad as you've heard.

You might remember that, back in 1996, Williamson and Craven's innaugural collaboration, "Scream," was regarded as something of a big deal. If you were pop-culture-attuned at all at the time, you may recall hearing that this film, an updated 80s-style "teen slasher" with the "hook" that the characters were aware of the "rules" of their genre, was credited with "reviving horror movies." If you were a Movie Geek at the time, you may recall getting unspeakably annoyed at people who, upon hearing you say something marginally obscure about film, were given to point and declare "Yo! He's like that dude from "Scream!"

You might also remember that Williamson followed his success with three more teenaged horror movies, "I Know What You Did Last Summer," "The Faculty," and "Teaching Mrs. Tingle," (none of which were very good), a "Scream" sequel (also not all that good) and the catastrophically awful WB teen-drama "Dawson's Creek," the toxic influence of which is still being felt today. Craven, the one-time 70s/80s horror master who had fallen on hard times prior to "Scream," had a brief upshot in work-quality, then went back to hard times as the executive-producer of a slew of bad movies and director of a Meryl Streep oscar-bait yawner about a violin teacher. No, really.

"Scream" was the quintessential "90's" horror-movie, in as much as it was an "independent film" made and released by a big studio with name actors, endlessly in love with it's own glib cleverness and, above all else, traded heavily in the "reference humor" popularized by Kevin Smith and run mercilessly into the ground by... everyone else and Kevin Williamson in particular. One more thing that makes it utterly a film of the 90s is that "Scream" became dated so fast that it became itself easy-fodder for the "reference humor" of "Scary Movie" with dizzying quickness. In fact, let me put it out on the table right now: As far as Williamson is concerned, I'm of the mind that the emporer has no clothes.

Williamson's "Scream" schtick (a formula movie where the main cast kept joking about formula movies) went over big with the mainstream critics, who openly welcomed a "horror" movie that seemed to agree with them about how silly they always thought horror movies were to begin with. From where I was standing, most of the teenage audiences whom the media told us were "won back" to slasher films by Williamson's cleverness didn't really get into the jokes, and the Horror Geeks who would've gotten into the jokes didn't because they weren't all that nifty as references go (Jason wasn't the killer in the first "Friday the 13th???" Whoa!) For my money, "Scream" was a hit because it was a solid Wes Craven slasher movie, and teens of that generation hadn't had one to call their own yet. As if to prove my point for me, Williamson's follow-up script for "I Know..." was in-joke free and did the same kind of business.

And furthermore, Williamson can't even lay claim to having pioneered anything with self-aware horror. Horror movies where the characters were "aware" of horror movies had been done as recently as 1991 in "There's Nothing Out There," as the boys at StompTokyo.com discovered:
http://www.stomptokyo.com/movies/theres-nothing-out-there.html
(And yes, I'm aware that StompTokyo's reviewers say in that review that they think "Scream" was still better, so you don't need to bother pointing that out.)

And hey, Wes Craven himself did it before "Scream" as well, in "Wes Craven's New Nightmare."
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0111686/

Agree or disagree with me about "Scream," but it can't be denied that "Cursed" was hoped by all involved to be the Craven/Williamson-blockbuster's second coming: The poster is nigh-identical, it's a teen-targeted horror release, etc. From the get-go, this has been the promise: "Scream' but with Werewolves!" Granted, exploring teenaged-angst through the metaphor of Lyncathropy is precisely as old as the teen-horror genre itself (having been originated in the 50s with "I Was A Teenaged Werewolf"), but surely a decent entry can be drawn from this material. Craven, for all his ups and downs, is a great director of both young actors and onscreen carnage, and Werewolves are certainly the most violent of the "classic" movie monsters; so if nothing else we should be in for some good old fashioned monster-splatter courtesy of creature-FX god Rick Baker. And hey, Christina Ricci is in it, and her bambi-eyed sexy/creepy hotness goes with horror films like pizza goes with everything. Someone would have to try to screw this up, right?

Well, if so, "someone" tried their ass off.

MILD SPOILERS FOLLOW:

"Cursed" finds Ricci as a 20-something TV publicist (in an early sign of unintentional-hilarity to come, she works for the canceled-ages-ago Craig Kilborn Show) taking care of her geeky teenaged brother (Jesse Eisenberg) after their parents' untimely deaths. She's in a dramatic relationship with a Wax Museum owner (Joshua Jackson sporting look-I'm-a-grownup-now facial hair) while lil' brother is pining for the high school hottie who's hot-tempered boyfriend (Milo Ventimiglia) likes to beat him up and accuse him of being gay. One night, the sibs get throttled by a Werewolf and wake up with canine-style superpowers that increasing at the ever-frightening rate of whenever-the-plot-dictates, and as you might expect The Race Is On to find and destroy the "original Werewolf" and end the curse before more (offscreen) violence occurs.

Would you be surprised if I told you that Ricci's wolf-powers interfere with her work while Eisenberg's turn him into an overnight campus big-shot? Would it bowl you over if I told you that the initial attacker-Wolf is walking around in-congito among the main cast? Or that it's not only eye-rollingly easy to pick out not only the "whodunnit" twist but also the supposed-gotcha "who-also-dunnit" twist? No? Hm. How'd I know? Maybe I'm psychic... but it's funny, I don't feel like Patricia Arquette...

Okay, so the plot is trash and the characters are central-casting cutouts even on Kevin Williamson's curve, but this is STILL Wes Craven, still a Werewolf movie and still has Rick Baker effects, so at least there's plenty of sweet man-in-suit monsters spilling plenty of latex entrails and Karo syrup all over the place, right? Nope, no dice.

The industry scuttlebutt on this one, for awhile, has been that the studio tossed out the script and ordered a rehaul in the middle of shooting, (tossing out original castmembers Skeet Ulrich and Omar Epps,) and that in addition they ordered scenes featuring Baker's monster-suit werewolf trimmed and replaced with a CGI-double. After Wes Craven claiming that he was "still proud" of the finished film so long as they didn't "cut it," the film was stripped of its gore-scenes in order to take advantage of the post-Ring/Grudge/Boogeyman paradigm of "make a PG-13 horror movie, open in the #1 spot.

What we're left with is a film that is, without hyperbole, almost-totally useless: A lousy-looking Werewolf we almost never see, making a gorey mess that we really never see, out of a roster of character we can't possibly care about. Oh, and the requisite bad taste in our mouths from knowing that we'll have to wait for the innevitable "UNRATED DIRECTOR'S CUT" DVD double-dip to find out of this was any better when it had some blood in it.

The film has ONE semi-interesting moment where a slightly better movie seems to be on the horizon: After Kid Brother throttles Homophobic Jock with his Werewolf-Kwon-Do in gym class, he points out the oft-held irony that vocal-homophobes are often closeted gays themselves. That night, Homophobic Jock comes to the house to appologize, comes out of the closet to Kid Brother and, still under the assumption that Kid Brother is also gay, tries to kiss him. The film unwisely (yet sadly in-tune with the likely sensibilities of most of it's audience) plays the whole thing for laughs, ("I'm not gay, I'm cursed!" "Dude, I know! It does feel like a curse sometimes..." yuk, yuk, yuk,) but it's the one unexpected thing in an entirely paint-by-numbers movie; and Ventimiglia as the Jock manages the character shift so well that by the time he's charging off into anti-Werewolf battle with the would-be object of his affection he turns into "Cursed's" best character in almost exact concurrance with the film's forgetting his existance.

Even given this bad review (and all the other bad reviews,) some of you, like me, know you're going to see this anyway just to get a look at the latest Rick Baker monster suit (for the record: There's really only two good solid full-body shots of it when it's not the ultra-cheap CGI dupe,) and I'm sorry to report that it's a letdown as well: Oh, Baker's sculpting and musculature are as good looking as ever, but at the level of basic design this is one of the least cool-looking Werewolves in a long time; barely even looking like a wolf at all and in fact bearing a closer resemblance to a giant bipedal Badger. Worse yet, the one transformation scene we get is done entirely with CGI, and Ricci and Eisenberg never transform at all. In fact, one of the big "final confrontation scenes" between characters who are all Werewolves has them in human form the whole time, tossing eachother around a kitchen and bellowing teen-angst melodrama just like in "Scream." If there's a mistake a Werewolf movie can make, "Cursed" makes it twice.

This is the kind of bad horror movie that will be making the lists of bad horror movies compiled by Film Geeks well into the next decade. It's not scary, it's not interesting, it's characters are empty, it's script is disposable, it's monsters suck and it's gore is nonexistant. I'm going to beg you here: Don't see this movie. Don't give your money to this. Don't let this turn into a hit and send one more message to Hollywood that they don't have to try to make successful horror movies. If you want a "teen-angst Werewolf movie," get down to the rental place and ask them for THIS:
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0210070/

It's called "Ginger Snaps," and if you've got a Horror Geek worth his weight in Fango backissues in your life he's probably already told you that this "has to be" better than "Cursed." Listen to him. It's got better Werewolves, better gore and one of the best horror scripts of the last couple of years. Just like "Cursed," it's got introverted siblings, teenaged-issues exaggerated into horrors by a Werewolf bite, even an Evil Jock as a red-herring baddie, but UNLIKE "Cursed" it's not afraid of being smart, creepy and sexy about things; eventually turning Lycanthropy into a fits-like-a-glove metaphor for teenaged menstrual-angst. It's good stuff.

"Cursed" is not good stuff. "Cursed" is a film of no use or value to film buffs, Movie Geeks, Horror Geeks or just general moviegoers. It's a nothing-movie, and the only scary prospect it brings is the thought of having to endure "Cursed II: The Suckening" should this make back it's budget come Monday morning.

FINAL RATING: 3/10