Synopsis: A werewolf loose in Los Angeles changes the lives of three young adults who, after being mauled by the beast, learn to kill it to avoid becoming werewolves themselves.
Stars: Christina Ricci, Jesse Eisenberg, Joshua Jackson, Milo Ventimiglia, Judy Greer, Mýa, Shannon Elizabeth, Portia de Rossi, Kristina Anapau, Solar, Derek Mears, Nick Offerman
Director: Wes Craven
Running Length: 97 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: Perhaps I’m getting more nostalgic in my old age, but I’ve developed a fondness for revisiting several films from my high school and college years that proved formative. Steering clear of the true childhood classics from the ‘80s, I’ve focused instead on those late ‘90s to mid-‘00s features that launched (or sunk) numerous Hollywood careers. What has surprised me most about these trips down movie theater memory lane is not the films that have held up nicely but the titles that improved through the years. Some have gone from good to excellent, while others have moved in my mind from “bad” to “what took me so long to rewatch this?”
Today’s example is Cursed, a werewolf movie with a Scream-vibe released in 2005. Cursed isn’t a great movie; it’s been altered and chopped up too much from its original version, damaging the intended vision of director Wes Craven (Summer of Fear) and his production team. It is, however, so much better than I had remembered it and absolutely not the dumpster fire it was classified as when it was initially released. Based on an original screenplay by Kevin Williamson (The Faculty), the script went through numerous rewrites by various other screenwriters. Hence, it’s hard to figure out to whom the final product should be attributed. Some might argue Miramax/Dimension Films producer Harvey Weinstein shaped the version released in theaters because he ordered so many changes during the over two years of production the crew endured.
Yes, that’s right. Over two years were spent once filming began before the troubled production finally made it to theaters. In that time, cast members were changed, storylines were cut/modified, and the special effects team was let go. What audiences saw in theaters reflected that mess, and my recollections were of a film that wanted to get to the kills faster and faster. It made little sense, with characters appearing and disappearing without much explanation. We’ll likely never see that originally filmed version that tested either poorly or well (depending on who you talk to), but instead, we have a director’s cut which aims to restore some narrative order to the film. In this reassembled package, something more in line with a movie Craven and Williamson would have collaborated on finally emerges. While it isn’t a showstopper on their resume, it has some excellent sequences.
Becky and Jenny (Shannon Elizabeth and singer Mýa) are at a carnival in Los Angeles and are warned by a psychic (Portia de Rossi) that one of them is in danger and to beware of a beast they know. Shortly after, Ellie, a young professional (Christina Ricci, Mermaids), and her younger brother Jimmy (Jesse Eisenberg, American Ultra) get into a car wreck with Becky on a deserted stretch of road in the Hollywood hills. As the siblings try to help Becky, they watch as she is attacked by an unseen creature that they are both scratched by. The next day, brother and sister exhibit strange behavior, such as an advanced sense of smell and lightning-fast reflexes.
Doing some old-fashioned detective work at the library, it becomes clear to Jimmy that the creature they encountered was a werewolf, and now he and his sister are becoming similar beasts. As the werewolf continues to attack friends of Ellie and Jimmy, there is an urgency to find out who the monster is and their plan in choosing their victims. The list of potential suspects is long, and who in their circle of friends they can trust is shrinking rapidly.
You can see why Dimension Films were so key in making Cursed a variation of their popular Scream franchise, which had petered out right around the time Williamson turned in his original script for this werewolf whodunit. Substituting out a flesh and blood serial killer for a hairy werewolf taking a bite out of a group of young adults in Hollywood was a good way for the studio to keep a proven business formula going without continually tapping the same well of characters. Early test screenings provoked discussions that led to suggested changes that major players disagreed with, and that’s when the tinkering started to set the movie on its eventual collision course with post-production hell.
While Cursed is undeniably silly at times (the reshot scenes are unfortunate, look at poor Eisenberg’s hideous wig in the newer footage) and major cringe at others (a subplot about Jimmy’s rumored gay leanings and how it plays out is beyond dated), it offers more than a few classic Craven passages that get the blood pumping. That original car wreck is well-staged, ending with a horrific image only available in the director’s cut. The centerpiece is Mýa’s lengthy chase scene through a parking garage where the creature pursues her. This scene is edited masterfully and a real nail-biter.
Cursed is a case of ‘your mileage may vary’ on how well another viewer might receive it. I found a rewatch of it seventeen years after it was released to poor reviews and lackluster box office, an eye-opener to how decent a film it is. Maybe it’s because I know how much worse it could have been or know that a truly poor edit of Craven’s film is out there, but the Director’s Cut is the only way to see this film. When searching for it, you’ll see the sanitized version if you see a PG-13 rating. Hold out for the unrated version (or buy it here from Scream Factory), and you’ll be pleasantly surprised…and a little scared!