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A Silver Bullet In the Foot

January 10th, 2009 · 9 Comments

Cursed (2005)
Written by Kevin Williamson and Sean Hood (uncredited)
Directed by Wes Craven
Produced by Dimension Films/ Outerbanks Entertainment/ Craven-Maddalena Films
Running time: 97 minutes

Cursed 2005 poster Cursed 2005 DVD

Synopsis
On the Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles, Jenny (Mya) drags her skeptical pal Becky (Shannon Elizabeth) to have her palm read. The young fortune teller (Portia de Rossi) takes one look at the girls and notifies them of blood in their future. In Hollywood, Ellie (Christina Ricci) gets off work and visits her boyfriend Jake (Joshua Jackson), a promoter finishing a monster themed club to be called Tinsel. This makes Ellie late to pick up her brother Jimmy (Jesse Eisenberg), a nerdy high schooler whose moment with a classmate (Kristina Anapau) is ruined when her jock boyfriend (Milo Ventimiglia) shows up to torment him. Heading home on Mulholland Drive, Ellie and Becky smash into each other when an animal darts across the road. Becky is yanked out of the wreckage by the beast and ripped in two, while the siblings walk away from the attack with nasty scratches.

Jimmy wakes in the morning to find himself outdoors and naked. Ellie – a producer for The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn – now finds herself able to sniff out blood at a distance. At a PETA event, a fellow producer (Judy Greer) schedules Ellie time to pre-interview Scott Baio (as himself) for the show; not even Charles In Charge is immune to Ellie’s weird energy. Jenny is also at the event and after coming on to Ellie’s boyfriend, is stalked through a parking garage by what turns out to be a bipedal and hungry werewolf. Jimmy’s research on Google leads him to believe that the pentagrams forming on his and his sister’s palms are the sign of a curse. As the siblings try to control their new powers and keep from wolfing out at work or school, Ellie comes to believe that the werewolf that bit them may be in her midst.

Cursed 2005 Christina Ricci Jesse Eisenberg pic

Production history
In August 2000, Kevin Williamson had an idea for a movie. The idea found a home at Dimension Films, which had produced nearly all of the screenwriter’s thrillers, some hits (Scream and its two sequels), some misses (Teaching Mrs. Tingle). Williamson’s treatment – titled Cursed – was described “as being in the vein of Silence of the Lambs“, with a serial killer on the loose in New York City, but with a twist. Originally fast tracked to shoot before an anticipated writer’s strike in the spring of 2001, the coals were really put to studio’s feet two years later, when Warner Bros. optioned Kelley Armstrong’s werewolf novel Bitten as a vehicle for Angelina Jolie. To beat their competition into theaters, Dimension co-founder Bob Weinstein announced in October 2002 that Cursed would “reinvent the werewolf genre,” that Wes Craven would direct and that the movie was coming to multiplexes August 2003.

Christina Ricci, Skeet Ulrich and Jesse Eisenberg were cast as three strangers attacked by a werewolf after a car crash in the Hollywood Hills. With a budget of $38 million, Cursed commenced shooting March 2003 in Los Angeles. Academy Award winning makeup effects maestro Rick Baker was hired to design the werewolf. But reviewing dailies as shooting progressed, Dimension became increasingly worried over the state of the special effects, and was sweating the film’s third act, which hinged on Scott Baio (playing Scott Baio) being unveiled as the werewolf. Having recently sent Scary Movie 3 back to Vancouver – where director David Zucker shot 25 minutes of new material after his comedy fell flat at test screenings – the studio prescribed even more radical triage to rescue Cursed.

Cursed 2005 Jesse Eisenberg pic

Dimension took the unusual step of putting Cursed on “an extended hiatus”, shutting down production with 11 weeks of footage in the can and another 4 weeks to go. In a comment to the Hollywood Reporter, Weinstein stated, “In the car business, General Motors comes out after five years in the planning and research and development with a new model. And it gets reviewed and everybody says ‘Tremendous.’ Our attitude’s the same with filmmaking. If it comes out right, it’s a miracle. If it doesn’t, we have enough faith in these filmmakers to keep going and fix what we need to fix. The middle process is just the process. And if we weren’t in the movie business and we were in the car business, this wouldn’t even be a story.” The studio brought in screenwriter Sean Hood – whose credits included Halloween: Resurrection (the one with Busta Rhymes) – to unravel the problematic script.

Interviewed by the New York Times in May 2007 – as his new TV series Hidden Palms struggled to get on the schedule of the CW Network – Kevin Williamson lamented, “That werewolf movie. That was 20 years out of my life. You can’t just be asked to do a werewolf movie and then expect it to be good. I wasn’t the guy who should ever have been writing a werewolf movie.” Craven estimated that 70% of what he’d already shot had to be ditched, while new director of photography Robert McLachlan – replacing John Bailey – recalled, “They planned to save about 10 minutes from the first go around which was little enough that we had carte blanche in terms of the look. The only request from Wes and the studio was to shoot a much darker, scarier movie with the goal of ‘less is more’ for the werewolf sequences.”

Cursed 2005 Mya pic

Skeet Ulrich was not happy with the new approach and declined to participate, while Mandy Moore (who’d shot a cameo as the first victim), Omar Epps, Illeana Douglas, Robert Forster, Scott Foley and James Brolin were either unable to resume work or not asked to. Version 2.0 of Cursed began shooting in December 2003 with Joshua Jackson, Portia de Rossi, Michael Rosenbaum and pop singer Mya joining the cast. Shannon Elizabeth, Judy Greer and Milo Ventimiglia came back, while Scott Baio was reduced to a walk-on cameo. Rick Baker had walked all the way off the show; Greg Nicotero and his K.N.B. EFX Group came on to execute the werewolf effects. In terms of story, the serial killer angle had been dropped to focus on a pair of siblings (Christina Ricci, Jesse Eisenberg) bitten by a werewolf on Mulholland Drive. Even after the ending had to be rewritten and reshot, Wes Craven was confident Cursed would be in theaters October 2004.

As Dimension put Cursed before test audiences in the fall of 2004, the studio followed what was then a popular trend and – in a bid to sell more tickets in the U.S. – cut the film for a PG-13 rating. The blood and guts were trimmed, neutering the film’s two most visceral moments: the gloriously over the top death of Shannon Elizabeth, and the discovery of Mya’s body after she shares an elevator with the werewolf. Speaking to the New York Post, Wes Craven would comment, “The contract called for us to make an R-rated film. We did. It was a very difficult process. Then it was basically taken away from us and cut to PG-13 and ruined. It was two years of very difficult work and almost 100 days of shooting of various versions. Then at the very end, it was chopped up and the studio thought they could make more with a PG-13 movie, and trashed it … I thought it was completely disrespectful, and it hurt them too, and it was like they shot themselves in the foot with a shotgun.”

Cursed 2005 Judy Greer Christina Ricci pic

Sneaking into theaters February 2005 without press screenings, Cursed was batted around like a piñata once critics got a hold of it. Kim Morgan, L.A. Weekly: “Poor special effects, a silly looking werewolf and clunky comic writing help to spoil what should have been a fun B-movie.” Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly: “Screenwriter Kevin Williamson (the Scream trilogy), having bottomed out in the horror genre, now dips below bottom (there isn’t a line that has his knowing sweet-and-sour zing), and Craven directs as if he could barely rouse himself to stage one of those bulging-bladder-and-elongated-fang transformation scenes that revived the lycanthrope genre in its early-’80s acidhead baroque phase.” Dana Stevens, the New York Times: “It’s not bad enough to make you curse, but you are likely to laugh when you should scream, and to roll your eyes when you are meant to laugh.”

Grossing $19.2 million in the U.S. and $10.3 million overseas – on a relatively modest budget – Cursed never threatened Dimension with bankruptcy. But speaking with Ain’t It Cool News in August 2008, Wes Craven mused, ” … the Cursed experience was so screwed up. I mean, that went on for two-and-a-half years of my life for a film that wasn’t anything close to what it should have been. And another film that I was about to shoot having the plug pulled – Pulse – so it was like, I did learn from the Cursed experience not to do something for money. They said, ‘We know you want to do another film, we’ll pay you double.’ And we were 10 days from shooting, and I said fine. But I ended up working two-and-a-half years for double my fee, but I could have done two-and-a-half movies, and done movies that were out there making money. In general, I think it’s not worth it and part of the reason my phone hasn’t rung is that that story is pretty well known.”

Cursed 2005 Mya Shannon Elizabeth pic

Opinion
The R-rated version of Cursed available on DVD is watchable for two reasons: some interesting actors were cast and Wes Craven – director of Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes and A Nightmare on Elm Street, which you can rent now before they’re remade – knows how to construct a suspense sequence, of which this flick has two that work pretty well. And now that the demolition derby resembling film production is public record, Cursed is actually in the position of having nowhere left to go but up. Ultimately though, the movie is every bit as fucked as you’ve heard, starting off on the wrong foot and staying there: Hyperactive opening titles transition into what amounts to a music video for pop band Bowling For Soup. Then, characters start talking and the whole enchilada lapses into one of the weakest excuses for a movie in recent history, one deserving the title Cursed.

The cast members who have done terrific work in better films – Jesse Eisenberg, Judy Greer, Portia di Rossi, even Shannon Elizabeth – acquit themselves of embarrassment, while Christina Ricci, who has hit a career wall playing believable adults, at least has a kookiness and physical prowess that bubbles to the surface every now and again. But like many of Miramax’s movies that went into the editing room and came out scarred for life, this damned thing is neither fish nor fowl. Lacking an atmosphere of tension or dread, Cursed is too mild to really appeal to horror fans, while werewolves and the odd mauling make it too gnarly for kids. The only thing scary about the film is how desperate it feels, as if Kevin Williamson was sending out an encrypted S.O.S. that he was so over writing about high school and murder sprees.

© Joe Valdez

Cursed 2005 werewolf pic

Tags: Beasts and monsters · Brother/sister relationship · Dreams and visions · High school · Murder mystery · Psycho killer

9 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Moviezzz // Jan 11, 2009 at 1:14 pm

    There is a movie with Judy Greer and Scott Baio that I haven’t seen?????

    I hear what you are saying Joe, I remember all the talk when this was out, I know it is probably bad, but now, I HAVE to see this!!

    If only they went with that original ending. Might make us look at CHARLES IN CHARGE in a different way. When Charles and Buddy go out at night, it isn’t to meet girls on campus. They are both secretly werewolves.

  • 2 Sean Hood // Jan 11, 2009 at 1:59 pm

    I actually wrote a very early draft of Cursed for Kevin Williamson and Dimension, based on his treatment, about a serial killer who finds victims in 12-step-groups. The main character was an alcoholic cop, and the story had the tone of a David Fincher film.

    It was a completely different story, one that had very personal resonance for Kevin. It’s a shame that version never got made.

    – Sean Hood

  • 3 Joe Valdez // Jan 11, 2009 at 5:59 pm

    Jim: I love Judy Greer and the career she’s carved out for herself as a character performer. She played a bearded lady on an episode of My Name Is Earl and I thought she was hilarious. As for Baio, if he is really a werewolf, and Willie Aames is really a werewolf, that raises the possibility of Phoebe Cates being a werewolf too, since she starred with Willie in Paradise. Suddenly my attraction to her makes perfect sense.

    Sean: Thanks for not only stopping by, but setting the record straight about your involvement with Cursed. The info I read indicated you came on to rewrite the film during its “hiatus”. I’ve amended my article appropriately. The thriller you described actually sounds worlds away from the howler that ended up on screen. How did a werewolf find its way into an existential serial killer movie?

  • 4 Sean Hood // Jan 11, 2009 at 6:47 pm

    Kevin had a lot of ideas for Cursed and one of them was a supernatural element – a kind of creature that embodied the frenzy of addiction.

    I suppose that for Bob W. and others at the studio, this translated to “werewolf.” Ultimately, all they wanted from Kevin was “Scream with Werewolves.” His deeper, more personal concept drawing the link between adiction and violence was too intelectual for them.

    I wrote briefly about it on my blog earlier this year:

    http://genrehacks.blogspot.com/2008/05/serial-killers-12-step-program.html

  • 5 Piper // Jan 11, 2009 at 9:17 pm

    Joe, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. You’re background to the movies enriches your reviews. This kind of came and went for me, but your behind the scenes makes me want to check it out. The ‘R’ rated version at least.

    I’m strange, but it’s the brilliant failures that intrigue me the most.

    Thanks

  • 6 Mr. Peel // Jan 12, 2009 at 10:55 am

    Saw this in the theater when it came out. It’s a lousy, lame film which left my brain almost as soon as I left the theater and certainly wasn’t worth all the years these guys wound up working on it. But this was an excellent piece, giving a very good look at how things went so wrong. How much can a studio overthink something? This may be one of the best examples of that.

  • 7 Jerichonut // Jan 12, 2009 at 1:08 pm

    Sooo glad Skeet got out of this before it was too late. He deserves better. I feel badly for all the others who were not so lucky.

  • 8 AR // Jan 13, 2009 at 9:19 am

    I recall seeing this years ago in the video store and thinking it was probably awful. Didn’t read any reviews, but it would seem my instinct was correct. I feel bad for Christina Ricci. Given the right material, she can be wonderful, but too often she takes uninteresting roles in mediocre films. This seems like it could have potentially been interesting w/the right approach.

    It actually reminds me of Ginger Snaps, which promises cheese on the cover, and while it is campy, it’s also smart, funny, and well written. Does a better job, I presume, of using the werewolf metamorphosis as a metaphor for adolescence. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend doing so!

  • 9 Joe Valdez // Jan 13, 2009 at 7:40 pm

    Sean: Thanks again for the background into what Cursed could have been. It reminds me that a lot of screenwriters are much more talented than they ever really get to show in the movies with their names on the credits.

    Pat: Your approbation of my film journalism techniques are definitely appreciated. I would not associate the word “brilliant” with this particular failure, but share your sentiment. If you check out any of these flicks, I would strongly recommend Heaven’s Gate over the one where the werewolf is seen giving someone the finger.

    Peter: Your compliment means a lot coming from the guy who’s writing the best analysis of ’70s and ’80s flicks sitting around waiting to be rediscovered. Miramax is like the Matty Walker of movie studios; you should know better than to get mixed up with her, but some things in life you just have to learn the hard way, I guess. Cursed is every bit the wreck William Hurt was at the end of Body Heat and there are many, many other examples.

    Jerichonut: Too bad Skeet’s artistic radar was out of order during the making of Chill Factor. Thanks for commenting!

    Amanda: I have heard many people echo your sentiments about Ginger Snaps, but I found it to be unwatchable, personally. The look and tone of it was just so low grade and repellent, I couldn’t get into the movie. And I love movies about werewolves and movies about teenage girls, so go figure. Thank you for the recommendation though!

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