Studio: Scream Factory
Release date: May 10th, 2022
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
Throughout the 90s and early aughts, Bob and Harvey Weinstein became notorious boogeymen for horror fans. Via their Dimension label, they became notorious for meddling with various productions, like Halloween 6, Halloween H20, and Hellraiser: Bloodline. Even studio cash cow Scream wasn’t spared when the duo intervened on the already troubled production of the third entry. Simply put, Dimension’s involvement with anything invited trepidation, no matter who else might be behind the camera. The studio’s pièce de résistance in this respect came just after the dawn of the new millennium, when it became abundantly clear that the Weinsteins had no intention of turning over new leaves with Cursed, a title that became increasingly appropriate as its production lurched on for years. It didn’t have to be this way, of course, considering the film had an obvious home run hook by reuniting Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson to do for werewolves what they did for slashers. You would think that duo would have earned enough good will and wielded enough clout to have carte blanche, especially since the Weinsteins insisted on Craven’s involvement in the first place.
Instead, the Weinsteins laid siege in a manner unprecedented by their already low standards, pulling the plug on principal photography with only weeks left in the shoot before completely retooling the film with a new script and extensive reshoots. By the end of the carnage—which saw the production start and stop various times—the crew was left with enough material for four distinct films, according to editor Patrick Lussier. Cast members were added and dropped as the story twisted and contorted into something that was almost unrecognizable compared to the original vision, diminished further by a PG-13 cut that eliminated most of the film’s gore. What ultimately landed in theaters in February 2005 might have bore the names of Craven, Williamson, and effects artist Rick Baker, but it’s fair to say that this butchery was truly the work of the Weinsteins, whose vile disrespect curdled a potential genre landmark into a disaster.
And it’s not a particularly interesting disaster at that. The final cut of Cursed doesn’t feel like the work of a director drunk with power, taking big, interesting risks. Rather, it’s the exact opposite: a totally mechanical piece of work that feels like it’s been meticulously engineered by studio suits that test-screened it to death so general audiences would find it digestible enough, an approach that became ironic when the film bombed anyway. I take no delight in this happening to a creative team full of people I admire, but you can’t help but laugh that two arrogant executives extensively retooled a film to their own personal liking, only to see it fail with general audiences anyway. Fuck the Weinsteins for eternity, for both this and other very obvious (and more important) reasons.
Anyway, I suppose this will be less a review of Cursed and more of an autopsy because what we eventually got was a Frankensteined cadaver, stitched together from various shoots and working scripts that still managed to spit out a pretty clever premise: a werewolf whodunit unfolding in the Hollywood hills, giving Craven and Williamson another opportunity to bare their satirical fangs and upend another genre staple. But the final product doesn't bear this out, despite some obvious signs that the duo may have had their mind on doing so. In addition to the Hollywood setting, it finds protagonist Ellie Myers (Christina Ricci) dating Jake Taylor (Joshua Jackson), curator of a new Hollywood exhibit specializing in horror history. Familiar genre icons and locations lurk in the background of an early scene, positioning Cursed as a self-aware successor to Scream, presumably because Craven and Williamson felt they had more to offer in this arena.
Only that never quite happens: like so much of Cursed, it’s all window dressing for a conventional, mostly predictable werewolf story that darts off into several directions, each of them similarly offering glimmers of subversion or satirical dimensions that never quite emerge. When Ellie and her brother Jimmy (Jesse Eisenberg) become victims of a werewolf attack on Mulholland Drive, it sends them off in different directions. Jimmy is convinced they’ve been cursed to become werewolves themselves, while Ellie remains skeptical. He’s right, of course, and each has to navigate two different but very toxic landscapes: outcast, nebbish Jimmy has to contend with bullies at high school, while meek Christina has to deal with Hollywood drama on the set of the Late Show with Craig Kilborn (Cursed is 2005 as hell, if you couldn’t tell). It’s Teen Wolf meets the backlot shenanigans of Scream 3, only it’s never nearly as entertaining as that sounds.
Predictably, the chief problem here is that none of it comes together. Bits and pieces here and there hint at something more inspired but never have enough room to breathe. Even if Jimmy’s story is just Teen Wolf, an interesting subplot develops when his homophobic bully (Milo Ventimiglia) outs himself as gay, providing an obvious allegorical link between werewolf lore and the LGBTQIA experience. Unfortunately, the whole thing is laughed off: Jimmy insists he’s not gay, just cursed to turn into a beast. A legitimately compelling angle becomes a punchline, and, while it’s heartening that a gay character becomes an ally to the character he once bullied, you can’t help but wonder if they missed out on telling a much more interesting story here.
Likewise, Ellie’s side of the story is an underwhelming trek through Hollywood that feels more incidental than purposeful. There’s a few good jokes at Scott Baio’s expense (which have aged tremendously), but the film’s musings on Hollywood mostly amount to the type of stuff you might see in tabloids and gossip shows. Judy Greer’s Jody emerges as a rival to Ellie, painting a picture of Hollywood where catty, conniving women bicker with each other to advance their personal and professional lives (Jody previously dated Jake, whose obviously cagey behavior makes him the prime lycanthrope suspect). I can think of a much more interesting way to depict werewolves running amok in Hollywood, stealthily preying upon the town as unseemly predators, but I can see why that might have hit too close to home for the Weinsteins.
Who knows if Craven and Williamson had that in mind (Craven at least seemed to for Scream 3), but what’s for sure is that the final cut of Cursed falls woefully short of any lofty visions you’d expect from these two. With Craven at the helm, it at least slickly shot, as he and DP Robert McLachlan recreate the sleek, Panavision sheen that defined Scream and so many other Dimension horror productions. It’s not without its effective jolts, either: the first appearance of the werewolf is a masterclass in mounting tension and deflating suspense before hitting the audience with a shock. Cursed also isn’t lacking in schlock: there might not be anything in here that revolutionizes the werewolf genre, but it’s obvious that Craven managed to have a little bit of fun in this sandbox with bits involving a pet dog that becomes infected by the werewolf, not to mention some of the film’s gory outbursts that are restored in the unrated cut. Some obvious camp potential also lurks within some of the film’s more notorious scenes, like Eisenberg howling like a wolf to silence a pack of neighborhood dogs, or Ricci exaggeratedly sniffing her way around the office in search of blood. Then there’s Judy Greer doing some really great Judy Greer shit in a pretty thankless role that further hints at a campy take buried somewhere in this abundance of material that never fully surfaces in the final cut.
And that’s really the big problem here: nothing of substantial interest ever rises from the morass of nonsense Dimension inflicted upon Cursed. You never gather the notion that it’s anything but a collection of half-baked ideas, some clearly a product of someone trying to chase the dragon of Scream (look no further than the quick dispatching of Shannon Elizabeth, which feels like an attempt at shocking the audience by killing off a big name star in an early scene). Likewise, the whodunit aspect owes a clear influence, only the multiple payoffs here are predictable and banal compared to the climactic shocks Craven and Williamson delivered in earlier films. With such a scattershot, chaotic production, however, even this hook is often an afterthought, relegated to the background as the various characters deal with other stuff, none of it as sharp or as compelling as the various digressions in Scream. Williamson’s distinctive banter and sharp wit are lost here, replaced with uninspired dialogue exchanges and the general feeling that Dimension was trying to craft Baby’s First Werewolf movie. Instead of having characters and performances that are in on the gag of upending a genre, it has Eisenberg google information about werewolves, dully reciting lore that an audience in 2005 would have been hip to, making Cursed the antithesis of Scream. If it was a pioneer in any way, it was an ignominious one, as it had the gall to replace most of Rick Baker’s practical effects with digital junk that wasn’t convincing in 2005, much less now. Some effective practical shots do remain, highlighting just how misguided it was to resort to digital effects that turn the whole affair into a cartoon.
Watching Cursed shortly after revisiting An American Werewolf in London was illustrative for a number of reasons, chief among them the importance of allowing a filmmaker to have a sustained vision. Like that film, Cursed sports tonal shifts that hope to coax laughter after making its audience recoil in horror; however, these shifts are much more untamed and pronounced here, likely because the different scenes quite literally belong to different movies in some cases. There’s no sense of purpose or wit to the genre-blending here, only the sensation of too many cooks in the kitchen tossing stuff against the wall, hoping that something sticks. Not a whole lot does, unfortunately, which might be the most damning thing about Cursed: somehow, Dimension hired Wes Craven to make a werewolf movie and so thoroughly sabotaged it that it wound up being mostly forgettable.
If anything, Cursed is destined to only be remembered as a relic of the Weinsteins’ colossal mismanagement, a testament to how often Hollywood gets in its own way. While Craven was hardly infallible, he’d at least earned the right by this point to do whatever the hell he wanted, especially since his previous misfires still managed to show more personality than this. Compared to the big swings in Shocker or the gonzo low-budget workarounds for The Hills Have Eyes Part 2, Cursed is literal hack work, the product of executives trying to shape a movie from a board room instead of entrusting an actual legend to do his job. It’s a tale nearly as old as Hollywood itself, but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating when you think about what Cursed may have been.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Cursed has become a cult favorite since its release, making it a prime target for Scream Factory’s growing library, especially since previous Blu-ray editions have become scarce. Sporting the Collector’s Edition designation, Scream Factory’s disc aims to be as comprehensive as possible, featuring both the theatrical and unrated cuts on the film on separate discs. To be clear, this still doesn’t mean the fabled “Craven Cut” is included, despite its very real existence, so there’s nothing in the film you haven’t seen before. Scream did remaster both of these existing cuts however, giving them a nice new polish and presenting the film in its original aspect ratio (previous Blu-ray editions cropped it to 1.78:1). Each cut also sports DTS-HD MA surround and stereo tracks, with the former proving to be a lively, dynamic track that makes use of the entire soundscape.
Considering the troubled nature of the production and Craven’s death, it’s not surprising that Scream didn’t coax many participants back for the supplements. I have to assume that most involved likely want to keep the experience firmly behind them, which is more than fair. Thankfully, Derek Mears (who played the werewolf in practical shots) and Lussier graciously offer some reflections in separate interviews that run about 30 minutes total. Both men discuss their careers leading up to Scream, with Lussier sharing that he first met Craven on the set of the ill-fated Nightmare Cafe series (speaking of stuff that needs to be officially released!). The interviews are candid enough, with Lussier especially sharing the tortuous experience of constantly re-cutting the film, catering to the whims of the Weinsteins and test screenings.
The rest of the supplements are carried over from previous releases. “Behind the Fangs” is standard EPK stuff, featuring sound bytes from the cast and crew, while “The Cursed Effects” takes a look at how Greg Nicotero and his team achieved the werewolf transformation. Eisenberg himself wrote and directed “Becoming a Werewolf,” a fun sketch that also reveals the make-up team at work. Lussier appears again in “Creature Editing,” where he details the differences between the theatrical and unrated cuts. A theatrical trailer rounds out the supplements on the theatrical cut disc. Over on the unrated disc, you’ll find select scenes with audio commentary by Nicotero and Mears detailing how certain stunts and effects shots were achieved.
By Scream’s standards, this isn’t exactly the most robust Collector’s Edition, but it apparently wasn’t for lack of trying. The studio did try to include the original Craven cut to no avail, which is a bummer—its inclusion would have been quite a coup, not to mention vindication for the film’s fan base. I hoped that revisiting the film even in its bastardized form would put me among those ranks, but I’m sorry to say I’m still not there. While Cursed isn’t the worst film of Craven’s career, it is among the most disappointing—not that it’s his fault, of course. That only eases the sting to much, though.
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