What’s the perfect setting for ghosts and ghouls, zombies and monsters, and all the things that go bump in the night? Los Angeles, of course. Hollywood Boulevard, to be more specific. If you think the only thing to fear in the Hollywood Hills was the Kardashians, you are so wrong. Wes Craven returned to the genre of meta-horror by pitting old school monsters in a modern-day setting with his underrated werewolf flick, Cursed. While fun and campy with true horror built within it, Cursed is a film that doesn’t take itself too seriously. However, despite all of its entertaining qualities, this 2005 tale of tails still suffers from critical flack that keeps it from being recognized as a pretty great contemporary werewolf story. I’d like to break that cycle.
Cursed revolves around Ellie, a television publicist caring for her teenage outcast brother Jimmy. She tries to juggle work demands and a rocky relationship with her boyfriend, Jake, who is busy opening his Tinsel film exhibit, but Ellie’s real problems begin when she is driven off the road by a menacing beast. Her and Jimmy are both attacked and experience some moonlight issues shortly thereafter. After some research and convincing, the siblings believe they are victims of werewolf lore and must destroy the one who bit them in order to break the curse. The question is: who is it?
“[…] this 2005 tale of tails still suffers from critical flack that keeps it from being recognized as a pretty great contemporary werewolf story.”
I think the first matter of business that needs to be addressed when discussing Cursed is the abundant criticism and lack of appreciation for such a modern werewolf story. I don’t necessarily find it a film that needs defending so much so as the production needs explaining. We all know what happens to movies that go through production hell. From what we know, the creation of Cursed was a true nightmare. It began filming in March 2003 with an early August release date planned later that same year. Only a month before it was set to wrap, Cursed was shut down with the intention of redoing the entire third act. The script, visual effects, and the cast needed to be reworked which set filming back another six months. Imagine that?
Celebrities like Skeet Ulrich (Scream), Heather Langenkamp (A Nightmare on Elm Street), Mandy Moore (This Is Us), Corey Feldman (The Lost Boys), Omar Epps (Love & Basketball), Illeana Douglas (Cape Fear), Scott Foley (Scream 3), Robert Forster (Breaking Bad) were all replaced. On top of all that, special effects artist Rick Baker of An American Werewolf in London transformation fame was fired by the Weinsteins (lol!) leaving most of the werewolf work to CGI generations. Adding insult to that major injury, Cursed was edited down from an appropriate R-rating to a sleepy PG-13. The majority of slack To be completely honest, I think Cursed needs to be commended for what it wound up being despite all of these enormous changes. I still can’t believe the movie that we have survived a process like that. Beware producer involvement, right? Tinseltown plays a big part in this movie, whether that was the intention or not.
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If you’re even close to being half of a fan of the Scream franchise, you know that the dream duo of writer Kevin Williamson and director Wes Craven are responsible for its fresh, candid take on the horror genre. Knowing that these two team up again for Cursed is reason enough alone to at least give it a shot, if you haven’t already. Like Scream, all of the mechanics of Cursed are pretty airtight, fresh, and stylish, for the early 2000’s. The dialogue is witty, tongue in cheek, and very self-aware. In line with The Howling, Cursed is a smart werewolf movie that knows it’s a werewolf movie. The humor is laid evenly, while the suspicions and red herrings pile up as they do thanks to Williamson. The glossy tone, cinematic lightning, jump scares, and conventional angles are all very signature of Craven’s work. Cursed is cohesive, sleek, and entertaining, just like anything you’d expect from those two beasts of horror.
I’m a sucker for all sort of horror paraphernalia. If you enjoy film memorabilia of any sorts, you might enjoy Cursed just that much more. Though CGI is the real killer here, the set pieces throughout most of the film are ideal and really well done. The set up of Tinsel is not only believable and unique, but an exhibit we’d all want to visit. The settings, from costume parties in Hollywood to the radical cinephile interior of Tinsel’s procurements update the reaches of terror. Cursed displays horror honor in all its glossy charm and graciously nods to the great stories that have come before it. This also means Easter eggs galore, so keep an eye open while watching it. Did you catch the transition scene where the lights of the city skyline make up a pentagram? Ellie was right when she said that Planet Hollywood has got nothing on Tinsel.
“Cursed is cohesive, sleek, and entertaining […and] displays horror honor in all its glossy charm and graciously nods to the great stories that have come before it”
Cursed is not all blood, fangs, fur, and claws. The film has a few subplots working within it that tug on our heartstrings and feed on our emotions. They may be surface emotions, but they add layers to the character work set within a werewolf story that has, let’s just be honest, been done before. The relationship between Ellie and Jimmy is complicated and builds on a more adult version of coming-of-age themes. Cursed braves the issue of homophobia head-on without using the monster as some interpretive allegory. While I do think the antagonism between Jimmy and his nemesis, Bo, is distasteful and cliche, it is still relevant and results in a pretty interesting team come the third act.
Christina Ricci’s (Sleepy Hollow) doe-eyed earnest mystery makes Ellie a valuable heroine while Judy Greer’s (Halloween 2018) career-driven, bitter character Joanie is underrated humorous, snarky gold. The rest of the cast boasts a handful of the millennium’s earliest starpower including a young Jesse Eisenberg (Zombieland), Joshua Jackson (Shutter), Michael Rosenbaum (Urban Legend), Milo Ventimiglia (This Is Us), Kristina Anapau (Black Swan), Shannon Elizabeth (American Pie), Portia de Rossi (Arrested Development), Mýa (Chicago), and even Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation). Scott Baio and Lance Bass both make cameos as the great Derek Mears (Friday the 13th 2009) stunts as our werewolf.
If you have a spare slot in your seasonal spooky viewing and want to watch something new, or revisit a movie with the hopes of it being better than you remember, then I think Cursed is a perfect pick. Go into it with the simple expectation of it being werewolf horror story and I am sure you’ll be surprised (just mind the horrendous CGI). Ellie spends a majority of the movie trying to figure out who infected her and her brother, but I found myself wondering why so many people hate Cursed when they could embrace it regardless of a few flaws? Cursed is streaming for free on Vudu and is available for rent or digital download on all other major apps.