The Curse

Director: David Keith  
Wil Wheaton, Claude Akins, Malcolm Danare

It's roundtable time again, and the B-Masters are doing movies based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft. I must admit that when this topic was chosen, I first felt that I would have a lot of trouble with it. The answer to why I felt this way was a secret shame of mine. And that was, to put it bluntly, I had very little experience with the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Oh sure, I had seen the classic horror movie Re-Animator (based on the Lovecraft story Herbert West, Re-Animator) and its sequels, and in the past for this web site I have reviewed The Resurrected (based on Lovecraft's The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward). But when it came to actually reading the stories that Lovecraft wrote, I had to admit at the time that I had a weakness. More than a weakness, actually. At the time that the roundtable was assigned, I had only read one Lovecraft story in my entire life. Not only that, I simply could not remember which Lovecraft story I had read. I suppose I could have simply ignored that fact and just leaped into reviewing any movie that was inspired by Lovecraft. After all, many of the movies I've reviewed have been based on books that I hadn't read. But for some reason, thinking about my ignorance about Lovecraft made me feel uncomfortable. I thought that in this case, I should have some idea of the inspiration behind a movie so I could see if it stood up to the original material. Though there was no way I was going to shell out mucho bucks to read original Lovecraft material. Fortunately for me, there is a library a few blocks from my home, and checking their online catalog I discovered that they had a collection of Lovecraft short stories in their stock. So I dusted off my library card, went to the library, and soon I had my hands on the book.

After bringing the Lovecraft collection book home and looking it over, I was sorely disappointed that Herbert West, Re-Animator and The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward weren't among the stories, since I loved both Re-Animator and The Resurrected. Though even if they were there, I probably wouldn't have started with them, since it seemed logical that I should start with something small and work my way up. So I decided to first tackle the story The Outsider, because it was only six pages long. What was my reaction to the story? I found it pretty interesting. Although I have to admit that I guessed what the "surprise ending" was going to be not long before the end, the atmosphere of the story was vivid with its darkness and cynicism. The story was so bleak, so pessimistic, almost right from the start I wondered if the narrator would find a way out of his personal hell. Warmed up, I decided I could tackle a seven page Lovecraft story, so I next read The Music Of Erich Zann, which Lovecraft considered one of his best stories. I found it a pretty good read myself. Although the explanation for the secret of Zann's musical abilities won't seem original to many modern readers, you have to remember that in Lovecraft's time this explanation was almost certainly more fresh, more surprising. More importantly, Lovecraft's telling of this formula happens to be a well-written one. Lovecraft, in just a few pages, creates a world where everything is written in great detail, from the twisted streets and houses of the French neighborhood where the narrator and Zann live, to the twisted music of Erich Zann himself.

Finding those two particular Lovecraft tales enjoyable, you can bet that I took a look at others that were in the book. But before returning the book to the library, there was one tale that I made sure that I would also read. That Lovecraft story was The Color Out Of Space. I made sure that The CurseI would read that story for a couple of reasons. One reason was that, from my quick research on Lovecraft before reading the stories, it seemed to be one of his most famous stories. The second reason, one that you have probably guessed by now, is that the movie I am reviewing here, The Curse, was inspired by that particular Lovecraft story. I wanted to see what would be changed from short story to the silver screen, and I guessed that quite a bit would be changed, because the makers of The Curse apparently didn't get the rights to Lovecraft's story. Instead, they were "inspired" by the story - meaning they took just enough out of the story so that they wouldn't be sued for copyright infringement by the Lovecraft estate. The setting of The Curse is in a small community in Tennessee, the focus being on the farm of strict religious zealot Nathan (Akins, Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo), his mean-spirited son Cyrus, and his new wife Francis, who brought with her to her marriage two additional children (played by Wil Wheaton of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and his sister Amy). One night, a meteor hits the property, but it's quickly dismissed as frozen waste from a passing airplane when it soon after disappears. But then funny things start happening. First, the water develops a strange taste to it. Then the fruits and vegetables grown on the property turn rotten and maggot-infested. Then the animals on the farm start acting strangely. It doesn't take too long afterwards for Nathan and Cyrus to start acting even meaner than usual. Only Wheaton's character seems to know that something wrong is happening, providing outside water and food for himself and his sister right from when the water started tasting strangely. But can he save not only his sister, but his now sick mother from not only tainted nourishment but the increasingly savage Nathan and Cyrus?

If you have read that above plot synopsis carefully, you might have seen where the movie makes a serious miscalculation in the way that it tries to deliver an increasing sense of horror to the audience as the movie goes on. The mistake it makes is not really what happens to the characters, but how the characters are set up before the horror starts to strike. I have a question I would like you to think about first before I go on, and that question is this: Which would be scarier to you, a foul-tempered person being infected with something alien that makes them even more foul-tempered and unpredictable to you and others, or someone near and dear to you getting infected with something alien that changes their personality into something that's of a more darker nature? I don't know about you, but for me it would be a lot scarier if someone I had genuine positive feelings towards suddenly started acting very peculiar. I would feel very uncomfortable and helpless seeing this loved one acting in strange ways that I would not be able to explain to myself. It's because of this that I did not experience any feelings of horror in the main way that The Curse tries to deliver horror. If you read again that plot synopsis of mine, you will see that before the meteor strikes the farm, the characters of Nathan and Cyrus are already mean-spirited people. When the meteor subsequently contaminates their food and water and starts poisoning their minds, they are not that much meaner than they were before. Had they been level-headed people before the meteor struck, their subsequent turns to madness would have been scarier, and we would have felt more empathy for Wheaton's level-headed character and his sister stuck with being in close contact with these deranged individuals.

I suppose that if this was pointed out to the makes of The Curse, they would react by saying that they did indeed do this with one of the characters, that character being that of Frances, the initially meek woman who is married to Nathan and is the mother of Wheaton's character and sister. But the filmmakers screwed up with the creation and evolution of her character as well. There's almost no interaction with her character and her children before the contamination, and precious little additional time for her character elsewhere, so when she starts developing severe acne and a serious cackle in her voice, we don't feel the big change she's gone through, and we're not disturbed. Instead, viewers will end up wondering about stuff like the subplot with her concerning the farmhand she's having an affair with, a subplot that was brought up and almost immediately afterwards forgotten about. The farmhand is also forgotten about, disappearing after their love scene with absolutely no explanation as to what happened to him. (Incidentally, Nathan figures out early on what his wife was doing with the farmhand, but except for calling his wife an adulteress near the end of the movie, this religious zealot does absolutely nothing about it.) In fact, the movie is so frequently distracted by things like the mother's affair, the horror part of the movie is frequently on the backburner. There's a subplot about proposed plans by the Tennessee Valley Authority to flood the valley for a reservoir, there's a long scene with the next door neighbors showing off their sex life, there are scenes of Wheaton's character butting heads with his stern stepfather and jerk of a stepbrother, there's... yawn.

I see that I have been focusing more on the badly written characters and script of The Curse rather than getting into its meat and potatoes, which is the gooey stuff. You might think that having a bunch of Italians in the credits, including Lucio Fulci (billed here as "Louis Fulci") acting as an associate producer, that were would be plenty of bloody guts and other good gross stuff. But the few times that the movie bothers to try and deliver us some of the goods, it screws this up as well. The movie's idea of what should be a big horrifying moment is when Wheaton's sister goes to feed the chickens and she is knocked down and pecked by the chickens. While you're wondering how anyone could get knocked down by chickens and be unable to get up and run away, and simultaneously wondering why anyone would think this would be scary, you'll be wondering why this character could get pecked so badly that subsequently she has to stay several days in bed. Scenes involving practical special effects fail just as badly, so much so that they aren't even unintentionally funny. The falling meteor looks like an old-fashioned streetlight bulb, and it's seen falling to earth in a way that it's so obviously on wires. Equally unconvincing is the model used to represent the family home when it is falling apart (for no apparent reason, I feel I must add) at the movie's climax. You might be wondering at this point if there's anything in The Curse that might make it worth watching. Well, if you are annoyed by Wil Wheaton the actor, as many Star Trek: The Next Generation fans are, you might get some pleasure seeing him get abused in this movie. He's pushed into mud, tripped, and slapped at various points in the movie. On the other hand, if you do decide to watch the movie to see Wheaton abused, you'll have to sit through one scene where you see him dressed in nothing but his underwear. Wait a minute, maybe The Curse does have some genuine horror in it after all.

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See also: Clownhouse, The Resurrected, Return Of The Aliens: The Deadly Spawn