This new Wes Craven horror picture penned by collaborator Kevin Williamson (Teaching Mrs. Tingle) is nothing to scream about. But those who’ve seen recent efforts in the genre like White Noise and Boogeyman might agree that it’s more viewer friendly though quite sanitized.
After watching Cursed, hacked up at the request of a studio honcho, it strikes a chord similar to Scream, arguably Craven’s most coherent film that spawned two sequels.
Instead of a ghost mask killer from the giddy horror parody franchise, there’s a lot more hair and fangs. So, Craven and Williamson try to work some scares from their old formula done up like "American Werewolf in Hollywood.”
Christina Ricci’s chic Ellie, a late night talk show booker, is like Neve Campbell’s Sydney from Scream. Younger brother Jimmy (Jesse Eisenberg) has the energy of a Jamie Kennedy with an increasing interest in werewolves. Some of his scenes strike up some familiarity with the character that Michael J. Fox played in Teen Wolf. The siblings are going through a personal loss from a framed picture though little is mentioned of it.
Judy Grer, who played Jennifer Garner’s manipulative friend in 13 Going On 30, is very much the same as a bitchy publicist. Joshua Jackson (The Skulls) has a thing for Ellie as he prepares for a big opening at Tinsel. The lovelorn, busy boyfriend has a likeness in character to those in Scream as played by Liev Schreiber and Skeet Ulrich.
The plot almost opens like I Know What You Did Last Summer with a car wreck on Mulholland Drive. Shannon Elizabeth, known best in American Pie and Scary Movie, is the first victim of an attack as foretold by a carnival gypsy (Portia de Rossi). Williamson tries to fashion a whodunit amid the overused boo tactics and the film has its insider jokes and plenty of entertainers to identify in a wax museum.
The tour amid Hollywood glamour becomes a heavily edited exercise as Ellie and Jimmy bond to try to stop the spread of infection after minor injuries from a car accident. But many more will have the pentagram on their hands. Scott Baio turns up as himself and with one character named Joanie it’s hard not to think of “Happy Days.” But, Rick Baker’s makeup effects are pretty much wasted in ways that compare at times to Mike Nichols’ Wolf and any tension initially generated feels broken by the attempt to tone down gore and pervasive violence.
Many of the human actors are upstaged in the dog Zipper (Solar) who is on to Jimmy’s scent that starts to get him in better favor with a girlfriend of a homophobic jock Bo (Milo Ventimiglia). The film’s amusement comes from how the antagonism between Bo and Jimmy unfolds that is a pleasant diversion until the rote attempt of horror occurs again, especially in the last reel that has to take into account of the earlier red herrings around Ellie and Jimmy.
It’s evident that Craven didn’t have enough control here to show what he’s capable of, but there needs to be more than tweaking, to create a more gripping way to spread fear among moviegoers. From the success of The Grudge and more so, The Ring, the ideas amid their flaws are more darkly entertaining than what once gave a more thrilling bite to many.