Friday, October 19, 2007

The Curse (1987, USA/Italy)

(Spoiler alert.) Sure it's a crappy film, but it's still a lot more fun than the average Charles Band regurgitation. Director Keith generally works in front of the camera, one of the plethora of regularly working but unknown actors that populate the world. Seen but not remembered in such films as Firestarter (1984), The Lords of Discipline (1983), The Two Jakes (1990), The Indian in the Cupboard (1995), Poodle Springs (1998) and Daredevil (2003). The Curse was his directorial debut, the first of three cheapies he has done to date. And for a low budget directorial debut, it ain't the worst of its kind.
Filmed mostly in Tellico Plains, Tennessee, where the good man lives, it is the second film to supposedly be inspired by H. P. Lovecraft's story The Color Out of Space. But much like the first film based on the story, Daniel Haller's Die, Monster, Die! (1965), little in The Curse reminds one of its source. Scriptwriter David Chaskin's other film script credits include the subliminally homophobic Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge (1985) and the mildly interesting and lightly artsy I, Madman (1989). Despite the The Curse's dodgy reputation, the movie was obviously successful enough to warrant three supposed sequels: Curse II: The Bite (1988), Curse III: Blood Sacrifice (1991) and Curse III: Catacombs (1993). In truth, none of the three films were made as sequels or have anything to do with the first film; the name was merely tagged onto them so as to improve their drawing power on the video shelf.
At the time The Curse was made, Will Wheaton was still an annoying regular on Star Trek: The Next Generation, which might explain why he gets top credit despite his one-trick-pony performance. Claude Akins, a long-time character actor and familiar face to any couch potato of the 60s and 70s gives a far more convincing performance as the religious backwater farmer step-dad convinced the wrath of god has come down upon the family. Akins, who had parts in films as varied as Rio Bravo (1959), The Killers (1964) and strangely overrated Monster in the Closet (1986), died of cancer in 1994.
Also known as The Farm, the story also takes place on one. Though the first scenes shows the arrest of some wart-faced, gun-happy family man who goes bonkers in the suburbs and gets hauled off as he screams about something being in the water, the film quickly shifts to "6 months earlier." Zachary Hayes (Wheaton) has a less than a happy relationship to his stern, religious and hypocritically righteous stepdaddy Nathan Hayes (Akins) and the man's bullying lard-pot son Cyrus (Malcolm Danare). The type of folks that watch Hee-Haw for intellectual entertainment, Zack's repressed mom Frances (Kathleen Jordon Gregory) gets all hot and bothered over the naked hairy chest of the man digging their new well. At the moment she finally discovers what an orgasm is, a comet shoots down from the sky and crashes into the farms field. The local doctor Alan Forbes (Cooper Huckabee) and the local real estate agent Carl Willis (John Schneider) manage to halt any notification of governmental officials in fear that doing so might jeopardize the state's plan to convert the area into a reservoir, something from which they hope to make lots of money from. Then the comet suddenly just melts down and away into the earth—and into the farm's water supply as well. Mom soon gets warts and eventually sews socks into her hands, while apples and other vegetables grow huge and look healthy, only to be filled with ooze and worms. Dad and son also grow warts and slowly go violently bonkers, as do the farm animals. Zack and his sister Alice (Amy Wheaton, Wil’s real-life sister) remain normal only because they refuse to eat the produce or drink the water of the farm, something probably impossible to do in real life. The big showdown has all the morally questionable people die—one by be ripped apart by rabid dogs, another getting his throat ripped out by the mutated mommy, the last by a hammer to the head. Faced with a crazed wrench-wielding stepfather and an insane pork-bellied stepbrother, Zack and Amy fight for their lives as the house collapses around them. At the last minute and with the help of a deus ex machina, they escape.
Cheaply made, sleazy, continually inconsistent and with a story full of holes, The Curse is gross enough to qualify as perfectly acceptable trash-film fodder. How Zack can be downstairs fighting his wrench-wielding dad and then show upstairs with a baseball bat in time to save his sister is not the type of question that keeps me up at night. And if the ending makes no sense at all, the slow rot of the mom, stepdaddy and stepbrother is fun enough to watch—they sure do begin to look ugly and drool nicely. Actually, in this day and age of the Bush Jr. presidency, any film in which a bunch of overly religious hypocritical rednecks slowly rot from the inside out should be made mandatory viewing in American schools. This is your country, now pass the Holy Water, please.

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