The Curse and Curse II: The Bite have virtually no relation to each other (nor Curse III: Blood Sacrifice or Catacombs [Curse IV: The Ultimate Sacrifice], for that matter), but they’re often paired together in double-features because of the titles. The one thing that both have in common, though, is their schlocky subject matter, with a reliance on goopy body special effects and gore instead of a smart script. Do both of these flicks make for a hexing double-feature? Check out reviews of both films below, along with a review of Scream Factory’s overall release.
A fiery meteor crashes into a small community, specifically on Nathan Crane’s farm. At first it seems like a harmless chunk of space rock, and neither Crane nor the local doctor Willis (John Schneider) want to go to the authorities in fear that it might stop the construction of a new reservoir in the area. But young Zack begins to notice that the food and water around his house tastes funny, and that the rock glows during the night; and when his mother begins growing boils on her face and falling into hypnotic trances, he knows that something’s not right with this interplanetary detritus. It’s not a Twilight Zone episode, but the horror/science fiction film The Curse from 1987.
The flick has a fairly rich blend of cast and crew. The film was written by David Chaskin, who also penned A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge a couple of years before, although this flick doesn’t have as many gay allusions; it’s also the directorial debut of David Keith, better known for his acting career. Wil Wheaton also shows up as protagonist Zack, fresh from his roles in Stand By Me and Star Trek: The Next Generation. And we can’t forget about Claude Akins as Nathan, a prominent crime genre actor throughout the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s.
But boasting a minutely intriguing cast and a competent script doesn’t help The Curse from feeling like a lackluster attempt at splatter horror. Keith’s direction sets a playful mood early on, heightening the camp with an overly religious Nathan Crane who often feels less scary than he should. The film’s spritely score, too, emphasizes the humorous side of Chaskin’s script, almost like a Lifetime movie that also features maggot-infested fruits and body transformation sequences. That doesn’t necessarily make The Curse a bad film, and in truth it’s often fun when it’s at its most ridiculous; but Keith doesn’t take the material seriously, and often the film devolves into a comedy of errors with stereotypical characters.
That becomes problematic in the last two-thirds of the film, when things are clearly going from bad to worse. Because Nathan is so outrageously religious, he refuses to believe his wife Frances (Kathleen Jordon Gregory) when she claims that the food is going bad, or when Zack says the water tastes funny. Frances, cowed into submission, doesn’t complain about her sickness until she’s already become a rotting bag of meat. And the doctor Willis, who also apparently doubles as a biological scientist, disregards his scientific instincts because calling the EPA could affect the reservoir’s construction says sleazy realtor Davidson (Steve Carlisle).
No one reacts believably because Chaskin’s script sticks to generic character archetypes, and ultimately The Curse relies on stupid people doing stupid things for much of its plotting. Chaskin even brings in a minor character to save the day in the finale, a guy the viewer has seen only a couple of times who has had little to do with the overall plot. The screenplay is messy, and it often finds the actors spouting hammy dialogue and overacting.
Still, there’s a lot of fun in The Curse‘s approach to body horror. Its special effects are surprisingly good, and Keith gives the audience a number of gruesome moments including the bloodied mess of a cow’s belly, a revolting apple surprise, and a lot of goopy food drippings akin to The Stuff. The special effects crew get the chance to show a melted Mrs. Crane late in the film, too, as the house collapses around Zack.
While The Curse is similar to a lot of other, better “meteor strikes that causes mayhem” films like Night of the Creeps and even the short “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill” from Creepshow, its strengths lie in the special effects work and the moments when Keith embraces the B-movie humor. It’s an entertaining film and nothing more, a flick that’s been doomed to showings as a double-feature rather than standing on its own merits.
Curse II: The Bite followed in 1989, although the ordering of The Curse series is a conundrum much like the House series released on Blu-Ray by Scream Factory. As noted earlier, The Bite has nothing to do with the original Curse except for the body transformations that occur; instead of a meteor, our protagonists are plagued by a snakebite that turns its victim into a breeding ground of snakes. It’s got shades of vampirism, but it mostly steals the plot of 1973’s Sssssss (also due out from Scream).
Director Frederico Prosperi (or Fred Goodwin in the credits) follows a couple on a road trip through Texas after they encounter a highway slithering with snakes. Clark (J. Eddie Peck of Dynasty/Dallas) and Lisa (Jill Schoelen of Popcorn and Phantom of the Opera fame) seem to have just met each other, but they’re already getting along like gangbusters; that is until they drive over a bunch of snakes, spraying blood onto their car and allowing one terrible snake to make its way into their backseat. Eventually, Clark’s bitten by the thing, and he gets some medication from a guy at a rest stop who is a traveling salesman (Jamie Farr) but also happens to know snakes so well that he carries antitoxins and such with him. It makes about as much sense in the film as it does on paper, but what it all amounts to is that Clark grows a damn snake hand.
The Bite is pretty much always this nonsensical, although Prosperi’s direction suffers from long periods with nothing happening. About half of the film focuses on Clark’s change, and at one point, The Bite almost seems like a metaphor for domestic abuse when a jealous Clark hits Lisa after she dances with another man. Ultimately, though, Prosperi’s film – and his script (he shares credit with Susan Zelouf) – never manages to carve out a cohesive plot, switching from Clark’s vampire-like progression to the salesman attempting to track the couple down so he can tell them he gave Clark the wrong serum. It’s a ludicrous storyline, and The Bite doesn’t know what to do with it.
Until the final act, that is. The Bite is most successful when Prosperi allows the chaos to play out, embracing the outrageous during a chase sequence where Lisa wades through mud and muck while a decomposing Clark begins to spew out tons of snakes from his orifices. The special effects work is hokey but undeniably fun; who doesn’t want to see a man’s head crack off while a giant snake slithers out from his insides?
The finale isn’t enough to overcome the long droughts, though, and Curse II: The Bite joins a genre that’s roiling with films that do the snake terror better. The lack of focus and poor dialogue (at one point, a scientist is forced to deliver some crazy explanation for the genetic mutation of Clark’s hand) is a major flaw, and some might not stick around for the climactic conclusion. But for fans of Z-grade creature flicks, it’s tough to argue against seeing a film where a large part of the running time features a guy with hissing snake arm. I think you know where you stand already.
Scream Factory has released the two films on Blu-Ray as a double-feature, and that makes sense considering the poor quality of Curse II: The Bite. The Curse is presented with an updated HD transfer, and it holds up surprisingly well – there are no issues to speak of with the video presentation. Audio comes with a DTS-HD 2.0 stereo track that sounds crisp and clean. Overall, an impressive presentaton of this 1987 flick.
On the other hand, Curse II: The Bite was sourced from a film print rather than the actual negative, noted by Scream Factory in the opening credits, and the video quality is noticeably degraded. It’s no fault of Scream Factory’s, who worked with what they had, but the clarity and flaws – like cigarette burns – are apparent. Audio is presented in a DTS-HD 2.0 stereo track, which sounds fairly good.