Welcome to Harvey’s Hellhole, a monthly column devoted to spotlighting the movies that were poorly marketed, mishandled, reshaped, neglected or just straight-up destroyed by Harvey Weinstein, during his reign as one of the most powerful studio chiefs in Hollywood. This month, just in time for Halloween, we revisit a creature feature that was mostly destroyed not by Harvey, but by his genre movie-loving brother Bob.
Twenty-five years ago, veteran horror filmmaker Wes Craven and a young screenwriter named Kevin Williamson got together to make Scream, a hella-meta slasher satire that became a surprise smash (it took in $173 million). Not only did it reignite the slasher-movie genre, it also made Dimension Films, the movie’s then-fledgling distributor, a major player in the genre-movie arena.
But we won’t be talking about that film. Instead, we’ll be discussing that other Craven-Williamson-Dimension collab that was supposed to be just as subversive and revolutionary as Scream. That film is the 2005 werewolf comedy-thriller Cursed — without question, a very apropos title.
It all began when Dimension Films head Bob Weinstein announced, in October 2002, a new movie that would “reinvent the werewolf genre.” With Williamson churning out the script and Craven handling directing duties, it seemed possible that Cursed could do for werewolf flicks what Scream did for slasher movies. The original plot had three young strangers (played by Christina Ricci, Skeet Ulrich, and Jesse Eisenberg) getting bitten by a lycanthrope during a late-night car accident in Los Angeles. It was officially slated for an August 2003 release date, with Weinstein telling Entertainment Weekly at the time that “nothing is going to move us” off the date.
Needless to say, Cursed wasn’t released on its unmovable date. At this point, another version of the movie was being made. Even though there was a finished script, Craven still felt the story needed work. However, instead of doing some punching up and fleshing out here and there, Williamson rewrote the whole damn thing. Eventually, Ulrich’s character was written out completely and Ricci’s & Eisenberg’s became siblings. In fact, scenes featuring an impressive roster of actors — Ulrich, Epps, Mandy Moore, Scott Foley, Robert Forster, Ileana Douglas, Corey Feldman — had to be cut out.
The start-stop-start-again production began to take its toll on the filmmakers. Rick Baker, the special makeup effects legend best known for his groundbreaking, Oscar-winning work in An American Werewolf in London, was first called in to create and build the Big Bad Wolf. But Baker (who broke down his version of events on Joe Rogan’s podcast) had to move on to another project. That still didn’t stop the Weinsteins from listing him in the opening credits.
Baker wasn’t the only one who wanted to move the hell on. Craven actually had enough time in-between reshoots to make another movie: the less gory and more suspenseful thriller Red Eye. It became a modest hit in the summer of ‘05, taking in nearly $100 million and making buzzworthy stars out of its two leads, Rachel MacAdams and Cillian Murphy. As Craven said in a Fangoria interview, “If Bob wants to spend the rest of his life making this movie, that’s fine. But I’m going to go on to do other things.”
By the time Cursed hit theaters in February 2005, distributed by Miramax, the dead-on-arrival stench could not be ignored. People already knew it was plagued with production setbacks — and those who didn’t just sensed it. Those who did take a chance on Cursed saw that it’s less about werewolves and more about supposedly savvy, vapid, LA-based millennials (the best kind!), some of them moseying around with the ability to ravage people. Ellie Myers (Ricci) and her teenage brother Jimmy (Eisenberg) discover this one night when they get into a car accident and try to fight off a wolf who sinks its teeth into an injured driver (Shannon Elizabeth). They’re scarred for their troubles, which means this mousy pair will slowly-but-surely discover some wolfish ways that’ll briefly turn them into sexy beasts. Eisenberg’s bookworm even gets to check his high-school bully (played by a pre-This is Us Milo Ventimiglia), who later comes out to him after an intense, eye-opening wrestling match.
For a movie that was supposed to reinvent the werewolf genre, Cursed feels hysterically dated. It plays like a post-AIDS-era cautionary tale, with irresponsible-ass werewolves passing around their deadly affliction to unsuspecting souls like Ellie and Jimmy. This forces the siblings to track down the rabid creature in the final act— and just like in Scream, there are several suspicious suspects. There’s Ellie’s boyfriend Jake (Joshua Jackson), ready to open a horror-themed nightclub called Tinsel; Ellie’s torch-holding, workplace colleague Kyle (Michael Rosenbaum); bitchy PR rep Joanie (Judy Greer). Hell, it could even be Joanie’s client Scott Baio, playing a scuzzy version of himself (is there any other kind?)
Considering how Ricci’s and Eisenberg’s hair changes in virtually every scene, this jumble of pasted-together scenes that Bob Weinstein hoped would resemble a story became a predictable flop. With a budget that ballooned somewhere to $90-$100 million, it only took in a little bit over $29 million. Everyone walked away from Cursed feeling — well, you know.
There is a shiny, happy postscript to this: Before he passed away in 2015, Craven once again joined forces with Williamson and the Weinsteins and directed Scream 4 in 2011, which of course was a huge hit. Even after the nightmare that was Cursed, they nevertheless reunited to get back in the slasher swing of things. I guess the Weinsteins realized you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. People are still willing to take a journey that’s familiar, comfortable and doesn’t reek of reshoots and bad wigs.
Cursed is currently streaming on HBO Max.