MARCH 1, 2016
Thanks to Scream Factory, I have become privy to a brief wave of Italian/American co-productions that peppered (some) theaters and (more) video stores during the late '80s and early '90s, many of which they've released as double features (such as Witchery/Ghosthouse). The partnership made sense - with the decline of drive-ins hurting indie schlock producers here in the US and the Italian film system facing its own crippling problems, it was mutually beneficial to work together. The Italians found a way to keep working, and the Americans got names like Lucio Fulci or Umberto Lenzi to rope in horror fans that might otherwise overlook such fare. The Curse is probably the most famous of the lot (it opened in the top 10 at the box office!) and offers the most curious list of credits - Fulci and Ovidio G. Assonitis (of Tentacles/Beyond the Door fame) from the Italian side, with the Americans offering up a pretty great cast: Claude Akins, Wil Wheaton, The Funhouse's Cooper Huckabee, and even a post-Dukes John Schneider.
You'll also see familiar tough guy character actor David Keith (not Keith David) in the credits, but he doesn't appear on camera - he actually directed this thing, his first time calling the shots and the only one of his three directorial efforts that he didn't give himself a nice role. At first I figured it was just the poorly-chosen pseudonym for Assonitis or some other Italian (as most of them used aliases), especially since all the others I've seen had Italian directors while the casts were predominantly American, but nope - it was Jack Murdock himself calling the shots. Apparently it was also his own farm that was used for the film's exteriors, while the rest was shot in Rome (which you can kind of tell because the dubbing is pretty bad whenever they're inside*), and there's a pretty even split between the two - 50/50, like the crew itself.
The American side of things is probably why the script is based on HP Lovecraft's "The Colour Out of Space", since very few Italian horror films are directly adapted from anything like that. Lovecraft isn't even credited, though the film is actually pretty close to his narrative for the first hour or so, before FX and action mostly take over. The biggest change is how much the hero of the story is sidelined in the movie - Schneider's Willis fills in for Pierce (the hero in Lovecraft's story) but he's only in like four or five scenes, with the focus given almost entirely to the family on the farm that is primarily affected by the alien meteorite. Schneider doesn't even meet them until the climax, if memory serves, spending his scenes either alone or with the local realtor/greedy bastard who is trying to make sure Schneider's surveyor character will give the go-ahead for some big construction deal (as always, whenever the movie's dialogue concerns real estate shenanigans, I tune out. Probably because I'll go to the grave without ever owning any land/property). I don't know if Schneider was busy working on something else and they could only get him for a few days, or his scenes were cut for one reason or another, but he feels very disconnected from the narrative/main characters, making his rescuer role in the climax really awkward.
The folks are rescuing are Wil Wheaton's character and his sister (played by Wil's real life sister, who the credits "introduce" for what would be her first/last big role in an intermittent career peppered with a lot of short films and "Female Student" type roles), as the rest of their family has gotten infected and turned into pretty gross looking monsters. Akins is their dad, a very religious man who quotes Bible verses while shunning his wife's affections, i.e. the sort of guy you can't wait to see get messed up good. I was surprised to see Akins being so game for the makeup FX work - this is a guy who had been acting for nearly forty years for guys like Howard Hawks, so you could easily see him scoffing at the idea of being done up like a zombie with neurofibromatosis. But he's totally into it, and it's kind of awesome to see him going through those motions. It's also awesome to see Wheaton literally headbutt his jerk brother to death. I mean, technically the fall kills him (they're near a railing), but still - amazing MO for fratricide.
Now you might hear those examples and think that this is a crazy, action-packed movie, but that is far from the case. In fact, had they credited Lovecraft I might not have been so surprised at how relatively slow-paced it was, coming from the Italians I always count on for the wackiness. I didn't recognize the HPL connection for a while; as the plot starts with an alien element crashing in the Midwest, I just took it as any old 80s horror that starts the same way - Killer Klowns, Critters, Invaders from Mars (plus, again, the hero of the story was turned into a random supporting character). There are a few isolated incidents along the way (most memorably an attack on the little girl by some deranged chickens), but otherwise there isn't much gore or violence until the final 15 minutes, when all hell has broken loose (at least, at the farm). Here we get some pretty delightful miniature work (where it's obvious that it's a miniature, but not laughably so) and some crazy FX sequences, like all of the wood panels inside the house curling themselves away/off the walls as the structure collapses. The infected family members also prove to be hard to kill, giving it a vague zombie movie feel for a bit too. It's perhaps a bit TOO slow at times, with too many characters being jumbled about, but if you came for the same sort of nuttiness those other Italian/American movies offered, you'll certainly find it here.
What you won't find is Wheaton or anyone else offering comments on the film - the only bonus feature is the trailer, which has one of the clunkiest segways in voiceover history. It's a pretty standard 80s horror trailer, but near the end movie trailer voice says "Wil Wheaton from Stand By Me, now stands alone against... THE CURSE!" The fact that he doesn't notwithstanding (he stands with his sister! And Pa Kent!), how much of a reach can you possibly make before you're just being incoherent? At least the shorter trailer for video (not on the disc; I found it when looking for the full trailer below) goes with a standard "Stand by Me's Wil Wheaton" instead of trying to make it a thing. Reminds me of that awful blurb for Joy Ride that said something like "Paul Walker goes for an even bigger ride than he did in Fast and the Furious!" It was on one of the home video boxes! So awful/amazing.
The disc also has the sequel, which is apparently completely unrelated (as are Curse 3 and 4, the existence of which I am only now aware of), but it DOES have Shiri Appleby in one of her first movies, and stars horror royalty Jill Schoelen. It also has the plot description "After a young man is bitten on the hand by a radioactive snake, his hand changes into a lethal snake head," so you can be assured that I'll be finding the time to watch it soon. Hopefully Scream will get the rights to the other two; I am kind of charmed that there's this little franchise of goofy movies that I had almost zero awareness of their existence. Maybe someone can get the survivors of each one together, Fast Five/Avengers style, and catapult this franchise into the stratosphere. The Curse Shared Universe (TCSU) must come together!
What say you?
*Many Italian studios aren't sound proof (with at least one major one right by an airport), so even though everyone is speaking English they had to be redubbed anyway.