Curse, The (1987)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2016-02-25 03:17

The Curse (1987)
Studio: Scream Factory
Release date: February 23rd, 2016

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)

The movie:

I didn’t know a whole lot about The Curse before sitting down to finally watch it. Mostly, I knew it belonged to one of those series that isn’t really a series at all, and I’m horrible about committing myself to a franchise until I own every entry, no matter how loosely related they may be. Had I looked closely at the credits of the first film, I might not have put it off for so long because few things put me at ease more than seeing “An Ovidio G. Assonitis” production at the top of a movie. I know this makes me seem like a lunatic to most reasonable people, but hear me out: at the very least, you’re rarely bored whenever Assonitis is involved.

This more or less holds true with The Curse, a late-80s American co-production that also boasts one “Louis” Fulci as an associate producer (imagine my delight when that credit appeared). One name you won’t find is H.P. Lovecraft’s, even though David Chaskin’s script is ostensibly an update of “The Colour Out of Space” that transports the macabre New England tale to rural Tennessee. It’s here that the Crane family finds themselves fending off overtures from a realtor (Steve Carlisle) looking to flip their land into a lucrative government contract. However, the land is less attractive when a mysterious object falls from the sky; initially dismissed as the refuse from an airplane, it begins to leak a substance into the soil that eventually wreaks havoc on anything—and anyone—that consumes the nearby water.

Both Fulci’s participation and the gooey nature of the substance hint that The Curse will be a goopy, gross exercise, and it is—eventually. Given the pedigree, you might be surprised by how patiently director David Keith (yes, that David Keith) operates here. I don’t know that you’d consider this film a slow burn, but it isn’t exactly in a hurry to serve up a bunch of splatter. Instead, the effects unfold relatively subtly, with the various farm animals freaking out and turning on their owners (a chicken attack against the Crane’s young daughter is remarkably frenetic and disturbing). People begin to act erratically, too, and this is not to mention the unsightly boils that begin to fester on their skin. Something isn’t quite right—even tomatoes are exploding into a splattery paste, the apples rot from a worm infestation.

Of course, it wouldn’t be an Assonitis production if you didn’t think most of the characters didn’t already act a bit erratically, if not eccentrically. The Curse doesn’t disappoint in this respect, as the Crane clan is plenty strange before a goddamn meteor lands in their backyard. Technically a blended family that’s struggling to get along, this brood has some issues ranging from the typical step-sibling rivalry to “holy shit, the undersexed mom (Kathleen Jordon Gregory) is banging the farmhand in his little shack every night.” Weirdly, the religious fundamentalist patriarch (Claude Akins) doesn’t make a big fuss over the latter, though I guess you can’t prove he didn’t straight up murder the farmhand, who disappears from the film without a mention. This is Tennessee, after all. That shit would probably stand in a court of law.

Speaking of which, The Curse authentically captures its location; from the Crane’s obnoxious oldest son (Malcolm Danare) watching Tennessee football while sporting a Vols jersey to the small, bumpkin town’s distrust of outsiders, Keith nails down the general vibe of his home state. The rustic flavor extends all the way to the score, which blends banjo strums into ominous, choral wailings, sort of like Hee Haw meets Amityville (and of course a character actually watches an episode of Hee Haw at one point). There’s a distinctiveness to the voice here that keeps The Curse worthwhile as the horror elements simmer on the backburner, as it’s peppered with the sort of oddball moments you expect from an Assonitis production, like realtor trying to wine and dine a Tennessee Valley Authority rep (John Schneider, who emerges as the hero, thus securing the film’s southern-fried credentials).

An impromptu striptease involving the local doctor (Cooper Huckabee) and his wife (Hope North) provides a nice distraction, as do the increasingly manic performances from Gregory and Akins, the latter of which becomes a walking embodiment of hellfire and brimstone as hell actually swirls around him. It’s here that Fulci—who reportedly actually shot the second-unit effects work—makes his imprint, as the Maestro orchestrates a signature gore symphony that’s worthy of his name. Bloated cow corpses explode with maggots, grotesque human flesh warps, blood flows, and one character practically evaporates into a puddle of viscera in the most rad body-melting display this side of The Fly or Robocop. For a moment, The Curse taps into the vaguely apocalyptic vibe of Lovecraft’s work; when combined with Fulci’s penchant for gore-drenched hellraising, it truly feels as if hell has unloosed—even if it just involves exploding obvious miniatures.

Even if the characters are suddenly secondary, all but engulfed by the whirling dervish of effects, The Curse goes out with quite a bang. In many ways a happy medium between the outrageously inane and truly dreadful late-era Italian output, Keith’s film is just competent and eccentric enough to warrant some praise. Its investment in plot and characters may be minimal at best, but it at least bothers to arrange a colorful set (and Wil Wheaton, whose presence has gone unremarked on because, well, he’s sort of unremarkable here) before shoving them onto the Grand Guignol stage. If nothing else, it has convinced me to check out the other three films in this franchise—even though I should know better, of course.

The disc:

The Curse has been so far under my radar over the years that I actually just bought it on DVD late last year; naturally, shortly thereafter, Scream Factory announced it would release it alongside The Curse II as part of a Blu-ray double feature. Normally, that sort of thing would sting, but this is actually quite a worthwhile upgrade since Scream’s disc presents both films in their original 2.35:1 aspect ratio (the DVD release cropped both). Since both films pop with garish, effects-laden palettes, the lush, high-definition transfers should be a treat for anyone who has only seen them in a compromised format.

These improved presentations—plus the relatively budgeted price for the double feature—make up for the lack of a double feature, and the release nicely compliments Scream’s previous release of Catacombs, aka The Curse IV. No word yet on if they plan on adding Curse 3: Blood Sacrifice to their ranks, but I’m sure they’ll get right on it now that I’m about to buy the DVD. You’re welcome.
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