January 22, 2016

The Curse (1987)

In the town of Tellico Plains, Tennessee, a meteorite crash-lands at the farm of Nathan Crane (Claude Akins). At first the meteorite's arrival seems to stimulate the growth of the fruits and vegetables on Nathan's farm, but then it seems to cause everything to rot and the animals to turn mad. As the meteorite also begins to affect Nathan's wife Frances (Kathleen Jordon Gregory), his son Zack (Wil Wheaton) comes to realise just how much danger his family is in.

In 1987 actor David Keith, best known for his performances in An Officer and a Gentleman (1982) and Firestarter (1984), made an unexpected and temporary segue into directing. To date he has only ever directed one film, and that's this one: The Curse, an adaptation of the H.P. Lovecraft story "The Colour Out of Space". Independently financed and produced, it was shot in Tellico Plains and Rome, Italy, and boasted Italian genre filmmaker Lucio Fulci as one of its producers and visual effects supervisors.

It is also, by the way, a really terrible film.

The film's poor quality is not for a lack of talent. Wil Wheaton appeared in The Curse directly after starring in Rob Reiner's Stand by Me (1986), in which he gave one of the strongest juvenile performances I have seen. Claude Akins was a well-respected career actor with screen credits dating back to the early 1950s. Co-star Cooper Huckerbee, who plays local physician Dr Alan Forbes, has delivered solid performances in a bunch of film and television roles. Generally speaking, however, they are all pretty awkward and unconvincing here.

My guess is that it is down to a lack of time. The Curse is clearly a low-budget production, and the stilted, weak acting on display seems the result of a lack of time to either rehearse or to shoot multiple takes. The performances are not helped by a very weak screenplay. The dialogue is packed with dull stereotypes, and the plot lacks anything in the way of twists or surprises. The film makes an odd, rather loose link between the arrival of the glowing white meteorite and the marital infidelity of Nathan's wife, but it's a link that is never solidified or properly explored.

Scenes that could be reasonably effective - the farm animals turn insane and begin attacking the family - fail because they're so cheaply expressed. Zack's older brother (Michael Danare) is threatened by an angry horse that's clearly nowhere near him. His younger sister (real-life little sister Amy Wheaton) thrashes about screaming in a mass of bored chickens. When the meteorite's toxic presence begins to affect the family, it's first via cheap rubber sores glued to the face and later by drooling, unconvincing latex prosthetics. Low budget horror, generally speaking, is fine. Many low budget horror films are among the best in their genre. The trick is to find ways around the poor production values to make the film convincingly scary - Keith only manages to achieve that occasionally with The Curse. One scene, in which Zack's increasingly addled mother is darning a sock and starts sewing into her own hand, is a good example of that. With these kinds of films it is almost always the small, disturbing moments that work. Once they aim for big spectacle, they inevitably fall over. That is the case with the film's climax, which becomes not just unconvincing but somewhat incoherent. It's a dreadful mess.

There is some appeal in The Curse for fans of bad movies: films that stay in circulation because some people enjoy laughing at how awful they are. I am not entirely convinced The Curse is egregious enough to properly qualify as one of those 'so bad it's good' films. Even if it was, though: why not spend the 90 minutes watching something that's actually good?

The Curse was followed by several direct-to-video sequels, none of which bore any link to the original beyond their titles.

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