The Chronicles of Horror Movie Night: THE CURSE (1987)

Damon Swindall

by: Damon Swindall
March 9th, 2011

After starting in Washington D.C. nine years ago Horror Movie Night has expanded to include chapters in Austin, Dallas and Chicago. GATW’s own Brian Kelley is the originator and programmer of this illustrious weekly Wednesday night tradition which features a “classic” horror film. Each week I will be reviewing/commenting on the past week’s selection so do your best to find the film, most of which have not made it past VHS, and follow along. Better yet, start your own chapter!

VHS Box for The Curse

Everyone who is a member of my VCR generation has those titles which caught their eye on the rental shelves, and I visited the video store on a very regular basis. That included a couple times a week during the school year and just about every day during the summer. I would ride my bike a mile or so to the nearest mom-and-pop to pick which monster movie my friends and I would watch for the day. In all those years visiting rental shops, and the teen years spent working in them, one piece of box art I always enjoyed was for THE CURSE (1987) but, for some reason, never actually watched it. Something about that hand reaching up out of the ground with a firm grasp on the house made me smile. Now, thanks to HMN, I have finally watched the flick and got a lot more out of it than I originally thought,and much more than I would have as a preteen.

Zack (Wil Wheaton) and his sister are having a difficult time adjusting to life with their new stepfather and stepbrother on a small farm in Tennessee. Nathan (veteran actor Claude Akins) is a no-nonsense country boy with ideals and morals rooted in the 50s and The Bible guiding him above everything else. One night a large, fiery meteorite falls from the sky and lands on the farm. This causes things to become even crazier in Zack’s life. Many of the crops go bad,  animals and people acting strangely, the water leaves a funny taste in your mouth and no one seems to think it necessary to alert any authorities that a 9-foot (in diameter) glowing rock fell from the sky. The young boy tries to get help from his neighbor Dr. Forbes (Cooper Huckabee) and an official from the town’s possible new water reservoir, Willis (John Schneider, DUKES OF HAZZARD), but it may be too late for some of them. Including his mother.

Meteorite from THE CURSE

The most odd thing about this film is the group of people who gathered to put it all together. Starting with the man at the reins - actor David Keith. Most might know him as Sid in AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN (1982) but to me he will forever be Elvis from the comedy HEARTBREAK HOTEL (1988). Why he chose to make his directorial debut here is beyond me, but he’s only gone on to helm two other films since so I guess he figured that sticking with acting was the best option. This might have been the best decision.

The story itself comes from an H.P. Lovecraft short, “The Colour Out of Space”, and that can be a tricky thing to pull off on the screen. Most of Lovecraft’s terror comes from things that cannot be described or would be incredibly costly to display, especially in the 80s, so many of the adaptations merely sum up his original story in the first few minutes and use it as a springboard to take the rest of the film somewhere different. In THE CURSE the story is followed rather closely, aside from the update to modern times and moving to the south, rather than his usual New England landscape. There is even a line of dialog Wheaton delivers about the trees seeming to move on their own without any wind which is taken from the source material and many more little bits like that pop up throughout. Lovecraft’s story was adapted by David Chaskin, the same man who penned the first, and probably strangest, Freddy sequel, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET PART 2: FREDDY’S REVENGE, which drips with homo-eroticism. Tonally, this film is quite different and it’s a good thing too. Odd that they chose him, presumably based on his previous work, because as silly as he made the cast in his Freddy film, it would not be a good fit for a story of this more serious nature.

So far we have an actor-turned-director calling the shots and a fairly new screenwriter with a shifty record to tackle a notorious horror author with stories that are damn hard to translate to film, but that’s yet to be the oddest participant in the production. That honor is bestowed upon Italian horror maestro Lucio Fulci! There is a bit of discrepancy as to his exact role on the film. The opening credits list him as Associate Producer Louis Fulci (I guess in an effort to make him more accessible for American audiences - sigh), but one of the other producers claims Fulci had no actual producer duties but instead handled directing 2nd unit. The end credits have no one listed in that role and some of the shots definitely have Fulci’s finesse, so that story is not too hard to believe. Scenes such as a tree falling toward a fleeing couple of people and a diseased cow exploding with maggots, worms and gook call back to very similar set-ups used in his own film, CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980). IMDb does also have him listed as “special optical effects designer” and, really, all of the big FX shots are rather Fulci-esque. That’s a big plus for this film for sure!

Apple full of Maggots

The film is light on gore, for the most part, but what it lacks in human blood and guts it more than makes up for with pulpy produce putrefaction! There are blackened slimy cabbage, apples full of maggots and a tomato with an arterial spray that would make Quentin Tarantino blush. Probably not the movie to show your kids if you’re trying to get them to eat their fruit and vegetables.

This film is one of the few so far this year at HMN that is not too silly or dripping with 80s cheese. Not that it’s a bad thing, we all love legitimately good horror films too, but laughing at/with some of these special films is part of the fun of the weekly program. Don’t fret, there is still some stuff to giggle at in THE CURSE. One of the first people we see on the farm is Mike. This guy is shirtless and much harrier than you will want him to be. He looks more like a werewolf with alopecia. Still he goes on to catch the eye of Nathan’s unsatisfied wife, Frances (Kathleen Jordon Gregory in her only role), and after their illicit tryst during the meteorite’s arrival he is never seen or talked about again. He just disappears. Guess he’s there just to up the manly man quotient.

Shirtless, Hairy Mike

Nathan himself is a quite a chuckle-inducing character with all of his stern faced antics. His anger and ultra-religious ways are quite humorous, but sometimes it’s the political incorrectness of his character that really brings the laughs, like seemingly always slapping Zack. Or when the big country breakfast is on the table and he takes a bite out of one of the stack of his wife’s scratch made biscuits. “A little dry this morning Frances, you forget to add something?” he scoffs as he throws it back down on the pile. Damn. There is just no pleasing this man.

His son, Cyrus (Malcom Danare, POPCORN which is on the schedule for later in the year), is a gross pig of a teen. Not just because he was one of the family members on the “Pig in a Poke” game show from EUROPEAN VACATION, but he acts just plain disgusting and lewd constantly. His ass crack is always showing and he wears a football jersey that is much shorter and tighter than it need be. There is one great moment where he watches football and practically comes to a climax as his team scores. I laughed in part because of Danare’s over-the-top performance but also because I couldn’t help but think of all the interesting manfatuation in Chaskin’s last script.

Even though MGM put out a DVD of this a few years ago, with horribly generic artwork and the related-in-name-only sequel included, we watched an old VHS copy. I will have to say that while the picture itself was not too grainy or jumpy the job they did on the pan-and-scan was absolutely horrible. Things aren’t centered so you’re missing half of what should be on the screen and instead getting a nice view of the road or a wall. Besides the improved picture the DVD version does have a longer ending than the tape offers. A brief wrap-up, running around three-and-a-half minutes, bridges the gap between everything you have just seen and the prologue of the film, which takes place six months later. It actually adds a little more to the overall story and has it all in widescreen. Probably worth the purchase, especially since the sequel is planned for HMN in August!

Not sure if Mr. Big-Time STAR TREK Wheaton really cares about this film (I’m sure he doesn’t), but he does a decent job and it’s a solid story. Starts off a little slow but in the end there is a lot to this tale, and, if nothing else, it might get you to read some Lovecraft. And that’s always a good thing.

Body Count: 6 (and a lot of plant life)
Best Death Scene: Final Meltdown
Number of Times Wil Wheaton is Slapped: 5
Instances of Fruit & Vegetable Gore: 3

Frances with a Knife

Coming soon to Horror Movie Night (Chronicles are posted one week after screening):
-3/9/11: MARDI GRAS MASSACRE (1978)
-3/16/11: VIDEO VIOLENCE (1987) (My Unofficial Bye Week Pick)
-3/23/11: THE VIDEO DEAD (1987)
-3/30/11: THE PIT (1981)

 

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