Monday, June 9, 2014

The Curse (1987)

"And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a torch, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters, and many men died of the waters." - Revelations of St. John, Chapter 8.

Director David Keith and screenwriter David Chaskin dumb down and oversimplify some religious quotes to find a connection to the sci-fi horror brand of H.P. Lovecraft, specifically his short story, "The Colour Out of Space". Nevertheless, in the attempt, they do deliver some fairly watchable B-horror schlock that has its moments, with a little help from the undisputed king of gore, Lucio Fulci!

It all begins one fateful night when a giant glowing ball of fire, presumably a meteorite crashes on the self sufficient farm land of the devout and almost fanatical Christian, Nathan Crane (Claude Akins). Crane resides with his oafish lard of a son, Cyrus, his beautiful wife Frances (Kathleen Jordon Gregory) and his stepchildren Zachary (Wil Wheaton) and Alice (Amy Wheaton). The event is unexplainable, as is the origin of the rock. The only local scientist/physician around, Dr. Forbes (Cooper Huckabee) isn't able to do much with his knowledge. Overnight, the rock glows, shrinks and finally melts into the ground. But ever since, something begins to go wrong on the farm, starting with the water from the farm well turning putrid, and then eventually affecting the crops, the livestock and the inhabitants of the house themselves, mentally as well as physically.

Of course, as cliche' would have it, there is a strong atmosphere of denial. The strict, curmudgeon, bible-verses-spewing Nathan refuses to believe that anything is amiss, despite Frances showing visible ugly warts on her face and symptoms of insanity, as well as the deteriorating quality of food and water. Only when things go horribly out of control, does he believe that something is indeed wrong, except, he blames it all on Frances who has a one night stand with the temporary hired farmhand, thereby sinning and bringing upon a curse on the family! Only Zack recognizes the problem and keeps himself and his sister Alice away from their food and water and smuggles supplies from town and the neighbours' property.

Keith's film is not a great one by a long shot, but thanks to a strong and intriguing concept, a crisp length and some insane events unfolding on screen, he manages to deliver an entertaining and sometimes hilarious (perhaps unintentionally so) sci-fi/gore film. Zack's predicament, and his struggle to keep himself and his sister safe while his mother disintegrates, is palpable, what with his minor age and his stepfather's draconian ways. While the actors themselves do leave a lot to be desired, Keith delivers by subjecting his characters to some squirm-in-your-seat treatment that makes it all work. 

Gore genius Lucio Fulci was brought in to monitor the special effects and therefore, do expect a lot of gooey, pus-like seepage, from practically everything including vegetables that look very rich and nutritious on the outside but ooze some thick, foul juice from the inside! Adding to genuine horror fun are a full, fresh crop of apples full of maggots and rotting insides, and characters going gradually insane along with their physique exhibiting visible malformations, as they regurgitate and start melting away! 

There's some unnecessary comic relief, even slapstick, in the form of subplots with side characters including the selfish realtor Davidson (Steve Carlisle) and his fly swatting secretary, a Tennesee Valley Authority representative Willis (John Schneider), and Dr. Forbes' comely wife Esther (Hope North). Most actors are either wooden or over-the-top, or unintentionally funny, including Claude Akins and his way too hyper bible rantings and slap-happy ways. 

Malcolm Danare mostly irritates, even when he gorges on his food like a pig, and seems to wear only one set of clothing in the entire film! Wheaton's act is artificial and mannered, while Kathleen Jordan Gregory has to wear zombie makeup way too soon and thus her acting is mostly limited to a display of demented histrionics, which is a good thing in the context of the film.

Keith's film has a few logical holes and technical issues to take some plot developments very seriously. While the gory nastiness is mostly well handled, it is the other effects, in some areas, where the tackiness shows. There are some (un)pleasant surprises in the narrative, but overall it is not difficult to guess where the story would eventually head. The final twenty odd minutes come off as a wrap-up job with a deus ex machina coming into play along with usual climactic cliches. Another aspect that lets down is Franco Micalizzi's Italo disco like booming soundtrack that is totally wrong is some of the more tense sequences, thereby rendering them slightly damp.

Despite its problems, "The Curse" remains faithful to Lovecraft's story to a large extent. It is this story and the generous display of putrefaction that keep the film together and could please a gore hound, nevertheless. This reviewer had fond memories of watching the film at the age of 12, when procuring films on VHS was a task and the intricacies of the craft of filmmaking were overlooked in favour of a decent enough plot with a good dose of icky visuals. The film does not hold up as much now, upon a rewatch 20 years on though, but still qualifies as a decent pick for a weekend midnight screening of some good old B-Horror, with an additional point for nostalgic value.

Score: 7/10

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