Hello and welcome to a new addition to Popoptiq’s panoply of film related column and blog ideas. For as long as the website has been around, its staff and editors have always had proclivities towards genre cinema in all its finest and worst forms. As such, when the opportunity arose to review the newest home video releases of Scream Factory, the horror-thriller offshoot of independent label Shout Factory, the decision seemed obvious. Consider this a semi-regular review section at Popoptiq for the latest Scream Factory blu-rays.
Without further ado, let’s get to the very first review, a double-bill of The Curse and its sequel-in-name-only, Curse II: The Bite.
The packaging features the traditional Scream Factory reversible paper cover, although only one side features plot synopses. Quality images are printed on both sides, allowing owners to utilize whichever one they prefer to showcase their collection. One side features poster artwork for both films, whereas on the flip side can be found stills from each film with credits in small print at the bottom.
Both films are housed on a single disc sporting the logos of each picture in their original fonts. The disc itself is nestled in a standard Amaray blu-ray case. There is no cardboard slipcover for this release.
Following the Scream Factory introductory logo, viewers are presented to a still screen where they can choose their film.
The main features
Written by David Chaskin, adapted from the work of H.P. Lovecraft
Directed by David Keith
Adapted from the H.P. Lovecraft novel The Colour Out of Space, The Curse is considered by some to be a reasonably faithful adaptation of the famed author’s work. One of the credits sure to strike the viewer’s attention is Lucio Fulci’s, whose serves as executive producer as well as overseer of the visual effects featured throughout. On the flip side, one of the odder credits is the director’s, David Keith. Known mostly for his acting curriculum in such films as An Officer and a Gentleman, Firestarter and White of the Eye, Keith only directed two feature throughout his career, The Further Adventures of Tennessee Buck being his second and final foray into directing. He is an odd choice, to say the least, but on the other hand, he is supported not only by one of the godfathers of horror in Fulci, but a game, eclectic cast as well.
Set in a small Tennessee town, The Curse regales the ghastly tale of the Crane family, a local doctor, Allen Forbes (Cooper Huckabee), and a state health and safety inspector, Carl Willis (John Schneider, whom some will recognize from the famous Smallville television series). The Cranes are led by devoutly religious patriarch Nathan (Claude Atkins), whose command of the family farm and of the inner workings of the household go hand in hand with his unwavering faith in the man upstairs. His biological son Cyrus (Malcolm Danare) is an oaf, not much help around the estate, nor is he a good sibling towards the younger, adoptive brother Zack (Wil Wheaton, whose stardom rose after playing in Stand by Me in 1986). Frances Crane (Kathleen Jordon Gregory), Wil’s mother and Nathan’s new wife, begs Zack and little sister Alice (Amy Wheaton) to try to integrate themselves into the family unit, but the task is a tall one. Things go from bad to worse when, on a dark and stormy night, a meteor crashes into their plot. Everyone is stunned and amazed by the presence of this new, odd looking rock, which, shortly after its arrival, melts into a thick, gooey substance before seeping into the soil. When the crops suddenly go bad and the Cranes start to grow grotesque lesions on their faces, Zack and Alice’s troubles are only beginning to get worse.
The Curse is the archetypical 1980s lower budget horror movie. It gets by with some impressive visuals, the very sort that, to the eyes of many a modern viewer, probably won’t come across as very accomplished, as well as some oddly memorable performances that hammer home the story’s very unsubtle themes. It is often argued that the best horror films are frequently allegories for a variety of big ideas. Said ideas are boiled down to their bare essentials for relatively easy consumption and filtered through scares for the masses. None of that changes the fact that those ideas are in fact percolating amidst the shocks and gore.
In the case of The Curse, one of the more prominent notions accentuated is the continuous tug of war between secular modernity and religiously tinged traditionalism. The filmmakers never shy from depicting Nathan Crane as anything more than a backwards, close-mined old timer that refuses outside help if said help runs the risk of destabilizing the current familial structure that puts patriarchy and the fear of god at the forefront of the decision making. When the family’s crops grow faster than ever before but end up oozing out strange goo or, even worse, serve as hives for maggots, pleas for help fall on deaf ears. Dr. Allen Forbes and state mandated inspector Carl Willis have the knowledge to inform the family as to what they should do to survive, yet their attempts at saving the town are staunchly rejected. Pride, devotion, and a bull-headedness against outsiders prevents Nathan from ever accepting assistance, which of course only worsens his family’s plight.
It makes the film more potent than some might expect, given how their survival is at arms length, yet Zack and Alice are barred from embracing any hope. In that sense The Curse has a very confining feel to it, claustrophobic even. Claude Atkins, while not exactly a figure of terror, delivers a strong performance, injecting his role with the sort of annoying gusto that makes him wonderfully easy to hate. In fact, a lot of the actors in the film are doing the very best they can with roles that fall within the confines of the genre’s tropes. Malcolm Danare is unbelievably think-headed and brutish as Cyrus, Kathleen Jordon Gregory is as sweet as she us sad as the doomed wife who knows marrying into the family, while it awarded them a new home in times of trouble, might very well be the end of them as well. Young Wil Wheaton is competent as the film’s protagonist of sorts.
What horror hounds will really appreciate is the accomplished special effects, from the gross makeup to the stomach churning surprises found the food the Crane’s grow. Bringing Lucio Fulci on as a consultant clearly paid handsome dividends as far as the shock and awe potential is concerned. When keeping in mind that this is a modestly budgeted film from almost 30 years ago, the effects are really pretty great. The sludge that emanates from the meteor is appropriately discomforting to watch ooze down into the ground, the tumour-like lesions are repulsive, and a few other surprises that shan’t be spoiled here might take a few viewers aback.
The Curse, while very simply told, is a reasonably effective chiller.
Written by Frederico Prosperi and Susan Zelouf
Directed by Frederico Prosperi
In what feels like a bizarre but real trend of the era, Curse II: The Bite, is a sequel only insofar as its title refers to the original film. None of the characters make a return, nor are the writers or director the same either. In fact, other than the title, the only link between the two pictures is that both involve the monstrous transformation of one or several characters. For all intents and purposes, it is a classic case of a studio piggy-backing off of the name of a previously successful film.
Lisa and Clark (Jill Schoelen and J. Eddie Peck, respectively) are travelling by van from the east coast to Los Angeles for what they hope will be a pleasant future together. Young love is a beautiful thing, except when one drives along a long Texas road crawling with nuclear-infected snakes. When Clark is bitten by one that snuck into their vehicle, they immediately get help from salesman doctor-wannabee Harry Morton (Jamie Farr, who deserves to be in better movies), who injects Clark with a serum (yes, that actually happens. No, Jamie Farr’s character is not a doctor, only an amateur). Unfortunately for Clark, the antidote proves anything but, as he slowly but surely loses his humanity, both physically and mentally. Before poor Lisa can do anything about it, Clark begins acting violently. And then there’s that strange thing growing out of his hand…
Whereas the original Curse picture is a relatively amusing diversion, fit for a comfy night in front of the television for anyone looking for easy entertainment of the horror variety, The Bite is decidedly the lesser of the duo, and by an uncomfortable margin at that. Granted, the first film’s script was not necessarily air tight material, but that for this second film is utterly preposterous. Jamie Farr’s character is complete nonsense to the point that the entire plot’s raison d’être is all the worse given that he plays a crucial role in getting the ball rolling. Farr himself is not the issue. The man is a real charismatic actor, a trooper that does his utmost regardless of the material he is tasked to work with. Unfortunately, the material here is terrible. Jill Schoelen, whom some might recognize from the underrated Phantom of the Opera movie co-starring Robert Englund, is not a bad actress by any means, but she struggles to handle equally pedestrian dialogue, to say nothing of some rather odd character turns, such as when she erupts into a fury after Clark’s first violent outburst, saying that she isn’t in love with him, that she won’t devout herself to him after only a few weeks. Fair enough, but then why move across the country with the chap in the first place?….
Were the direction able to lift the film up from the doldrums, even a little, things might not be so bad. Sadly, Frederico Prosperi (whose filmography is extremely limited) is incapable of injecting the proceedings with much energy, making the fact that this is a very, very small film feel even more strapped than it otherwise could have come across as. There are fleeting moments when the filmmaking has some good ideas, such as one scene involving a mutated dog, but most of the time Prosperi and company pull off the classic, slow-motion cutaway trick to hide their limited means. In fairness, The Bite reserves the entirety of its budget for a solid final 5 minutes when the doomed Clark bites the dust and transforms into a monster-snake and slithers after Lisa in a muddy construction site. That sequence delivers on its promise, the problem being that the viewer has to watch about 90 minutes of poor filmmaking to get there.
Video and Sound Quality
Much like with the quality of the films themselves, there is a stark distinction between the video quality of each presentation. Both are presented in 1080p high definition and in 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratios, although reaped from completely different sources. The Curse has a predominantly clean look to it, with colours that pop when they should and a delightful appreciation for the wonderfully detailed foliage of the Tennessee countryside. There are instances of pops and dirt on the print, but it is important to keep in mind that Scream Factory is always very careful in choosing which films to provide full collector’s edition treatment to (they aren’t the Criterion Collection). This not being one such example, a few little specks here and there are to be expected. In any event, they don’t hurt the presentation very much.
Curse II: The Bite is another story however. Before the film begins, Scream Factory smartly has a disclaimer appear on a black background explaining that they had to rely on the one film print MGM could provide them with. This goes a long, long way to explaining to dubious quality of the image, which looks frightfully pale, the colours practically bleached out most of the time. Debris is a consistent issue. Fans dying to pick this one up on blu-ray should probably temper their expectations to the fullest.
While the discrepancies pertaining to the audio tracks are not as pronounced, here again there is a discernable difference in quality. The Curse has a fuller, more robust track (relatively speaking) whereas Curse II: The Bite, suffers, once again, from issues derived from the source material. Granted, the movie sounds better than it looks, although this is certainly not the most impressive audio track on a Scream Factory release.
This is a very simple release, as there are not supplements to speak of.
There are unquestionably fans out there that will gladly pick up this release. This is what Scream Factory does after all. Sometimes they splash in a brilliant top notch special editions, other times they offer relatively simple discs with 1080p presentations of lesser known movies. The Curse/Curse II: The Bite package falls into the latter category. What’s more, the very quality of the two films is quite uneven, but then again, this sort of stuff has its fanbase. For those unfamiliar with these pictures, proceed with caution, mostly with regards to the sequel. One’s appreciation will certainly depend on one’s mileage for stunningly low budget fair, from the effects to the actual directorial choices.