The Curse (1987)
WRITER: David Chaskin
DIRECTOR: David Keith
STARRING: Wil Wheaton as Zack
Claude Akins as Nathan
Malcolm Danare as Cyrus
Cooper Huckabee as Forbes
John Schneider as Willis
Amy Wheaton as Alice
Steve Carlisle as Davidson
Kathleen Jordan Gregory as Frances
QUICK CUT: A young farmboy living with a cruel, religious father wishes he could escape into the stars aboard the Enterprise. Instead, the stars come to him and makes Zack long for the days when his stepfather just backhanded him daily.
Zack Gardner - The aforementioned young farmboy who spends most of the movie getting smacked around by damned near everyone. He's a bit wimpy, but he's your general sympathetic, downtrodden protagonist.
Nathan Hayes - The man who married Zack's mother to help save the family when Zack's father had an untimely death. He's a good man, but has the typical religious failings, and is a little too into the good book, and definitely follows the idea of sparing the rod will spoil the child. Will he reap what he sows?
THE GUTS: The Curse actually starts out strong, with a mysterious beginning that gets you to start wondering what's going on, as police rush into some house so they can arrest Bo Duke, who's tossing tvs through his windows for no good reason.
Gotta love the South. Only there would some guy come out to watch the episode of Cops being filmed, and has his own handgun at the ready. And aimed at the sky.
Bo comes along pretty quietly, despite the tv tossing, but as they drive off with him, he's ranting about something being in the water. His protestations get louder with each house they pass, and seeing people frolicking in the water from their hoses on a nice, summer day.
Just as I expect him to bash his head through the rear window of the cop car from him repeatedly beating his welt-covered face against it, the movie decides to jump back in time six months to tell us how we got here.
The opening credits play out establishing a farm in the middle of Tennessee, and set the tone pretty well. Nothing special here, nothing out of the ordinary, pretty typical farmland, but there's a haunting quality to the music, despite its own calmness. It looks like any scene outside your car window as you drive through the nation's heartland. You immediately know something's wrong, though.
Granted, the movie is called The Curse, and I'm reviewing it, so of course something is wrong.
We jump right in to meet the main focus of our movie, which is not Bo Duke. The Gardner and Hayes families on their farm, joined together after Nathan Hayes married the mother of Alice and Zack to help them out, and help himself.
The daughter Alice gets sent out to get her brothers for lunch, and one of the first shots of the movie is someone shovelling up a giant pile of cow shit. Is it good for a movie's first impression on people to be a giant pile of shit?
The brothers are pretty much exactly as you'd expect. One is quiet and introverted, and constantly being tormented by the bigger, brother. Ahh, the classic brotherly archetype. The first act of Cyrus on Zack is to shove him into the cart full of cow shit. Establishing characters 101, ladies and germs.
Zack gets angry and tries to attack his brother, but that lasts about as long a new scifi show on FOX, and Cyrus puts him in his place, only stopping when their father hurries over at the sounds of commotion.
Tubby tries to say Zack just slipped, and Zack says it's a 'goddamned lie' and all he gets for his troubles is a smack across the face from his father for taking the Lord's name in vain. Geeze, he's covered in cow shit, cut the kid a break. Then again, this is the boy who would be Wesley.
His father says to treat each other as brothers, and I dunno, sure looked like a typical sibling squabble to me. Zack blurts out that Cyrus isn't his brother, nor is Nathan his father. All he gets for that is even more back of the hand, before he's sent off to get cleaned up.
No surprises that over breakfast, there's a very lengthy grace that gets said. We briefly meet a farmhand at the table as well as the family, and there's a very interesting glance from the matriarch to one of the farm hands. It's almost subtle enough to miss as her eyes are closed for grace when the camera passes behind his head.
Frances goes to help someone who wants to buy some fruit from their roadside stand, but instead the guy gets accosted by their dogs. The man, Davidson, is looking to buy the farm as well as some apples to help them out on hard times. Buying the farm to help them out, not the apples.
There's a bunch of quiet, character moments as the night closes in, but most notably between Zach and his mother, as we learn that Nathan is his stepfather, and Frances tries to defend the guy, and I guess he's a good man, but the backhanding has to stop. It's one of those 'he means well' sort of situations.
When Frances' advances on her new husband are rebuffed for being ungodly, she looks longingly out the window at the farmhand's shack, and is soon out there seeking better comfort in his arms. Once Nathan is asleep, of course.
The wind picks up during the night, awakening Nathan who sees his bed is empty. I'm surprised they actually share a bed, considering. Zack also wakes up to see a strangely coloured orb crashing down from out of space. And like any good kid knows, you immediately should run out and check that shit out, radiation be damned.
Nathan also comes outside to investigate, and finds his wife not exactly in the act, but coming out of the farmhand's shack. He may be a redneck, but Nathan isn't stupid. Prepare to be backhanded!
Zack discovers the find of a lifetime, a giant ostrich egg that will keep the family in scrambled eggs for years. Or a meteorite. Probably that last one. He rushes off to the nearest doctor as the rest of his family finds the egg. Probably to make sure he isn't sterile now.
The doctor checks out the orb and says it should be mostly ok and not too harmful. And while that's brilliant advice on an unidentified object from an unqualified man, he's at least smart enough to back up and say they should wait for the experts to be on the safe side.
As a brief aside, this movie has entirely too much shirtless Wheaton.
The guy looking to buy the farm stops by the doctor's the next day, and in an admittedly hilarious scene takes the doctor away from a patient he's checking up on. The patient is hacking and coughing the entire time never speaking, and even answers questions with coughs, but says it's ok for the doctor to talk to the guy for a bit.
Whatever deal Davidson and the doc has going with all this land, he doesn't want to call in the EPA to check out the egg, since that could sour the deal. He'd be much happier to let the doctor, check it out instead. How is this a better plan?
So the doc does just that and checks it out, saying the rock is probably mostly carbon dioxide, and I'd mock him saying a rock is made up of gas, but I'm sure someone would come by with proof that there are plenty of rocks like that in space. He starts poking at the egg with a chisel, and eventually strikes oil as he punctures it and yolk comes spewing out.
This is probably the point where everything goes wrong.
The doctor is at least smart enough to admit he doesn't know what he's looking for, and has no idea if anything is even wrong with it. Yes, it's often advisable to go jabbing holes in things you don't understand. He's at least able to tell it isn't radioactive, but beyond that he's clueless.
Zack sees the orb glowing in the distance again that night, and he goes out to watch the object melt away and soak into the ground.
The next day, the doc comes by to try and sell them a story that the orb is actually the contents of a holding tank from a jet lavatory that got loose as it flew overhead, and froze on the way down. This is the height of humour to Cyrus and his dad, and even Alice starts to laugh at the absurdity, but Zack doesn't buy it for a second. Is this Donnie Darko all of a sudden?
There's then a lengthy montage of water in various usages over the farm, from watering the crops, to feeding the animals, and filling the well. If not for the opening concerns from the start of the movie, this scene might be a little strange, but knowing the dangers of the water, it actually works to instill some sense of dread. Not a lot, but I guess it's trying.
Speaking of the start of the movie, Willis Duke finally arrives from the future, with a cute scene of him trying to navigate the dirt roads of Tennessee, and driving behind a tractor right through a field. Turns out he's from the Tennessee Valley Authority, and probably most interested in the giant space rock melting into the groundwater. Or will be when he hears about it.
As Willis gets a room at the inn, Frances picks some fresh vegetables from the garden, but while they look pretty big on the outside, once she cuts open a head of lettuce, it oozes forth a fetid, brown ooze, not unlike what came out of the orb the doctor punctured. Hmm, what could be going on?
She's disgusted by what she finds inside, but not disgusted enough to leave the tomatoes be. So she tries slicing into one of those as well. Now, the cutting board is still covered in icky sludge from the lettuce, despite trying to clean it off, so I wouldn't eat one of those tomatoes even if it was the best looking tomato ever. Didn't anyone ever teach her about cross contamination in the kitchen?
Of course, even the tomatoes are wrong so that's a moot point, as she slices into one and it gushes forth red liquid that looks a lot like blood.
Davidson meets with Willis and gets in close with him, as his master plan seems to involve getting rich off the government looking to put in a reservoir here and....ohhh yeah. That would be bad now, wouldn't it? Especially if Nathan's farm is part of it. Anyways, Davidson gets his new friend out of the company car and starts showing him around in his own manipulative way, particularly to keep him away from the Gardners.
Later that night, Zack sneaks over to the doctor's place as he and his wife are about to play some bedroom games, and Zack fills up his canteen. He's obviously already concerned about the water from his own farm. We've been given no reason why he would be, so he must be a pretty sharp cracker to pick up on the thing melting into the ground going into the water. Giving him some reason to be suspicious, some visible cue might have been nice, but I can roll with this, well enough.
Over dinner, the Gardner's are having some pretty nasty looking chickens, and Nathan fills up the family's glasses with water, but Zack stops him, saying it tastes funny. His sister agrees, but their parents insist, saying they won't leave the table until they eat and drink everything. So much for the canteen.
Nathan is very pleased with the new crops, since they're coming in big, bright, and strong. All good things for a farmer looking to sell his crops. And I'll admit, they do look mighty tasty. Even if they are fertilised with evil space water.
While Nathan is admiring his crops, Cyrus is getting attacked by a crazed horse, and unable to escape. And ew, he's still wearing the same football jersey that's too small. That thing has to need a good washing by now. Zach holds up the barbed wire fence so his stepbrother can crawl underneath and escape, but just as Cyrus is underneath, Zach lets go so he gets a little bit of revenge for the shit incident. It's a funny scene, and I can't say I blame him.
Cyrus gets a little medical attention from Frances, who is developing a gigantic welt on her face, and taking her time with the boy's wounds. We finally see she's been playing connect the dots with the iodine, and is starting to seem pretty out of it.
Alice goes out to feed the chickens, who are acting weird, and Davidson comes by to try and convince Nathan to sell the farm again.
But the farm is having a bumper crop of apples, and Nathan has no plans to sell right now, since he's going to be rolling in money. Or so he thinks.
Nathan sends Davidson on his way, but gives him a complimentary apple for his troubles. Davidson bites into it and immediately knows something is wrong, as he starts to spit out what looks like Russian dressing. When he looks at the apple, it is filled with worms.
Nathan cuts open apple after apple, all filled with worms. They get distracted by the screams of Alice, who is being attacked by the chickens. It's Blood Freak! Run, hide from turkey headed Herschel and the moralising!
*cough* Anyways, the doc checks Alice out and she'll be ok, but he wants to know what's up with the chickens. Just the chickens, Doc? Nathan brushes it off, and does the same for the horse when Zack brings it up. The doc is about to drink some water but can instantly tell something isn't right with it and leaves.
Later that night, the family is going about their routines, and Frances is looking even worse, and rambling even more, as she's darning socks. To her hand. Ouch. She goes a bit crazy as the family tries to stop her, and they drag her up to bed, with Nathan preaching at her from the bible the whole time.
Zack again rushes to his home away from home to get the doctor, but Nathan once again brushes it off, and outright lies about what happened, saying that there was no incident. Nathan says she's just a little under the weather, and Zack overreacted. The doc tries to go see her anyways, but Nathan insists, and he leaves.
All this gets Zack is two more backhands to the face for his troubles.
The doctor stops by the well on his way out of the farm, and needless to say, the well isn't acting right. Like, smoke coming off the water. Unless you're the Gulf of Mexico and you're trying to burn off a little BP oil, your water supply should not include 'strike match and get away.'
The smoke dissipates immediately when the doctor puts his hand near it like it's trying to hide, and he takes a sample. At least someone has a brain here.
Willis finally finds his way to the Gardner farm, but no one seems to be there. He sneaks inside and starts to pour himself a glass of water, but he gets bum rushed by a crazed Frances with a knife. Willis's life is only barely saved by Nathan stopping his wife from carving him up like a Thanksgiving Herschel.
An hour into the film, and the family breakfasts have taken a turn for the worse. Mother is losing it, her welts are getting worse and more numerous, Cyrus is starting to present now, and the food is getting increasingly disgusting. Not to mention they're starting to dispense with utensils and just eat with their hands. Alice has also gone completely missing since her attack. It's a nice, stark contrast from the start of the movie.
Zack is instructed to take an omelet up to his sister, but he takes a stop by the bathroom and dumps it in the toilet whole. Probably a wise move. But that's just gonna clog up the pipes, people.
Even the cows are beginning to present symptoms, with giant sores all over their bodies, and some of them openly oozing. I hesitate to even call some of them sores, and instead they look like someone just took a chunk of cow out of their side. That's more of a wound.
And it gets grosser. One of the wounds begins to ooze and crack open, revealing worms, spiders, and other creatures infesting the inside of the cow, which then explode maggots all over Nathan. Yeah, that's probably a bad sign when your cows just start exploding vermin.
Nathan is convinced this is punishment from God, and even links the strange happenings to the prophecy of the star Wormwood falling from the sky, out of the Book of Revelation, which makes a good deal of sense. He's a religious man, a glowing rock fell from the sky, and infested the water. It tracks.
He does all his religious rambling while his tied-up wife, looking even worse if that's possible, struggles against her bonds and eventually escapes. Nathan doesn't even make a move to stop her. I don't even know if he notices, he's so deep into his religious zeal.
Zack hears a commotion and goes to investigate, finding a smashed pitcher of water, and his newly deformed mother. She attacks her son with a poker, until Nathan comes downstairs and she focuses her rage on him. You know, Nate, if you'd kept her tied up, this wouldn't be a problem.
Nathan carries his crazed, mumbling wife down to the storm cellar and tosses her in. You get the impression this is something he's wanted to do for some time, especially as he calls her an adultress when he walks away.
While Zack tries to get help from the doctor AGAIN, he's actually out of town trying to get the results of the water sample test, and it seems there is an unknown element that is altering the molecules of the water. Since cell phones have yet to be invented, he leaves a message at the inn for Willis to meet him, but he's nowhere around to get it.
Davidson runs into the doc's wife and recruits her to try and persuade Nathan and Frances to sell, but all they encounter is the dogs that troubled him at the start of the movie. Now, they're supposed to be affected by the Wormwood Water like everyone and everything else, but they just look like regular dogs. Not even the overdubbed growling can make them look at all menacing as they cluelessly stare at the camera and pant. They were more menacing at the start of the film.
Even when they give chase of the doctor's wife, they look more like they're frollicking than fierce. Anyways, Davidson takes the distraction and leaves her to be mauled to death, or probably just licked, while he ducks into the cellar. Ahh, chivalry.
The place is dark, and I mean really dark. Most movies use fake darkness, or still have it pretty lit up, but all the farmhouse gets is the barest of accent lights that catch the brim of Davidson's hat. It's a refreshing change to see that happen. He tries lighting a match, and a little light comes up, almost like they're in a stage play and someone turned some lights up for the scene. It's an admittedly nice effect, and not one done much these days.
We catch occasional glimpses of the now truly far gone Frances lurking nearby when he strikes the matches, but then she's gone the next moment. It's a nicely underplayed moment that could have so easily been a jump scare with the wrong sort of noise or music. Instead they just play it straight without going for a big jump. I'm sure it still got one, and didn't need the help, which is the right way to do it. Another underused trick these days.
Frances finally attacks by lightly tapping Davidson's neck, and she somehow comes away with a large chunk of throat. Not the best editing job there, lingering too long when she touches his neck.
Zack comes home and is given some stew for his sister, and it looks more like dog food. Sure, the people deep in the throes of the changes are too far gone to notice or care about such things, and probably crave the Wormwood, but how anyone before that point could look at such a plate and decide that yes, that does look mighty appetizing and nothing wrong at all, just baffles me. It's not like there was a subtle shift. It was food is fine, then holy shit there's worms in everything! Let's eat?
Ok, I tried to give them points for the use of darkness earlier, but once Zack goes to see his mother and it's still dark, and then comes back to the house and again there's no lights, I'm beginning to question if maybe their lighting budget dried up at some point and they have to rely on the sun.
It's probably just so they can have their fun with dramatic reveals of how far Nathan has transformed, but really. After they've pulled that trick a few times it goes from a cool use of light and shadow to just an overused gimmick. It works once, maybe twice, and then you start to question why no one hits a light switch. Someone had a good idea for some cool imagery, but then it became their only trick. Bad form.
Nathan discovers Zack has been sneaking real water, and wouldn't you know it, he tries to attack the boy some more. I can't tell if this is his normal attacks, or caused by the Wormwood. If you weren't a fan of Wesley on The Next Generation, this movie is so for you. The kid is the target of so many beatings.
Alice also encounters her transformed family when Cyrus comes by to say hello. The movie is trying to say something about good and bad people with the transformations, but its message never quite gels, as you'll notice the people that are going unchanged are the sympathetic members of the family.
Cyrus picks up the girl and tosses her around, onto the bed, and it really is her, not a dummy. There may be moments of a stunt kid, but we do see her face. His face is horrible, and he's spewing bile, and considering the age of the kid, I wonder how real her screams of terror are as she's being hefted over his head?
Zack actually manages to save the day and uses a baseball bat to give Cyrus his long-deserved beating, while Nathan boards up the doors and windows. Just as much to keep people in as to keep others out.
The doc shows up and breaks into the house immediately, making the boards and locks pretty pointless. The floorboards are smoking, and the ceilling is crumbling overhead. I question him not noticing the house not built to code.
His rescue attempt goes the way of Groundskeeper Willy when Nathan clobbers him on the shoulder with a hammer and knocks the doctor out. How the hell that worked, I'm not even going to ask.
Zack tries to escape but Nathan stops him and throws him atop the doctor, and right into a puddle of blood. That was one hell of a hammer blow. Nathan's about to stab Zack, when Willis arrives from nowhere and stabs Nathan instead, with his own pitchfork. Does that qualify as dramatic irony?
And for some reason, stabbing Nathan makes the television explode in blood and glass. Seriously. A tv exploding in a burst of red goo.
The laws of physics take a holiday as the house begins to fall apart, almost literally, and they hurry to get Zach's sister and escape. While they go about it, more jars explode for no apparent reason, the house begins to tilt and sink, the boards along the walls come loose and curl up somehow, the wallpaper comes undone and curls up like attacking tendrils towards the ceiling. Gravity be damned!
As if that wasn't bad enough, doors come flying off their hinges of their own accord as Zack passes by, like they're on a Starfleet spaceship.
Cyrus has one last attack left in him as he retrieves the baseball bat used on him earlier, and goes after Zack. His retaliation is short lived as he plunges off the second floor landing down to the living room where his head cracks open like an egg on the floor. That would qualify as epic fail. It was almost pointless to even revive him.
Willis escapes with Alice, leaving Zack behind to find his mother. Outside at last, we see even the trees are against this movie, as one uproots itself in a desperate attempt to escape but forgot that trees can't fit in cars, so all it does is crush Willis' vehicle.
Zack looks around the attic for his mother, and finds what is left of her; a gooey, skeletal thing that can still manage to look at him somehow, but is rapidly melting away into a puddle of space sludge. Since he doesn't have a bucket, Zack finally gives up hope of saving Frances.
The house continues to literally fall apart around Zack's ears, and when the stairs go, he leaps off down to the first floor, landing right next to his step-brother. In a hilarious bit of editing, the shot cuts outside just as he lands, and we see the house jolt and collapse some more. As if the sheer weight of a 98 pound Wil Wheaton is enough to collapse the place. In fairness, the house is about as rickety as the script.
Despite having a head wound that is dripping blood and brain matter, Cyrus is still able to grab onto Zack for a few moments. On top of that, Nathan shambles in with the pitchfoork still rammed through his gut, ready to smack the Lord into Zack. Die already!
Zack gets behind the crazed farmer and manages to use the pitchfork handle out his back to manuever his ersatz father into the path of a falling support beam. Considering what I've just seen, I'm not convinced that would stop him.
With the kids safely out of the house, the model has the decency to finally collapse in upon itself, and sparing us from any more torment, and the movie ends.
No no, wishful thinking. Rather than being merciful, we jump ahead to January 29th, just after Willis was carted away by the cops at the start of the movie. In fact, the news report is just replaying the start of the movie. This is very meta, and could be my own personal hell, version #3. Willis watches himself on the news from his hospital bed, and listens to the vague reassurances that everything is now ok, and the water has been decontaminated, but he doesn't buy it.
Do we really need this scene? We know how things went from the start of the movie, we don't need this lame rehashing. And to top it off, why is he all bandaged up?
Deciding it just can't end yet, we go back to the farm and see the hole left behind glowing like the fiery pits of hell themselves, and cracking open the land around it to spread even further. So much for decontaminated.
And with that thrilling thought of the spreading wormwater, the movie finally, really ends.
Video: This is a surprisingly good looking movie. It doesn't have that cheap, shot on video that a lot of horror movies in the 80s have. It's got good colour, pretty sharp, and everything looks rather filmic. Which isn't to say the effects aren't frequently laughable, but at least they look well-shot.
Audio: A good stereo mix, as would have been the standard back then. A remastering in full surround would have been interesting, especially as the house collapses, but otherwise unnecessary.
Best Line: "Do you sing?" "No, do you?" Between Davidson and Willis as they're driving around inspecting possible reservoir locations, and Willis mocking Davidson's complete lack of singing ability as he rocks out to his bad self.
First Kill: 1:10 in, when Frances taps out Davidson's throat.
Best Death: With a surprising lack of carnage, the best deah has to be Frances. Because being a skeletal thing that stares at you as it melts into goo is cool.
Blood Type: A- The movie's got quite a bit of blood here and there, as well as some gore of a non bloody variety, and just plain disgusting stuff. What it lacks in blood, it makes up for in ooze and maggots.
Sex Appeal: The most unclothed person in this movie is Wheaton, and that just makes me cringe. The doctor's wife has a few moments in a nighty, but that doesn't scrub the sight of Wil in his underwear from my brain.
Movie Rating: This movie just isn't very good. It's a little too slow, a little too straightforward, with nothing terribly clever to recommend it. It wants to show you the descent of a family, and does just that. I could have done without the really freaky makeup on people. Just keep it to sores and oozing stuff, no need to make them look demonic. That would have been more effective, I think. The acting was pretty solid. Claude Akins, especially. And Wheaton isn't half bad, for this being early in his career. The movie is terribly forgettable, and on the boring side, with huge plot holes. You would think with things like Willis's testimony or whatever, and the water sample showing something unexplained, the reservoir would have never gone forward, but no, the water must flow. This one gets a two out of five worm-filled apples.
Entertainment Rating: It's got some fun kills, an interesting story, but they botch the execution, and it moves too slow and is just too boring to be that entertaining. It's biggest draw is watching Wil Wheaton get smacked. A lot. I'll give it three out of five exploding cows.