Welcome to Ricci Rich, a brand new column here at That’s Not Current where we will be—you guessed it—deep diving into the filmography of actress Christina Ricci. Starting out as a child actor with some iconic roles right out of the gate—from Mermaids to The Addams Family to Casper—then making an apparently seamless transition into independent film as a teen with movies like Buffalo ’66 and The Opposite of Sex, her career spans the diversity and complexity of actors twice her age, and while similarities can definitely be found between roles, the variety of characters, stories and movies in general is truly astonishing.
We’re kicking off the column with a look back at a movie that is not one of Ricci’s most successful, nor most celebrated, but which still deserves more recognition than it gets. Her performance alone deserves a little more credit, and that’s saying something considering the movie actually featured a pretty stacked cast—with even more well-known actors left on the cutting room floor. Cursed has to have been one of the most troubled productions the actress ever worked on, if not the toughest, but you’d be hard pressed to find a hint of weight or exhaustion in her fun, charismatic and occasionally scenery-chewing performance.
Before we dive too far into the finished product and her performance in it, let’s explore the film’s development, because there’s a lot to take in. On paper, Cursed sounded like a surefire hit for Dimension at the time. The Scream franchise had been one of their biggest successes, easily. Even if the third had not been as big of a hit as the first two, there were major circumstances—mainly that it had to be completely rewritten almost on the fly—that factored into that. Wes Craven directed that sequel from a script by Ehren Kruger, meaning that Kevin Williamson did not get to complete the trilogy he had originally planned. Even if it wasn’t Scream, Cursed was still a brand-new feature from the dream team that had reignited the studio slasher. Dimension seemed eager to pair them up again to do what they had always done.
Craven and Williamson, however, had already been there and done that and wanted this collaboration to be different, and that’s where things started getting muddy very early on. Dimension wanted something with the same tone and style as the Scream movies, but Craven and Williamson wanted to make a werewolf siege feature instead of rehashing things that they had already done before. Christina Ricci and Jesse Eisenberg were among the first to be cast for this combination creature feature/siege movie set in a horror-themed wax museum. They also pulled together a cast that included Judy Greer, Corey Feldman and Skeet Ulrich. The producers were not fans of the ending, felt that it just fell apart and didn’t work at all.
So they did that. And they showed it again. This time, changing the ending caused major narrative problems and more re-shoots were needed. From there, things just snowballed. I’ve never even heard a production story quite like this. It almost sounds like experimental filmmaking in the way it turned out. In essence, it was almost like filming every individual draft of a script. What would normally be edited out on the page was this time reshaped entirely during the shooting itself. Yes, re-shoots are common, yes they do often make significant changes to the story.
But not like this.
For example, much of the plot hinges on the two main characters, both of whom are siblings attacked by a werewolf early on in the movie. Of course, you might notice that there’s nothing even remotely similar in appearance between Ricci and Eisenberg and they could not look less related. You’d think it’s almost like they didn’t even try. But it’s actually because they weren’t related the entire first time that they shot it. The core relationship between the two leads, which is addressed in every single scene they share together, did not exist until re-shoots. That’s astounding. More than that, two of the major characters from the first shoot wound up never making it into the movie at all: Corey Feldman and Skeet Ulrich. Portia De Rossi, Michael Rosenbaum and Joshua Jackson, on the other hand, all joined the production during re-shoots, and are some of the most important characters in the movie.
According to Ricci, the whole movie took a little over two years to film, with almost no breaks, making it a longer schedule than doing a full season of a primetime TV drama.
With a genuinely insane production, it’s amazing that the finished film is even half as fun as it is, because it is a whole lot of fun. It’s a combination of quirky humor, borderline superhero flick, unabashed monster movie, Hollywood commentary, a certain plot point directly lifted from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the winking meta humor that had made Scream so successful. These elements don’t always gel together, but given the backstory, that’s hardly surprising.
Ricci herself is great in it, giving a casually vulnerable performance that’s subtly flipped as she becomes more and more in touch with her animal side as the werewolf’s bite begins to take effect. She’s the perfect casting choice for a film like this because she can play the average Hollywood production assistant while also being able to pull off the wolfish weirdness that is almost more her wheelhouse. Her character, Ellie, is playing supportive sibling/parental figure to her younger brother, Jimmy. There’s no real clear explanation for what happened to their parents and refreshingly, there’s no big twist to reveal that a werewolf was behind it the whole time. This sibling relationship is the first big parallel Cursed shares with Buffy the Vampire Slayer as it heavily echoes that of Buffy and her sister, Dawn, who are left alone after their mother’s death.
Ellie is also dating Jake Taylor, who sounds like a dreamboat from a John Hughes film, but is only Joshua Jackson. Every girl she runs into seems to be an ex letting her know that he’s, well, a bit of an animal. These puns happen every time a woman talks about Jake and they’re without a doubt the movie’s worst repeated joke, especially since they seem to be there for the purpose of a bait-and-switch, making Jake so obviously a werewolf that he couldn’t actually be one—which is not, in fact, the case.
One of the most prevalent themes in Cursed is that of predatory masculinity. By and large, nearly all the men in the film are predatory in some form or another, be they werewolf or not. Jake, for example, is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He’s very sweet, very sensitive and tries to say what Ellie wants to hear, which is off-set by the continuous revelations of how many women he’s slept with in what appears to be the very recent past. Michael Rosenbaum plays a co-worker of Ellie’s who is always casually hitting on her, Scott Baio makes a pass at her, and then there’s Milo Ventimiglia’s Bo, who is on the other end of the spectrum serving almost as an inversion of Jake.
While Jake pretends to be much nicer and gentler to hide his inner beast, Bo really does the opposite. He’s the typical alpha male, a bully who picks on Jimmie relentlessly for being weaker, for not being as overtly, stereotypically masculine as just about any other male character in the movie. At first glance, he’s the most predatory out of any of these characters but it is, as it turns out, a front. He’s a sheep in wolf’s clothing. Bo is gay and deeply insecure about it, so he’s projecting it and directing a lot of that toward Jimmie. As soon as the veil is lifted and the truth is out, Bo actually turns out to be a pretty great guy.
This is a plot point almost jarringly lifted from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Already similar in tone to Buffy from the get-go (especially in the SoCal speak , genre-bending and the fact that it features as much if not more research-fu) Cursed takes a major cue from that show’s second season episode “Phases.” That episode also revolved around a werewolf, along with the characters doing whatever they can to solve the mystery of who the werewolf is, just as they do here. Xander is tormented by alpha male Larry and believes Larry to be a prime candidate for the werewolf. When he confronts him about it, Larry comes out to him in a scene that doubles down on parallels between lycanthropy and teenage sexuality. While Jimmie does not suspect Bo of being a werewolf, just about everything else in that scene from “Phases” is abundantly present in Cursed.
Interestingly enough, though, the first major werewolf reveal isn’t male at all, which is kind of a clever inversion of everywhere the story seemed to be taking us. Judy Greer is as much an out-of-left field choice for killer as Laurie Metcalf in Scream 2 and just as much campy fun to watch. Even once Jake is revealed to be the werewolf responsible for biting our heroes, he only makes Greer’s Joanie a more interesting character, as she’s defined by this predatory masculinity because she’s a victim of it. Like Ellie and Jimmie, she didn’t want to be bitten, she didn’t want to be a werewolf and she doesn’t want to share anything with Jake, this is simply the situation she’s found herself in. With the characters Ellie largely interacts with, lycanthropy looks to mostly be a metaphor for sexually-transmitted-disease.
The film provides a dual interpretation of werewolves, one seen very differently through the eyes of its two protagonists and one that more than anything speaks to their respective age groups. Where Ellie is concerned, and for the characters she largely interacts with, lycanthropy represents the necessary caution of being a sexually active adult. It’s literally being transmitted between sexual partners who are clearly not open about their condition. Ellie’s scenes of gradual transformation reflect this, too. While Jimmie confronts the changes his body is going through with excitement in a teenage power fantasy wrestling match, Ellie confronts her changes with fear and anxiety in the confines of a bathroom stall.
The reason things are so different for Jimmie, though, come down to the fact lycanthropy through his eyes isn’t reflected as active sexuality by any stretch, but rather burgeoning sexuality. It’s puberty. Physically, yes, he’s changing but he’s also gaining skill, confidence, and as evidenced by the wrestling match, he’s turning into something a little similar to the guys who tormented him for being weak. Joanie and Bo are two very different antagonists for Ellie and Jimmie, respectively, because they perfectly represent what lycanthropy means to those two characters. Bo doesn’t even need to be a werewolf to perfectly embody this sentiment of transformation as a way of discovering and embracing one’s own sexuality.
Ultimately, yes, Cursed is not the best effort from Ricci, Craven or really anyone else involved. But it’s a very fun film with some great Rick Baker FX between the shoddy CG, a sense of wit and style and a little more to say than one would probably assume going in. More than that, Christina Ricci is truly at the top of her game, embracing a silly concept with a knowing smirk and shining above a grueling production to deliver the only thing this feature can truly promise to be: a good time.