‘Cursed’ latest in PG-13 plagued horror flicks

Jon Dieringer

“Stand back, ratings board! I was in Monster!” Christina Ricci (with Jesse Eisenberg) stars in Wes Craven’s Cursed, the latest in a string of recent horror films whose content was cut to earn a PG-13 rating.

Credit: Beth Rankin

What’s the difference between Cannibal Holocaust and a Discovery Channel documentary?


And as studios remove it more and more from their films in order to get more commercially viable PG-13 ratings, the content is beginning to suffer.

The most recent horror film to fall under the axe is Dimension Films’ werewolf movie Cursed. Fans anticipated it as the comeback film of director Wes Craven, who hasn’t had a hit since helming the Scream trilogy.

For Cursed, Craven re-teamed with Scream scribe Kevin Williamson in hopes lightning might strike twice. However, the production became a long and troubled one, with Craven convincing the studio to let him recast and reshoot nearly half the film to create better special effects.

But after several screenings of an R-rated cut and with the film’s Feb. 25 release date quickly approaching, fans were hit with devastating news within the last month: The film had been re-cut in order to receive a PG-13 rating.

To gauge the horror geek reaction to any news, there is no better man to talk to than Johnny Butane, news editor of Dread Central, the premier Internet source for the latest gossip and news on all things horror.

In an e-mail interview, Butane said Dimension Films is “definitely the worst” at cutting their films for commerce over content. He says Dimension is notorious for buying horror films and being too picky about what to release in theaters.

“After years of [films] sitting on various shelves, they’re trying to get the most money back on their investment as possible. When that is your goal, immediately slashing out the all-important 13 – 16-year-olds is asking for problems.”

A recent example of a film that lost its effectiveness and coherence is Darkness, a Spanish production Dimension owns the American rights to. The film performed extremely well in Spain but was a critical and commercial disaster when released at the end of 2004 in America. The film was cut to receive a PG-13 rating, and crucial sequences had to be removed in order to achieve the rating.

But it might be unfair to fault only the studios for cutting their films. It could just as easily be argued it’s the filmmaker’s responsibility to protect his or her vision from studio intervention. When signing the deal to make a studio film, filmmakers should fight for creative control or be willing to accept the possible consequences.

Going the independent route, guerilla filmmakers like Jim Van Bebber and Troma’s Lloyd Kaufman have fought for their own financing and brought their vision to the screen — however few of them — uncensored.

And what about the Universal monster movies such as Frankenstein and Dracula, as well as other classics made during Production Code Hollywood?

A film like Georges Franju’s 1960 Eyes Without a Face is just as terrifying to modern audiences despite that it would easily fall into the PG-13 category if released today, even though it shows a mad doctor removing a woman’s face with a scalpel.

Like the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre (which has no on-screen bloodshed), it is a film that succeeds largely on its ambiance and the filmmaker’s ability to make the audience believe it has seen more than it has been shown.

Many of today’s filmmakers could use a lesson from the old masters, something with which Butane agrees.

“The problem is, a lot of filmmakers lack the style and nuance that was once the rule in Hollywood,” he said.

And if we look closer, the content and mythology of horror films has always been dictated by economics. What is there to explain the sudden appearance of Frankenstein Jr. in Son of Frankenstein other than Bride of Frankenstein’s success? Would Freddy and Jason be our generation’s un-killable boogeymen if their films didn’t make so much money?

Still, for those true believers among us who yearn to see lovers pinned to a bed with a sharp pole mid-coitus (a la Friday the 13th), such justifications offer little solace. Films intended to be rated R and shot accordingly should be seen that way, and to give movie goers anything less with a greater tax on their pockets is nothing short of robbery.

With that in mind, there is one fail-safe solution to keep studios from cutting their films — every dollar is a vote, and if people don’t spend money to see a film they object to, studios will get the message and stop trimming their films.

Unfortunately for Butane, that doesn’t always cut it.

“It’s a curse with most horror fans; we need to see every horror movie on the big screen.”

Contact pop arts reporter Jon Dieringer at [email protected].