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  • Writer's pictureGabe Powers

The Curse/Curse II: The Bite Double-Feature Blu-ray Review (originally published 2016)

In 1987, actor David Keith (not to be confused with actor Keith David) was given a chance to direct a mid-budget horror movie for Italian B-movie super-producer Ovidio G. Assonitis. Loosely based on one of H.P Lovecraft’s pulpiest stories The Colour Out of Space (originally published in 1927), The Curse was successful enough that Assonitis used the title to sell a completely unrelated movie, Frederico Prosperi’s The Bite (1989), which was retitled Curse II in North American territories. Later, the title was used again by MGM to sell Sean Barton’s Panga (aka: Curse III: Blood Sacrifice, 1991) and David Schmoeller’s Catacombs (aka: Curse IV: The Ultimate Sacrifice, 1988) on North American home video.

The Curse

Young Zach Hayes' (Wil Wheaton) life on the family dairy farm is what anyone would expect: hard work, long hours, and the normal family squabbles. When an ice-blue meteor plunges through the midnight sky, Zach sees it land on their property. Zach and the local doctor discover that something inside the meteor is infecting the local water on their farm. Fruits, which appear perfect on the outside, are teeming with worms… and Zach's family is beginning to change…hideously. (From Scream Factory’s official synopsis)

The Curse is awfully close to being a good movie and has enough going for it to overlook the fact that it’s, well, sort of boring. As an actor himself, Keith’s attention is focused largely on his cast. This leads to an eclectic collection of mix & match performances that don’t always fit together, but instead create a collage of weirdness that neatly illustrates the oppressive tone of the situation; in which sci-fi horror overlaps with a much more mundane ethical/familial nightmare. Even the unfunny, cornball mugging sort of works, which is a given, based on the escalating insanity of the situation. Unfortunately, the pacing is pretty rocky as David Chaskin’s script attempts to stretch Lovecraft’s patently vague short story to feature length. The subplot involving an unscrupulous dope who tries to convince the family to sell their land to the government is especially stifling. Still, while The Curse fails in terms of intriguing characters and plotlines, it succeeds with genuinely revolting (though not particularly gory) imagery. This is where Assonitis’ influence comes into the equation and where the behind-the-scenes story gets interesting, because, according to many accounts, the Italian crew members took over many of the technical responsibilities. Keith’s name might be the one on the tin, but there’s no mistaking the influences of cinematographer Roberto Forges Davanzati (credited as Robert D. Forges, who served as camera operator on Dario Argento’s Four Flies on Grey Velvet, 1971, and Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust, 1980), Assonitis himself (who had taken over directing duties on Beyond the Door, 1974, and Tentacles, 1977), and none other than Lucio Fulci, who is credited as ‘associate producer’ (under the name Louis Fulci), but was apparently a second unit director.

Note that this is the full version of The Curse. Early VHS versions cut part of the final sequence.

The Curse was released by MGM as a double-feature with The Bite. It was anamorphically enhanced, but misframed at 1.78:1. Scream Factory hasn’t supplied specs for this 1080p Blu-ray debut, but, given the appropriate 2.35:1 framing and vast improvement in detail, this seems to be a completely new scan. Though head-room is sometimes a bit tight, there is enough additional info on the right and left to verify that Scream hasn’t merely matted the 1.78:1 version. While minor print damage does effect some of the reels (usually in the form of little blue dots), the overall image is quite clean, including tight shapes, complex wide-angle textures, and soft gradations. I don’t see any real signs of DNR usage, but squeezing two films onto only one disc seems to have caused some compression, because there is low level noise and minor halo issues throughout. Still, stuff like the excessive smoke effects and heavy darkness don’t mess with the overriding clarity. Colors are rich, diverse, and consistent, though perhaps a tad flat, despite Davanzati’s dynamic lighting and the deep black levels.

The original stereo soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. This is largely a dialogue and music-driven track, but the sci-fi trappings offer plenty of chances for stereo-enhanced shenanigans. The crash landing of the meteor at the end of the first act is particularly lively as are the subsequent gross-out sequences. Dialogue is clean and blends nicely, despite the lack of a discrete center channel. Assonitis regular Franco Micalizzi’s (credited as Frank Micalizzi, Beyond the Door, The Visitor) dread-soaked, western-gothic-meets-’80s-electronic score is among the film’s greatest highlights as well as the uncompressed track’s finest assets.

Curse II: The Bite

Two young lovers, Clark (J. Eddie Peck) and Lisa (Jill Schoelen), traveling through the desert unwittingly pass through an abandoned nuclear test-site, which has become a breeding ground for deadly mutant killer snakes and, when Clark is bitten, he undergoes a grotesque transformation into a hideous snake monster! (From Scream Factory’s official synopsis)

Curse II: The Bite is a vastly underrated B-monster movie and a personal favorite of mine. Unfairly dismissed by many viewers as a slow and silly, late-in-the-game cash-in on the transmorphing special effects craze of the early ‘80s (set forth by movies, like John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London and John Carpenter’s The Thing), Frederico Prosperi’s film is a tasty, last-gasp sampling of post-’80s Italian horror. The industry didn’t survive too far beyond the decade and most of the films produced, including Claudio Fragasso’s Beyond Darkness (1990) and Umberto Lenzi’s Ghosthouse (1988), were awkward revamps of popular Hollywood horror. The Bite vainly attempted to disguise its Italian roots (Prosperi is credited as Fred Goodwin), but the filmmakers brought a definitively flashy, Italio-American flavor to a more original storyline. It’s not entirely original, of course, but Prosperi (along with co-writer Susan Zelouf) apply their recycled monster and slasher movie cliches to the era with style and charm. There’s even an overstated spousal-abuse metaphor for the intellectuals in the house to chew on.

Of course, anyone will tell you that the real star here is Scream Mad George’s (aka: Joji Tani) funky and icky special effects designs. The Bite was produced the same year as the effects artist’s ‘coming out party’ in Brian Yuzna’s Society (1989), so it has been somewhat swept under the rug, but I assure all fans of ‘the shunting’ that Mr. SMG brings the surrealistic and nasty goods. The snake-barfing climax is worth the price of admission on its own. And, unlike The Curse (not to mention most late ‘80s/early ‘90s Italian horror movies), The Bite isn’t boring between its icky moments. The two leads are a likable couple that are easy to root for (right up to their Fly-inspired finale), the supporting cast is appropriately quirky, and the narrative moves quickly (despite some stiff transitions). In addition, the mandatory unnecessary subplot – in which a self-serving traveling businessman (played by Jamie Farr) teams up with semi truckers to track the couple down – not to help them, but to save himself from a possible lawsuit – is a fun little movie all on its own.

The Blu-ray box art has an R-rating that seemingly applies to both films, but, according to my admittedly fuzzy memories of the R-rated VHS, this is the unrated version of The Bite, including all of the super-slo-mo throat-fistings, jaw rippings, and mutant dog attacks that were deemed too gross by the MPAA.

As mentioned, The Bite was part of a double-feature DVD with The Curse. It was a drastically re-framed 1.33:1 pan & scan release, so fans were forced to import a 2.35:1 anamorphic version from Germany. Scream Factory appears to have gone to the same source for this uncut, 2.35:1, 1080p transfer, including the title screen, which reads simply The Bite in courier font. So, the good news is that we have the film on Blu-ray and a correctly framed version available in North America. The bad news is that Scream was limited to a printed film source. Like their Dog Soldiers (2002) release, The Bite has substantial gamma/contrast issues. The detail increase is nice, as are the tighter edges, but the blacks are deep and ‘pooly,’ leaving darker sequences obscured and subtle shadows crushed. This is especially problematic when it comes to the finer textures of those wacky, show-stopping effects. As a result, white levels are also regularly blown-out. In better news, the color quality is pretty accurate or it at least matches VHS and DVD versions. First-time viewers may find the persistent steely blues suspicious, but Prosperi and cinematographer Roberto D'Ettorre Piazzoli (who also shot Robert Martin Carroll’s Sonny Boy, 1989) were definitely trying to evoke the popular James Cameron aesthetic. Warmer hues, like natural browns, skin tones, and, of course, bright, ghoulish reds still appear sharp. Though the printed source thickens grain and creates some pulsing effects, there is little major print damage (besides a big tear around the 1:01:00 point).

Once again, the stereo soundtrack is presented in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. Its problems with the video do not apply here, as I assume that Scream Factory used a different source. I noticed a couple of brief dips/stretches in tone, specifically during the scenes that feature live music, but no major distortion or buzz. Dialogue is, again, pretty neatly centered, despite the missing center channel, though sound effects are pretty minimal – outside of the splats and squirts of gore/transformation scenes and a single storm sequence. Generally, the most elaborate special effects scenes are accompanied almost exclusively by Carlo Maria Cordio’s synthesizer score. Cordio isn’t up to Micalizzi’s standards, but his pokey keyboard work is clean with a nice bass throb.

The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Full-sized versions can (currently) only be accessed by right-clicking/ctrl-clicking the images and opening them in a new window/tab. Note that there will be some JPG compression.



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