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From his Bergman-as-grindhouse debut to his self-reflective B-pictures of more recent years, Wes Craven is at his best when adding some kind of commentary to the killin’. 1972’s The Last House on the Left, a film Roger Ebert called an “exploitation masterpiece,” was not only an ultraviolent adaptation of The Virgin Spring but also a critique of the United States’ involvement in Vietnam. And both 1994’s New Nightmare and 1996’s Scream were horror films about horror filmmaking itself. The new Cursed, the director’s reunion with Scream scribe Kevin Williamson, is clearly another Craven attempt at self-referential horror. Less clear, however, is whether there’s any meaning behind the meta. Cursed’s story, which was retooled at least once during the problem-plagued production, focuses on Los Angeles residents Ellie (Christina Ricci) and Jimmy (Jesse Eisenberg), recently orphaned siblings who are bitten by a werewolf on their way home from—what else?—a Hollywood-themed nightclub. Craven and Williamson populate the family-friendly flick with humorous references to both classic horror (a recurring statue of Lon Chaney Jr.’s Wolf Man) and modern-day showbiz (Ellie’s employment with the now-defunct Late Late Show With Craig Kilborn). These pop-cultural allusions make for some good guffaws—formerly inattentive boss Kilborn, in particular, milks Ricci’s post-bite animal magnetism for all its sexual worth—yet none of them rise to New Nightmare– or Scream– level critique. More interesting is the filmmakers’ attempt to equate the werewolf myth with viral infection: One of the film’s villainous lycanthropes notes that her condition is the result of a “hot night with a guy every girl wanted” and later adds that there’s “no such thing as safe sex with a werewolf.” In this era of anthrax attacks, computer viruses, and what might be a new, drug-resistant strain of AIDS, infection-themed films have yielded the most original and disturbing horror in recent memory (see 28 Days Later, The Ring, and even the underrated Cabin Fever). But Cursed’s predictable and uncomplicated conclusion—involving a supposedly sexy guy who turns out to be (surprise!) more toothy than toothsome—betrays a halfassed commitment to its metaphor. And sans subtext, Craven’s latest is nothing more a few new jokes propping up a tired old tale.—Brent Burton