If an independent genre title was a success on home video during the late ‘80s/early ‘90s, it was virtually guaranteed that you would see more films bearing that title as long as the market permitted it. That said, home video sequels were allowed to play things in a more fast-and-loose style than their big screen counterparts. Sometimes, the sequels would have nothing to do with each other besides using the same marketable title. Look no further than the series of Curse horror films from the end of the 80’s. There were four of them and each one had a different cast, director and storyline.
Curse II: The Bite is perhaps the most interesting and unusual of this unofficial trilogy. Originally just titled The Bite, it was retitled for its home video release because the first, H.P. Lovecraft-derived Curse did well on the VHS circuit.
That said, Curse II’s story ditches any trace of Lovecraft in favor of a really weird atomic monster tale. Clark (J. Eddie Peck) is traveling through the desert with his sweetheart Lisa (Jill Schoelen) when he decides to take a shortcut. He passes through a military atomic testing site that is full of irridiated snakes and gets bitten by one. A traveling salesman (Jamie Farr!) tries to help and a gruff sheriff (Bo Svenson) begins to chase the romantic duo but Clark is experiencing a mutation that’s going to result in a lot of dead bodies before the credits roll.
First things first: Curse II: The Bite is more strange than it is good. It was made by Italian filmmakers — credited director “Fred Goodwin” is actually Federico Prosperi — and has a fascinatingly odd cast of character actors seemingly chosen at random. The tone veers all over the map, from horror to tragic romance to low-road comedy.
It’s populated with odd supporting characters: for instance, Farr’s character is an ex-Brooklynite traveling salesman who is also a self-taught expert on snakes (?) and the third act features a family of immigrant evangelical Christians who sound just like Tim Conway’s “Mr. Tudball” character from The Carol Burnett Show. The pacing is similarly erratic, with an oddly episodic mix of subplots spiced up by occasional scare setpieces.
However, the results are eccentric enough to be compelling even when Curse II: The Bite fails to work in conventional terms. Scream queen Schoelen is saddled with the most irritating character she ever played but the genial presence of Farr makes up for it and Svenson does his “menacing cracker” schtick with cool effectiveness (oddly, he wears a band-aid on his nose throughout the film). Peck gives his all as the mutating hero and is aided immensely by some show-stopping makeup FX by Screaming Mad George: the final scenes involve some prosthetic weirdness that evokes the 1982 version of The Thing. Prosperi gives the proceedings an offhand sense of style that is aided nicely by crisp ‘scope-format lensing by Roberto D’Ettorre Piazzoli.
In short, Curse II: The Bite is more interesting as an oddity than it is as a horror film — but collectors of celluloid oddities will find plenty of intriguing quirks tucked away in this non-sequel sequel.
Blu-Ray Notes: This title was recently released by Scream Factory as part of a double-feature blu-ray with the original The Curse. A title card before the main attraction warns that the transfer was taken from a film print that was the only available source but the results look pretty good nonetheless. The lossless mono soundtrack is free of distortion or defects. There are no extras but as stated above, you do get this film’s predecessor on the same disc.