Originally planned for 2003, the film is a notable example of development hell, taking over two more years to be made than originally planned, during which producers Bob and Harvey Weinstein kept asking for re-shoots and changes to the plot, re-edited the movie to give a PG-13 rating rather than the original intended R-rating, and fired legendary make-up artist Rick Baker to replace the werewolves he had created with computer-generated ones. The film was a box-office failure and was panned by critics; Craven himself was very displeased with the final result.
On a seaside pier in Los Angeles, friends Jenny Tate and Becky Morton decide to get their fortune told by Zela. Zela foretells that they will suffer a horrible fate, but they don't believe her and walk away laughing.
That night, 16-year-old high-schooler Jimmy Myers is picked up on Mulholland Drive by his 24-year-old sister Ellie, who has just returned from visiting her boyfriend, Jake Taylor. Jimmy had a run-in with some bullies and his crush, Brooke. Driving home, Jimmy and Ellie collide with an animal and another car. They attempt to rescue the other driver, Becky Morton, but an unseen creature slashes the siblings before it drags Becky off and rips her in half. When interviewed by police, despite Jimmy's belief that it was a wolf or dog-type animal, the official report credits it to a bear or cougar.
Jimmy does research about wolves in California and starts to believe that the creature was a werewolf, sharing his thoughts with a disbelieving Ellie. Later, Ellie is surprised to find herself attracted to the smell of blood on a co-worker, but eases her concerns by touching a silver picture frame and not getting burned. Jimmy is becoming much stronger and more aggressive, as shown when a bully named Bo coerces him to join the wrestling team. He easily defeats three wrestlers, including Bo, and calls Bo out for constantly making gay jokes towards him, saying that Bo himself is repressing his own homosexuality.
At a party, Jenny runs into Joanie, who is paying attention to Jake. Jenny leaves the party, while Jake and Joanie leave as the full moon rises. Jenny is torn apart in a parking garage by a werewolf – Zela's predictions for both Jenny and Becky have come to pass.
Ellie starts to believe the werewolf hypothesis when she meets Zela, who warns about the effect the coming full moon will have. Jimmy proves they have been cursed when he holds a silver cake server and gets burned, discovering that the picture frame Ellie touched earlier was only stainless steel. Their dog, Zipper, bites Jimmy, tastes his blood, becomes a lycanthropoid monster, and goes on a rampage. Realizing what's happening, Jimmy goes to warn Ellie with Bo, who showed up at their house to confess that he is gay and has feelings for Jimmy; Bo is flatly rejected, but still helps Jimmy.
Ellie has deduced that Jake is a werewolf. He confirms it, but claims it wasn't he who attacked her and Jimmy. When a fourth werewolf attacks them, Bo and Jimmy try to help, but Bo is knocked out. The new werewolf turns back into Joanie, who was cursed after a one-night stand with Jake. She now wants revenge by killing all of the other girls Jake dates. When Jake refuses to let Joanie hurt Ellie, she knocks him out, then turns into werewolf form and starts attacking. Ellie and Jimmy fight her, and when the police arrive, the two draw her out by insulting her. The police open fire, apparently killing her in werewolf form, but she rises again as her head and heart are still connected. A policeman shoots her in the head, finally killing her. Bo is okay, but Jake has disappeared.
Jimmy and Ellie return to a wrecked home. As Jimmy works to restore the power, Jake arrives. He reveals that he did bite Ellie and Jimmy, and wants to kill Jimmy (due to his Alpha male instinct) and have Ellie live forever by his side. She and Jake fight, but her werewolf form emerges sporadically while he has complete control over his, dominating the fight. Werewolf Jimmy joins in, climbing across the ceiling and biting Jake, allowing Ellie to stab and badly injure Jake with a silver cake server. Ellie decapitates Jake with a shovel and breaks the curse on the two siblings (and Zipper). They watch as Jake's body bursts into flames.
Bo, Brooke and Zipper arrive at the house. Bo and Jimmy are now friends; Jimmy kisses Brooke and walks her home along with Bo. Ellie is stuck with the clean-up of the messy house.
The original script was written in August 2000. Dimension co-founder Bob Weinstein announced in October 2002 that Cursed would "reinvent the werewolf genre," and Wes Craven would direct with the movie being released around August 2003.
Christina Ricci, Skeet Ulrich and Jesse Eisenberg were cast as the three leads. The original plot line had three strangers brought together by a car accident in the Hollywood Hills and the subsequent attack of a werewolf. The three characters were named Ellie Hudson, Vince Winston, and Jimmy Myers. With a budget of $38 million, Cursed commenced shooting March 2003 in Los Angeles. The set used for the high school is Torrance High School, the same used for Sunnydale High on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and West Beverly High on Beverly Hills, 90210 and its spin-off 90210. Filming also occurred at Verdugo Hills High School. Special effects were shot in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
However, the film soon suffered numerous production and script issues and was postponed for over a year. While production was stalled, several cast members had to be replaced due to scheduling conflicts with other films. When the movie was re-written and re-shot, many cast members had been cut entirely, including Skeet Ulrich, Mandy Moore, Omar Epps, Illeana Douglas, Heather Langenkamp, Scott Foley, Robert Forster, and Corey Feldman. Some of them had even filmed scenes which were scrapped by director Wes Craven. In the film, Ellie works among the crew of The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn, with Kilborn making a cameo appearance and Scott Baio, as himself, being booked to appear on the show. But by the time the film was released in February 2005, Kilborn had left the show and had been replaced with Craig Ferguson.
Only about 90% of the original version was filmed, leaving the original scripted version unfilmed. Although, while filming the original version, producer Bob Weinstein told Wes Craven he was happy with the film, he later changed his opinion and ordered for the movie to be re-shot with a new plot. After massive re-shoots which included filming a newly written ending, Weinstein told Craven that he didn't like the new ending leading to another ending where Jake attacks Ellie and Jimmy in their home, despite some incoherence with the rest of the film.
Rick Baker did the werewolf effects for the original version of the film, but once Bob Weinstein and Miramax ordered re-shoots, all the scenes with Baker's effects were deleted and replaced by KNB.
In the fall of 2004, Dimension cut the film to a PG-13 rating instead of the planned R rating. Speaking to the New York Post, Wes Craven commented, "The contract called for us to make an R-rated film. We did. It was a very difficult process. Then it was basically taken away from us and cut to PG-13 and ruined. It was two years of very difficult work and almost 100 days of shooting of various versions. Then at the very end, it was chopped up and the studio thought they could make more with a PG-13 movie, and trashed it ... I thought it was completely disrespectful, and it hurt them too, and it was like they shot themselves in the foot with a shotgun."
Jenny's death scene in the elevator was originally much gorier, her dead body shown with her belly ripped apart, but not even the R-rated DVD version included this scene. A picture of her mutilated body was, however, shown in a Fangoria article published before the film's release covering the infamously troubled production.
In 2008, Wes Craven was quoted saying; "... the Cursed experience was so screwed up. I mean, that went on for two-and-a-half years of my life for a film that wasn't anything close to what it should have been. And another film that I was about to shoot having the plug pulled – Pulse – so it was like, I did learn from the Cursed experience not to do something for money. They said, 'We know you want to do another film, we'll pay you double.' And we were 10 days from shooting, and I said fine. But I ended up working two-and-a-half years for double my fee, but I could have done two-and-a-half movies, and done movies that were out there making money. In general, I think it's not worth it and part of the reason my phone hasn't rung is that that story is pretty well known."
In 2014, costar Judy Greer spoke of the film in an interview: "I don't know why that movie got so fucked up. I don't understand it. I thought the script was fine. Honest to god, I didn't get the big deal. I don't know who kept making them fuck with it. Then we shot the movie for, like, seven years. I think they said we had four movies worth of footage. It was so fun, but so weird. I don't get it. I couldn't figure it out."
The taglines include "What doesn't kill you can make you stronger", "Have you ever felt like you're not human anymore?" and "The Evolution of the Specie."
Several film posters were released, some for abroad, such as the Swedish poster with the tagline "Vem kan du lita på vif fullmåne?" ("Whom can you trust during the full Moon?"); the unrated version's poster has a red color palette, rather than the standard American. A second American poster gives the title as Wes Craven's Cursed with the tagline "Living comes at a price."
In the United States, the film was originally to be released as an R-rated film with graphic violent scenes. However, the studio wished to have a more marketable PG-13 rating, and the film was edited and released as a PG-13 film. In Canada, the uncut version of the film was released theatrically and received a 14A in Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario, a 14 in the Maritimes (after appeal) and a 13+ in Quebec. In British Columbia, the film was given an 18A and, after an unsuccessful appeal, the edited US version was submitted, 14A-rated, and released in British Columbia.
When released on DVD in the US on June 21, 2005, two versions were available: the original theatrical version (rated PG-13; 97 min.), and also an unrated version (99 min.) which contains the footage cut to obtain a PG-13 rating and runs approximately 2 minutes longer than the original release. The film received its Blu-ray release on September 11, 2012 in a double feature with another Wes Craven film They.
In Canada, Alliance Atlantis released the unrated (marketed as 'Uncensored') version only on DVD (as opposed to Dimension Home Video in the US) and the DVD cover was changed to match the original theatrical poster.
The film received largely negative reviews, earning a 16% approval rating among 94 surveyed critics on Rotten Tomatoes, which concluded, "A predictable plot and cheesy special effects make Cursed a less-than-scary experience." The San Francisco Chronicle wrote, "Cursed is a third-rate effort, with a weak script, cheap-looking effects and no genuine frights." Film Threat stated, "Not that it doesn't make movie history. Until this past Friday, the worst werewolf film ever made was, hairy hands down, Mike Nichols' Wolf. Cursed now assumes that dubious distinction and someone is going to have to try very hard to wrestle it away."
Rafe Telsch of Cinema Blend, granting the movie 2 out of 5 stars, felt that "Cursed isn't a bad film, and actually takes a unique approach to modern day genre movies by styling itself as an older one... The film is a fun little romp in the werewolf world, although Cursed never really sets any rules for the creatures themselves, leaving itself open to keep cute faces like Ricci's uncovered by makeup, but leaving the audience unsatisfied that there aren't really many werewolves in this werewolf movie."
Cursed opened theatrically on February 25, 2005, grossing $19,297,522 at the North American box office and $10,324,200 internationally for a total worldwide gross of $29,621,722 against a $38 million budget, making the film a box office bomb.