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Respect, or die In Focus by Richard Crouse IN FOCUS May 29, 2009

drag_me_to_hell02In Drag Me to Hell director Sam (Spiderman) Raimi returns to his horror roots, reviving a dormant fright genre — the curse film.

There was a time on the big screen when old crones and evil wizards terrorized movie goers with spells, and I don’t mean the cute and cuddly curse of Shrek, I mean heavy hexes like the Maloika and Voodoo juju.

In 1996 a film based on a novel from Stephen King’s alter ego Richard Bachman called Thinner offered a supernatural alternative to Weight Watchers. The story centred on Billy Halleck (Robert John Burke), a sleazebag lawyer charged with vehicular manslaughter after running down an old woman.

The obese legal wiz beats the charge in court, but a far worse verdict awaits him outside the courtroom. Minutes after he is set free a 106-year-old gypsy named Tadzu Lemke (Michael Constantine) touches him, whispering the word “thinner” in his ear.

From then on, Halleck sheds pounds faster than you can say “Jenny Craig.” Using all his lawyerly skills of persuasion he convinces Lemke to lift the curse, but the resolution has tragic consequences for those around him.

A different kind of curse was unleashed in the 2003 Japanese J-Horror film Ju-on: The Grudge. The movie is only occasionally scary, but the idea of a curse, born of great violence, that continues to grow like a virus and visit terror on everyone who comes into contact with it, is undeniably creepy.

Probably the only curse film to be deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the United States National Film Registry is Walt Disney’s animated Beauty and the Beast. The story begins with an old beggar woman asking a handsome but spoiled prince for shelter against the bitter cold.

Repulsed by her appearance he refuses her request and payment of a rose. She warns the prince not to judge people by their appearances but he is unmoved. Unmoved, that is until she lays the kavorka on him, turning him into a hideous beast.

The curse, she says, can only be lifted if “he could learn to love another, and earn her love in return” by the time his twenty-first birthday came around and the last petal of woman’s enchanted rose fell to the ground.

Despite their differences in topic and setting these movies all boil down to one universal theme: Lack of respect has consequences. Think of that the next time a 106 year-old witch asks for a favour.

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