From writer and director Jay Cheel and a Shudder original series, Cursed Films is a five-part documentary series which explores the myths and legends behind some of Hollywood’s notoriously cursed horror film productions, including The Exorcist, The Omen, Poltergeist, The Crow, and Twilight Zone: The Movie. From plane accidents and bombings, the rumoured use of human skeletons on sets, to stunts going tragically wrong, these stories are legendary amongst film fans and filmmakers alike. But where does the truth lie?
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From the controversy surrounding The Exorcist, a series of unfortunate events that plagued the cast and crew during the making of The Omen, a series of untimely deaths connected to the making of the Poltergeist films, the death of Brandon Lee due to an on-set accident during the making of The Crow, to a horrific on-set accident during the production of Twilight Zone: The Movie, these are all probably things you have made a swift internet search on after viewing the films.
The Exorcist, The Omen, and Poltergeist, especially, are legendary for their spooky tales, which have almost become folklore because of how their historic stories have spread online. But these films were made before the days of social media, memes, and constant “fake news”, when rumours of a haunted set and an evil curse would have much more easily spread fear. Now that everything is on the internet for all to see forever, sometimes the curse of a film is about something more real than ghosts and witches.
It is this concept that Cursed Films explores, investigating what exactly occurred on these famously cursed sets and examining how they could be explained, but also discussing the effect of living in a world where evidence remains permanent.
Cursed Films is definitely a documentary for film fans, whether that be of the horror genre or not. However, the series does assume that its audience is familiar with the rumours and unpleasant notions surrounding the films. Sure, if you’re on Shudder, you should have heard of these classic horrors. Personally, I had already read up on the first four films at the time of watching them, so I did know a lot about them already. Still, the documentary provides so much insight into the films and each episode remains incredibly interesting.
I didn’t know anything about Twilight Zone: The Movie, though, so it wasn’t until the end of the episode, when we get to see the chilling footage itself, that I found out what incident those involved were reflecting on. I may have gone into this episode less aware of what was being discussed but, at the same time, the revelation came as a huge shock in the end because of that. It definitely leaves the series on a blunt note with how it makes you feel, but moreso because of how it alters your thought process.
This episode wasn’t about a cursed film in the same way as the other four episodes were, more about how a tragic accident on set can curse its crew because of how it can destroy their future careers. At first, I told myself that I would never watch another John Landis film again. After all, he greenlit a dangerous stunt which led to the death of three people. But just like every other episode, this final one presents enough information on both sides for the audience to make their own decision.
Every episode sees Cheel speak with as many cast and crew members as he can, as well as general fans and critics of the film and people who have interests in things like curses and the supernatural. The first three episodes have a balance of conversations with sceptics of curses and the paranormal to show how the events could all just be coincidences, but also with dark magicians and witches who explain how a curse could have worked. In the final episode, the consequences speak for themselves and, of course, I still think that Landis has some responsibility for what happened. But the episode also interviews a stuntman who explains that accidents can easily happen and that you cannot fully be in control of stunts. It really does offer up some thought-provoking approaches.
At only 30 minutes each, the short run-times makes for a quick and easy viewing, but each episode still manages to be filled with so much information, exploring its subject film at great length. I thoroughly recommend giving this series a watch, and hope to see more episodes in the future.
You can watch the series with a 7-day free trial on Shudder by signing up here (and at the minute you can try 30 days for free with promo code SHUTIN).