Horror has long been a worthy genre, but it’s lately been getting it’s analytical due. Streaming site Shudder has created excellent original documentaries, History of Horror and Horror Noire. The streak continues with five bite-sized episodes of Cursed Films. The series reexamines some of our more infamous pop culture memories about horror movies. With its relaxed structure and casual style, Cursed Films has the feel of sitting around and chatting with old friends.
Jay Cheel (writer and director) Andrew Nicolas, McCann Smith, Laura Perlmutter (executive producers)
Does the series prove that these movies are “cursed”? I’m going to say for the most part no. The Omen had some freaky coincidences, but the majority of the disasters on the sets were caused by deliberate harm or negligence. Many of these films were made in heyday of the auteur, were directors could be egotistical assholes for the sake of art. As a result people were injured or killed. This is particularly the point of the episodes covering The Exorcist and infamously of all, Twilight Zone: The Movie.
True believers might not like that the series spends so much time debunking these myths, but I think it’s overdue. A theme of Cursed Films is that stories have power, and that power can do harm. Cursed Films does confirm certain urban legends. A real life murderer did appear in The Exorcist. And yes, human skeletons were used in Poltergeist. (However, the use of human remains in films is older and more common than you think.) We also get a step by step demonstration of how the prop gun was able to fire and kill Brandon Lee on The Crow.
The first episode covering The Exorcist is worth watching for Linda Blair’s interview alone. She holds no punches talking about the abuse done to her and Ellen Burstyn on the set. No demon caused their pain, just director William Friedkin hurting them to get the “right” reaction. Blair later discusses how the studio pushed publicity to hype the terror and cursed nature of the film to help its popularity. By doing so, people wondered if Blair was really possessed, believing her to be evil and sending death threats. This was an experience she continues to be justifiably angry about today.
I will say that while the series is more positive than negative, Twilight Zone: The Movie paints a deservedly bad portrait of director John Landis. This episode feels more like true crime than a horror retrospective. Ultimately this is the story I believe needed to be told most. The helicopter crash that killed three actors (two of whom were children working illegally) was not any one person’s fault, but Cursed Films argues that much of the blame falls on Landis’ shoulders. A title card at the end states he did not reply to the filmmakers’ request for comments.
And as a fair warning to all viewers, the episode does show footage of the accident that killed Vic Morrow, Myca Dinh Lee, and Renee Shin-Yi Chen. While it is not explicit about how they died or their bodies, it’s very unsettling to know you watched three people, including two children, die.
Cursed Films are tiny love letters to the horror genre and some of its most famous films. Appearances and commentary from icons Blair, Kane Hodder, and Michael Berryman will be interesting for fans. Since we continue to live in the time of social distancing and quarantine, the series is a perfect addition to your watch list. No episode lasts longer a half hour, making it a low commitment to marathon or something to put on during a lunch break. There are no duds among the episodes, and my personal favorites were The Exorcist and The Crow. If you’re a fan of horror, mysteries, or true crime, Cursed Films is for you.