Cursed Films is a must see for any horror fan

Cursed Films. Image Courtesy Shudder
Cursed Films. Image Courtesy Shudder /

The Shudder original series Cursed Films, a five-part documentary about infamously cursed horror films, is a must-see.

Premiering on April 2 and concluding on April 16, Cursed Films is a five-part docuseries released by Shudder that takes a detailed look into the histories of five much-beloved horror films that are believed to be cursed. There are many things that can attribute to such an idea. All it takes is a few accidents and some uncomfortable audience members and boom! You’ve got yourself a curse, but sometimes it’s more than that. Cursed Films shows the effects of publicity stunts and gossip columns, and in some cases, tragic events that people become desperate to rationalize.

What’s safer? Believing that Brandon Lee died from an ancient Chinese curse inflicted by the Chinese mafia? Or that his death was an accident because a film studio was too cheap to hire a prop weapon specialist? One of these two options is obviously more likely than the other, which means it can happen to almost anyone. Therefore, we look at the other option. The safer one.

Most of these curses are more famous than their movies and the series banks on that, but not without respect. Cursed Films has five episodes: The Exorcist, The Omen, Poltergeist, The Crow, and The Twilight Zone: The Movie.

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The Exorcist and The Omen

The first two episodes are hard to pin down with one simple description because the curses attached to either film are both larger than life, but also very unclear. Released in 1973, The Exorcist is based on the novel by William Peter Blatty and is about a young girl (Linda Blair) who becomes possessed by the demon Pazuzu. The film received critical acclaim as well as much unwanted attention.

There were rumors of audience members throwing up and fainting during showings, warnings against pregnant women seeing the film, and of children going insane after witnessing the traumatic event that befell Regan. It shocked audiences so badly that people talked themselves into believing it was cursed. A film so powerful it brought the belief of bad luck on to anyone who dared watch it.

The Exorcist. Image Courtesy Shudder
The Exorcist. Image Courtesy Shudder /

The same thing happened in 1976 with The Omen, a film about a young boy (Harvey Spencer Stephens) who is revealed to be the son of the Devil. A few mishaps made it seem like the production had a case of bad luck and when the movie was finally released, the rumors only got worse.

These two episodes quickly cross over into b******t territory. Director Jay Cheel just couldn’t resist a few flashy displays of dark magic. Witches, exorcists, priests, religious experts, and other occultists give interviews as they try to explain the paranormal side of these curses and most of it (I’m sorry to say) is laughable. A live exorcism is shown and a witch known as Uncle Birch performs an actual curse for the cameras. It’s probably the strangest thing I’ve ever seen in a documentary. It looks like an outtake from the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.

Poltergeist, The Crow, and The Twilight Zone

In the final three episodes, however, Cursed Films changes course and takes a more poignant stance on the probability of curses. The unexpected deaths of Heather O’Rourke, Dominique Dunne, Brandon Lee and all three victims of the Twilight Zone helicopter crash are recounted in great detail and with much sentiment. During this, it feels as if Cursed Films is no longer about curses but about careless regard for human life.

UNIVERSAL STUDIOS HOLLYWOOD — “Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights” (Photo by: Universal Studios Hollywood)
UNIVERSAL STUDIOS HOLLYWOOD — “Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights” (Photo by: Universal Studios Hollywood) /

When the conversation turns to O’Rourke or Lee, the atmosphere grows heavy. Directors Gary Sherman and Alex Proyas have tears in their eyes as they recall their memories of the deceased actors. The makeup artist for The Crow painfully describes the moment Lee died and the struggle he had with creating a mask meant to resemble him as they moved forward with filming.

However, it’s not until “Episode 5: The Twilight Zone” when these stories truly pierce your heart. It’s the perfect ending to the series, the final tragedy that’s caught on camera. The raw footage of the helicopter crash that killed actor Vic Morrow and two young children is shown in the episode and it sinks into your stomach like a wet stone. It’s nothing but pure anguish. Those who were there that day describe what they saw and some of them barely manage to finish their sentences, especially production designer Richard Sawyer.

The curses that surround these films are built on speculation, fear of the unknown, and the brain’s desire to seek out patterns. The tragedies connected to them are not the result of curses but rather feel like curses themselves. Despite being limited to a half-hour, there is a great deal of information given in each episode. Stories about how the films were developed as well as what went on behind the scenes are shared by directors, actors, and former crew members to develop a well-rounded picture of these brief glimpses into the past.

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The complete first season of Cursed Films is now streaming on Shudder.