Cursed Films is a documentary series that runs on Shudder. Season One covers The Exorcist, The Omen, Poltergeist, The Crow and Twilight Zone: The Movie. Each episode is a 25-minute documentary segment on these allegedly “cursed” movies (the only one that people really speak of as being “cursed” in the sense of something supernatural is Poltergeist—the rest, not so much…)
The segments were very well made for the Shudder audience, although the episodes from the second season that I have seen (Stalker and The Wizard of Oz) are longer and go into more detail about the production, so I found these more interesting. The series features a range of horror and film experts, including some people from the rebooted Fangoria. Each story goes into the urban legends and strange happenings connected to the film concerned. Usually the actors and directors are not included, as it’s a fairly low-budget affair.
The episode on The Exorcist reveals that almost everything “weird” you’ve heard about the film was basically just PR. It’s the best movie featured in this season, but there’s no curse to be found—to their credit, they did manage to get Linda Blair to do an interview. There are so many docs out there on the film as well that there isn’t a lot left to be said about it, which leaves this episode as not the most interesting of the bunch.
The segment about The Omen, which was a total Exorcist rip-off, does include a director interview with Richard Donner. This episode plays on the whole idea that films about religion and Satanism invite dark forces onto the set. There were indeed accidents and illness, it was London in the 1970s so there was an IRA bombing nearby, and the plane flying in the actors was struck by lightning—all bad stuff, none of it connected to the material in the movie. There is a good scary story about how Lee Remick was terrorised by baboons in the animal park that features in The Omen, though.
Poltergeist is the topic of the most interesting episode, and there is some weight to the story. The actress Dominique Dunne, who played the sister, was murdered by her boyfriend, and 12-year-old star Heather O’Rourke died of a very disturbing illness near the end of production of the third film in the series. Here the “curse” story derives from the fact that they used real human skeletons in one of the first film’s final scene—not unlike other real skeletons that have appeared in films since the early years of cinema (or perhaps in the corner of your high-school science class). The Poltergeist house is reportedly some epicentre of strange activity, although people have been living there for years and no one has died. But what makes it the best episode is the testimony of the director of the third film, Gary Sherman, who discusses how he was forced to finish the movie after O’Rourke’s sudden passing. Of course the film wasn’t actually “cursed,” but there are some real tragedies connected to it, and these helped to build the legend of Poltergeist. The evil on show here is from the studio forcing production to continue.
The Crow is one of the most infamous productions in film history, because star Brandon Lee was shot and killed on set by an errant blank. This segment goes into the links between his death and the death of his father, Bruce Lee, including the fact that in the senior Lee’s final film his character is… killed on set. Since the Brandon Lee story has been done many times before, if this had been my project, I would have focused on the way The Crow has been “cursed”—various attempts to remake it with a different actor and various screenwriters have been tried, never with success until now, when allegedly the reboot has finally wrapped production.
Twilight Zone: The Movie can legitimately be called “cursed,” especially the segment directed by Jon Landis, “Back There.” Landis found a location to stand in for Vietnam and then quite shamefully broke child labour laws, and was completely irresponsible in his use of a helicopter, fire and water at 2:30 in the morning. The actor Vic Morrow and two child actors, who should not have been working at that hour, died in a horrific accident in what may be the worst incident to ever happen on a film set. One of the crew members is interviewed, but unsurprisingly Landis did not respond to an interview request. It’s a story that could actually be the topic of a feature-length documentary, but many of the people involved probably would not want to talk about it. If you don’t know the story, it’s definitely worth a watch. But no offense to good old Uncle Lloyd Kaufmann, there’s a whole bit with Kaufmann in drag talking about safety on the set of his current Troma film that cheapens a serious subject. He does have a great line in it, however: “If I hurt somebody while making a movie, I’ll stop making movies”—words any filmmaker should live by.
If you haven’t seen the Shudder series, this a nicely put together set for a good price. Each episode has a commentary from the director. Some of the stories you may have heard before, but it’s an entertaining two-and-a-half-hour binge watch with some fun and creepy stories, and others that are deadly serious.