Anyone who has paid even the slightest bit of attention to the history of horror will be familiar with rumors that certain films were doomed from the start and/or struck by tragedy. Shudder, the wonderful horror streaming service, tackles these legends head-on in their brilliant new documentary series from director Jay Cheel, Cursed Films...
...The series takes an in-depth look at five films - The Exorcist, Poltergeist, The Omen, The Crow, and Twilight Zone: The Movie - each of which had enough accidents, deaths, and weird coincidences during production that one might believe they were in fact cursed.
If you have watched any of the previous docu-series that Shudder has been a part of (True Horror, Horror Noire) you will see a lot of familiar talking heads and be very prepared for how this is formatted. Each episode highlights one specific film and the varying components of its ill-fated reputation, including some of the more out-there ideas. Both sides are presented without ever giving a concrete verdict on whether the film was ever cursed at all. Since horror films are generally about pushing boundaries and moving the needle forward, it is no surprise that stigmas are often attached to them. The deep dive into the lore surrounding these films is what makes Cursed Films absolutely worthwhile. Journalists like Phil Nobile Jr (Fangoria) mostly set up the structure for each episode and then - depending on what exactly happened before, during or after the filming - varying experts weigh in on the theories which are presented.
Sometimes that structure falls a little short and if there is any complaint to be made about the series it is that it occasionally loses its way. This is particularly true in the episode about The Omen. There is way too much time focused on a “Black Magician” named E.A. Koetting, who’s repertoire consists of a book called “Become A Living God,” and such clever Youtube videos as “Evocation is for pussies, try POSSESSION instead.” At one point in the episode he calls a curse on a film set. It’s hilariously dumb, and I question why series creator/director Jay Cheel decided to spend so much time on that when The Omen director Richard Donner gives so much more insight in that same episode. Donner and a myriad of other guests add value to the conversation and could fill the minutes wasted by Koetting. This is a common grievance with documentaries since they require time to be filled and that time isn’t always used as best it could. Using this space properly might have taken the show into a league far above other docuseries.
It’s not my intention to rank the episodes in order, but I must say I found it fascinating that my favorite was the one centered on Poltergeist. It is personally my least favorite film out of the five, but, as many know, that series was met with a ton of misfortune that some could say warrant the label of cursed. It’s a captivating and disturbing story, as well as a blunt reminder that this life is temporary. I greatly enjoy the human emotions that are given from the episode’s guests, from sadness to utter anger. It’s refreshing and I did not expect for it to get as real as it does. The whole series ventures into territory that others wouldn’t and Shudder should be given accolades for this, even if all of the ventures don’t pay off as successfully as they do in the Poltergeist episode.
There is a lot to love about this series and some that would have been better left on the cutting room floor. Still, that is a minor complaint and this is a much-watch show.
Also, in case anyone is wondering, I won’t be learning how to be a living god.
Cursed Films debuts on Shudder April 2nd with its first episode on The Exorcist, and if you don’t have Shudder you can use promo code: SHUTIN for a free month of the streaming service.
Please stay inside and watch horror, it’s vital for the safety of everyone.
By Justin Drabek
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