Review by James Lindorf
The horror-centric streaming service Shudder scored a critical and financial success with last year’s “Horror Noire” and is looking for another hit with the upcoming “Cursed Films.” The five-part documentary series explores the myths and legends behind some of Hollywood’s notoriously cursed horror film productions. From injuries and fires on the set of “The Exorcist”, plane accidents, and bombings during the making of “The Omen,” to the rumored use of real human skeletons used in the making of “Poltergeist” could theme or production decisions put the cast and crew in danger? These stories have reached legendary status amongst film fans and filmmakers alike over that last 40 years. “Cursed Films” reveals the events that haunted these productions through interviews with experts, witnesses, as well as the casts, directors, and producers who lived through the real-life events. Where does the truth lie, is it just bad luck or something more supernatural? Shudder will release the first episode on April 2nd, and two more each on the 9th and 16th.
Shudder provided the second and third episodes of the series, which covers the Poltergeist trilogy and The Omen to the press. Each of the five episodes is about 30 minutes long, making for a very binge-able two and a half hours for fans who choose to wait a couple of weeks. “Cursed Films” was as close to a one-person production as you can get. All praise, or blame, will ultimately rest on the shoulders Jay Cheel, who was the writer, director, editor, and executive producer. Sometimes a single voice can produce great art; other times, the creators run wild with no one around to rein them in.
The episode on “Poltergeist” centers on what could have caused the film’s curse that is blamed for the death of two actresses, including Heather O’Rourke passing shortly after filming the third movie. Cheel looks at each film in the series and the impact of the cures on each production and cast. What could quickly feel like a recounting of the facts is imbued with tangible emotion when Gary Sherman, the director of “Poltergeist III,” takes his turn in front of the camera. You can see how distraught he was over Heather’s unexpected death and MGM’s insistence that he still prepare the film for its release date. It is easily the highlight of these two episodes
“The Omen” episode had its peak early in the episode when they discuss everything that when wrong from pre to post-production. While not as emotionally impactful as the previous episode, the sheer amount of violent accidents and near misses is attention-grabbing. While there are four films in the omen series, the curse has been confined to the first film. Making you wonder if the movie wasn’t cursed but a member of the cast or crew. Director Richard Donner gives an extended interview to share his opinion on what happened and what could have been the cause. With only one film to discuss, Cheel used half of the episode to explore what defines a curse and how black magic could be the root of all the trouble experienced on set.
Episode two on “Poltergeist” is the better of these two episodes because of the emotion and the amount of time it dedicates to the films. The overwhelming feeling while watching “Cursed Films” is that it was itself a film at one point. The episodes feel like a part of something larger and not a self-contained piece of work. The best way to watch the series may be by viewing all five episodes at once. Bingeing could allow the segments about black magic, or fans visiting sets to build on each other and feel less like filler. The remaining episodes on “The Exorcist,” “The Crow,” and “Twilight Zone: The Movie” have complex stories at their core that could easily fill an entire episode, if not a feature. If Cheel doesn’t strike a balance in those episodes with the extra material, it will make those moments in these episodes feel like a glaring mistake. There is a lot of room to grow, but even with this level of quality, it is a perfect way to pass a rainy spring day.
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