Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 30, 2020)
Not content to offer a look at movies that simply encountered difficult shoots, the documentary series Cursed Films takes a different approach. It discusses flicks with productions that suffered from genuinely horrific events.
This 2020 series ran on the Shudder VOD service and covers five troubled classics. Here are the movies we find and the interview subjects involved with each episode:
Poltergeist: Blumhouse VP of Development Ryan Turek, film critic April Wolfe, podcaster Matt Gourley, Fangoria editor-in-chief Phil Nobile, Jr., Money, Murder and Dominick Dunne author Robert Hofler, Poltergeist III director Gary Sherman, 7 Laws of Magical Thinking author Matthew Hutson, Skeptics Society founder Michael Shermer, horror fan Sean Clark, and special makeup effects artist Craig Reardon.
The Omen: Gourley, Nobile, Hutson, professors of religious studies Tony Burke, Doug Cowan and Hector Avalos, director Richard Donner,executive producer Mace Neufeld, black magicians EA Koetting Nate Bales, witch Michael Correll, Occult America author Mitch Horowitz, psychology professor Clay Routledge, andFluke: The Math and Myth of Coincidence author Joe Mazur.
The Exorcist: Horowitz, Nobile, Wolfe, Avalos, Cowan, journalist Matt Miller, actors Linda Blair and Eileen Dietz, radiologist Barton Lane, exorcist Vincent Bauhaus, and MOMA associate curator Sarah Graff.
The Crow: Turek, Nobile, producer Jeff Most, The Crow: The Story Behind the Film author Bridget Baiss, film programmer Colin Geddes, special makeup effects artist Lance Anderson, actor Michael Berryman and special effects technician Stefano Beninati.
Twilight Zone: The Movie: Wolfe, Turek, Nobile, film critic Stephen Farber, production designer Richard Sawyer, stuntman Kane Hodder, Troma Entertainment founder Lloyd Kaufman, and MAXFX special effects supervisor Max MacDonald.
Normally when I discuss a TV series, I review each episode as it goes. In the case of Cursed, I eschewed this practice, mainly because the various programs prove less individual than one might expect.
Given that each episode covers a different film, I anticipated that they essentially stood alone. While Cursed linked all five by its theme, I didn’t anticipate a greater connection than that.
Indeed, if one chooses to view each episode on its own, that definitely works. One doesn’t need to take in all five as a whole for the programs to make sense.
However, writer/director Jay Cheel treats the five shows more as a thematic journey than I expected. This becomes a strength by the end, though it can feel like a weakness at the start.
This occurs because the first few episodes seem oddly credulous. Not that Cheel treats the “curses” as explicitly real, but he appears to lend more credence to them than one would anticipate.
As such, the first few shows left me frustrated. I expected episodes about the nature of the incidents that led to the “cursed” accusations, not silly explorations of phony “exorcists” and “witches”.
These first episodes tend toward too much “both sides” material, whereby it lends too much credence to the mystical mumbo jumbo. That creates issues, as I think a concise exploration of the “curses” without these absurd elements works better.
We get that during the Crow and Twilight Zone shows, as those tie together the series. Rather than engage in supernatural theorizing, these focus on the practical aspects of what went wrong during the shoots.
Because of this, the final two episodes allow Cheel’s real perspective to emerge. We see that he views all the “curses” as simply tragic events with real world explanations.
As much as the first few episodes frustrated me in real time, when I’d seen the entire series, I better appreciated them and what Cheel wanted to do. While I didn’t like the emphasis on supernatural elements, these worked better for me when I saw the series as a whole.
I still think Cursed Films might be superior without the “both sides” elements, but after I’d seen the whole series, I minded them less. Overall this becomes a fairly compelling documentary, warts and all.