‘Cursed Films’ explores horror film conspiracies

Nolan Fullington, Columnist

“Cursed Films” is a documentary/limited series now streaming exclusively on Shudder that examines the facts, myths, curses and mysteries surrounding iconic horror films and franchises whose casts and crews have been struck by sudden tragedy.

The films explored in this five-episode series include “The Exorcist,” “The Omen,” “Poltergeist,” “The Crow” and “The Twilight Zone: The Movie.”

This was quite a fascinating viewing because you go into this series with expectations. You know that some of these films are rumored to be “”cursed.””

You’re more than likely familiar with the tragedy of Brandon Lee on the set of “The Crow” and three deaths while filming “The Twilight Zone.” So you’re curious as to what angle this series will approach these urban legends from.

Thankfully, it was not done in the wacky “Ancient Aliens” way where facts are twisted into some convoluted theory or narrative.

Instead, this entire five-episode series takes a very balanced and clinical approach to presenting the information, but letting the audience draw whatever conclusions they may.

In that regard, the filmmaker, Jay Cheel, treads very cautiously while being respectful to those who tragically died in relation to the five films covered, but also did so in an informative and thoroughly thought-provoking way.

Of course, the series kicks off with one of the most famous “cursed” films, “The Exorcist” — one of the greatest horror films ever, but yet surrounded with the most conspiracy. However, as the episodes progress, you realize that each film presents less and less controversy in the “”cursed”” category.

“The Exorcist” and “The Omen” are probably the most thought-provoking yet scary to think about because both episodes dive very deep into the religious subtext and discuss the existence of greater powers and the possible presence of the devil.

However, with all of the conspiracy discussion with God and the devil, there is an equal balance of discussion devoted to playing down those “”cursed”” elements and attributing them to our psychological need as humans to make things connect and make sense in some way as we dislike coincidences.

It’s in our very nature to do so. Just look at how long people have bickered on about what the Bible’s true interpretation is.

The “Poltergeist” episode was slightly disappointing even though it may be because that is one of my favorite horror films. However, it was very brief and didn’t have a lot to discuss other than the use of real skeletons in the famous swimming pool scene.

A special effects artist from that film even went on a very angry tangent on how real skeletons have been used in movies since the dawn of cinema. So why criticize only “Poltergeist” because a few unfortunate deaths occurred after the film’s release? He found the idea of a “curse” to be an insult to the memory of Heather O’Rourke and Dominique Dunne.

The way the deceased were handled was actually a touching aspect of the series. The filmmaker was very respectful of them, but some people he interviewed did not hold back, such as Michael Berryman.

He criticized the producers for making up and embracing these “”curses”” just for the sake of publicity to make a film sell better. He finds it to be an insult to the people who tragically passed away.

However, there is the flip side of that argument that perhaps these people just make up the idea of a “”curse”” killing their loved ones because that’s their way of grieving and handling the death of someone they love.

But again, it’s a series that, overall, constantly presents a back and forth argument of what really might have happened to these people, but each episode leaves that conclusion to you. Is there really a curse? Or was it just a tragic accident? You’re left to decide that.

Something like “The Crow” and “The Twilight Zone” are very clearly not “”cursed.”” They’re obviously films that had very horrific accidents on set. Like Bruce Lee’s son, Brandon Lee, who was accidentally shot.

Everyone believed his death to be some curse on the Lee family and it all started with the mysterious death of Bruce Lee. But really, what happened to Brandon Lee was a tragic accident. Very similar to “The Twilight Zone.”

Though those two films have very little to do with a “”curse,”” I think they dive into something much more interesting which is the auteur control of the 70s and early 80s.

The other three films lightly touch on this, but “The Twilight Zone” episode discusses how filmmakers back then had too much control on set and that their “”method of madness”” was key for their film to be great, even if that meant putting the physical and psychological safety of someone at serious risk.

That discussion is carried over into modern horror films as well and why these “”curses”” or accidents don’t occur anymore. The series mainly points towards these five films of the past that taught Hollywood the utmost importance of safety on a film set. That is the first, second, third, fourth and fifth rule of any set nowadays because we’ve learned from the past and what a lack of safety results in.

I think “The Twilight Zone” episode makes some unnecessary jabs at John Landis. They really frame him as the person responsible for the horrific tragedy that happened on that set. He does share some of the blame, sure, but because the series as a whole was very open-ended, it especially felt as if fingers were being pointed at Landis.

There’s also an enlightening discussion over other films that aren’t horror films that had tragic accidents as well.

So why aren’t they deemed to be “”cursed?”” Michael Berryman very candidly expressed that it’s because the idea of a “”cursed”” horror film is appealing to the audience and gets butts in the seats.

He also directs his anger at Carolco films who took safety shortcuts, which led to the death of Brandon Lee. “The Exorcist” episode also does a decent job of breaking down the evolution of advertisement in horror films since “Psycho.”

This entire series was chilling, haunting, emotional and thought-provoking. If you love these kinds of behind-the-lens stories that Hollywood has tucked away in a closet, then you’ll probably enjoy this series.