Cursed Films - Series One (2020)

Director: Jay Cheel

Running Time: 138 Minutes

Certification: 15

A documentary series produced by Shudder, writer/director/editor Jay Cheel explores the alleged curses which affected the production of many notable films. Through talking heads from film-fans and filmmakers, this first series highlights the mythical lore often introduced to people before they watch the films they're built up around.

A terrific intersection is drawn between the power both horror cinema and curses have on people's minds. While the former can offer something therapeutic or comforting, through owning the symbol of one's prior fears or visiting a real-life location sighted in a beloved film, the latter can deliver a more unsettling power through imagination. This is effectively highlighted in a story of Yankee fans digging through two-feet of concrete to remove a Red Sox jersey that was put in cement during the stadium's construction.

The many near-misses experienced by cast & crew of The Omen raised the idea of it being cursed, including two planes carrying crew being hit by lightning and a bomb destroying a location the filmmakers planned to meet at. The film supposedly invited trouble due to its subject matter, while The Exorcist welcomed controversy to boost its profile. From Friedkin firing a gun on-set to a real-life murderer's cameo appearance, there's plenty of stories which contribute to the film's legacy.

Despite these films having many interesting stories, their episodes share the same issue regarding how unfocused and padded out they feel. Real-life witches and an exorcist are include to cover the views of those with supernatural experiences, yet the tenuous links to their beliefs leaves these moments feeling like uninteresting diversions.

As these tragedies are mythologized, it's easy for some to forget that real people were affected. Cheel doesn't make that same mistake, as evidenced by Poltergeist III director Gary Sherman recounting memories of the late Heather O'Rourke with great sadness. That pain is effectively conveyed while covering the accident on-set of The Crow which took Brandon Lee's life, as crew struggled to finish the film while tabloid sensationalism capitalised on the loss.

The circumstances of Bruce Lee's death fuelled the idea of a curse following his son, although Michael Berryman shares his opinion by placing the blame on the studio cutting corners. This is highlighted in a shocking segment that demonstrates what went wrong and visually highlights the lethal effects on a wooden board. This leads into the most upsetting episode, following Twilight Zone: The Movie. A warning that the section contains footage of the crash which took the lives of Vic Morrow, Myca Dinh Le, and Renee Shin-Yi Chen.

Context is given for how the '70s let filmmakers run wild with little studio oversight, due to believing that great films are born from "mishaps". A saddening through line can be seen from the studios belief in auteur theory to the on-set tragedy, with a key element including director John Landis being characterized as immature, irresponsible, and indifferent to safety. This is highlighted in a horrifying story involving real bullets being fired in a scene.

When an interview subject describes film sets as "controlled chaos", it highlights the danger which lurks on a regular set. Between Kane Hodder's personal story about how stunts can go wrong for no reason, and Lloyd Kaufman highlighting the need to prioritize safety over making a good movie, there's many lessons which should've been taken on to prevent this tragedy. It's a sobering way to close out this series which examines the imagined phenomena of on-set curses, and how they're no longer a thing in this time where everything is recorded.

Cursed Films - Series One is available on Blu-Ray now. The series is also available to stream on Shudder