E1: Hector Avalos, Vincent Bauhaus, Linda Blair, Eileen Dietz, Mitch Horowitz, Matt Miller, Phil Nobile Jr., April Wolfe
E2: Hector Avalos, Nate Bales, Michael Correll, Richard Donner, Matt Gourley, Mitch Horowitz, Phil Nobile Jr., Micheal Shermer, Ryan Turek
E3: Matt Gourley, Mitch Horowitz, Phil Nobile Jr., Michael Shermer, April Wolfe
E4: Lance Anderson, Michael Berryman, Phil Nobile Jr., Ryan Turek
E5: Kane Hodder, Phil Nobile Jr., Richard Sawyer, Ryan Turek, April Wolfe
Directed & Written by: Jay Cheel
I think we bring upon our own hell and our own heaven, and we bring curses upon us. Otherwise, you have to believe that there are really demonic forces out there.
October is over, and fall has settled in. Trees are donning their yellows, reds, and oranges. The temperature is starting to drop, and everything pumpkin is flooding the market. Is there a better time of year? Let’s not forget about Halloween. Along with the decorations and candies, this spookiest of holidays also celebrates the plethora of horror movies, both classics, and new releases. AMC’s horror streaming service, Shudder, offers year-long access to collections of horror movies and shows. Its success has lead to the development of original programming, including a recent five-part documentary called Cursed Films (2020).
During filming, and even after production has wrapped, some movies experience inexplicable events. Though there is usually a logical explanation, people will try and attribute them to supernatural forces or curses. Due to their spooky nature, this is especially true of horror movies. Cursed Films investigates a few of the more popular so-called cursed movies. Would it try to answer whether there is a plausible explanation for it or whether the curse is real? The show aired five episodes, covering The Exorcist (1973), The Omen (1976), The Crow (1994), Poltergeist (1982), and Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983). With both curiosity and excitement, I watched.
In the early ’90s, Brandon Lee, son of the famed Bruce Lee, was starting to make a name for himself. As Eric, in The Crow (1994), he finally had a breakthrough role, but in a tragic turn of events, there was an on-set accident. The episode mentions various theories that tried to put a curse spin on the accident, including that it was linked to his father’s death. The show spends some time looking into this, only to conclude that it too was an accident. Both stars were taken at too young an age. However, Cursed Films makes it clear that there was no supernatural force at play. Brandon Lee’s death was, for all intents and purposes, an accident.
Similarly, the episode on Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983) focuses on the helicopter accident that occurred on set. Oddly, barely anything is said about a curse. In fact, it seemed as though there was so little to say on the subject that in the middle of the episode, there’s a bit about stunts and the dangers of performing them. It wasn’t uninteresting but hardly specific to a curse that plagued this movie. Ultimately, though it was unfortunate, it was simply a risky stunt gone wrong. Shown to be unaffected by curses, why were these two movies included in a show about them?
Poltergeist (1982), an excellent haunted-house movie, was next. There were several strange occurrences linked to the movie, including the death of Heather O’Rourke, who plays Carol Anne. Naturally, people tried to attribute her death to unnatural forces plaguing production. But the episode quickly resolves that by providing the medical reason for her death. Even the idea that the use of real skeletons as props in the swimming pool scene could have caused the curse was promptly deflated by a special effects expert’s logical explanation. And so once again, the episode concludes that there is no curse, no hint of it, nor anything that would add to the spooky nature of the movie.
The last two episodes deal with movies about demonic forces and possession, the first of which was about The Omen (1976). Some of the strange occurrences during the filming and after production were highlighted, from the car accident that mimicked one of the movie’s scenes to the airplane being hit by lightning. It was interesting and did raise questions of a curse. The guests, mostly the ones who practice the dark arts, support the notion of the devil’s influence but stop at the idea that the devil would have cursed the movie directly. Other guests simply attribute it all to coincidences and our need to find patterns where there may be none. The argument was more balanced than in the other episodes but was far from conclusive.
Last was The Exorcist (1973), which is one of the best demonic-possession movies ever made. It was plagued by several strange occurrences, including a few deaths. These are mentioned, but brushed off almost as trivialities, leaving nothing to debunk. Instead, there’s a focus on fun facts. Friedkin’s unorthodox methods to get reactions out of actors, Catholicism, and its thoughts on evil, the accurate use of Pazuzu, and the marketing ploys used are just some that are mentioned.
However, there’s no digging into the inexplicable events, like the fact that Reagan’s bedroom set was the only one that did not burn down in a fire that destroyed all the other sets. But most distracting was to bring in a guest exorcist and have him perform three exorcisms on camera, which were peaceful and quiet, the complete opposite of the one in the film. It added nothing in the search for answers about a cursed film.
The root of the issue lies in the title of this series, Cursed Films. A curse is a solemn utterance intended to invoke a supernatural power to inflict harm or punishment on someone or something. As a result, it sets up viewer expectations that the show will focus on these supernatural forces. Instead, there’s a greater emphasis, whether intended or not, on debunking these curses. Although from a logical and rational perspective, the content of each episode is interesting, it is misleading and, frankly, disappointing.
There was a lack of coherence among the various segments used to fill each episode. Some were specific and directly related to investigating the curses. However, others were broad and applicable to just about any movie, not just the one understudy. It was impersonal and distracting. Was this an admission that there wasn’t enough material about the movies and their curses to barely fill thirty minutes, or perhaps even that the curses weren’t that interesting to delve into deeper? Perhaps the show’s title should have been more indicative of its actual purpose like Debunking the Curses?
The episodes are interesting as long as you go in with the mindset of dispelling myths and not perpetuating the aura of these films being cursed. From that perspective, the show works. Viewers appear to agree with that as Shudder green-lit a second season. What movies they will choose and what direction they will take remains to be seen. In the spirit of the horror genre, there is some romanticism in knowing the curses could be true. Scully, who tried to debunk all of Mulder’s investigations, had to concede that some cases they looked into were inexplicable. And that kept Mulder freshly invested. Perhaps the truth is out there, but in the end, we want to believe in the curses. Fear, after all, is part of the charm of horror, isn’t it?