Our favorite horror films create a life of their own, with fandom and facts for days. Nightmare on Elm Street’s Freddy, Friday the 13th’s Jason, and Halloween’s Michael top the list; giving horror aficionados plenty of insider info to rhyme off-who played who in what year, what order sequels should be watched, and who played the best final girl. But there are also films with a mythos of their own. Films that before, during, and after production carry the burden of rumors and mystery around what really happened. Documentary director Jay Cheel explores this phenomenon with five of the most storied films of our times with his series Cursed Films.
The episodes I reviewed explores Poltergeist and The Omen. Poltergeist, as we all know, is the classic film about a family who buys a home built on a native burial ground. It spawned two more films featuring the trials of ghostly torment, but what made Poltergeist larger than life were the deaths and bad luck associated with it. The Omen, which also had two sequels featuring Satan’s resilient jackal-born son, was afflicted with coincidental deaths and near misses that cast a large shadow on the production. Cheel speaks to the directors, producers, and crew of these two classic films who all provide accounts of IRA blasts, illnesses, and accidents we’ve all heard about, but here we get context. Cheel also consults professors, writers, critics, scholars and those who practice the occult for their insights into the truth behind when bad things happen. Are they curses, coincidences or acts of persuasion?
Cursed Films is well-written and produced, making good use of horror insiders like Blumhouse producer Ryan Turek, writer and producer April Wolfe, Fangoria Editor-in-Chief Phil Nobile Jr., and plenty of scholarly breakdowns of the origins of curses and the psychological aspects of how they affect us.
There are some particularly moving interviews, including one with Gary Sherman who directed Poltergeist III and his account of the tragic death of Heather O’Rourke. The deep grief he felt for the loss of the child actor is evident even today, and he also touches on his mixed feelings about the film itself, as well as the film’s special effects artist Craig Reardon whose anger about the rumors is very clear.
You’ll also see some intriguing guests like magicians who practice black magic. They put a practical spin on curses and how they can manifest if you’re more inclined toward alternative practices and worship.
Cursed Films was set to premiere at SXSW this year, but due to COVID-19 and subsequent measures to quell the spread of the virus, Shudder has the first episode on The Exorcist is available now for your streaming pleasure. It’s well worth adding to your quarantine watch list!