REVIEWED: SEASON 1 (ALL EPISODES) | WHERE TO WATCH: SHUDDER
As genre fans, we all enjoy the occasional salacious behind the scenes story of intrigue on movie sets, be it a falling out between actors or something much more attention-grabbing. This is where Shudder’s new series, Cursed Films, comes in. Focusing on five of the most infamous horror movies ever made, this short-run covers The Exorcist, The Omen, Poltergeist, The Crow, and Twilight Zone: The Movie, and delves into the sordid tales that we’ve all heard about. What is most interesting is that the episodes don’t gravitate around the urban legends surrounding the sets but, in fact, they try their best to debunk what we’ve heard.
Using talking heads from fields ranging from individuals involved in the films themselves to religious experts and practising black magicians, each episode gives us a recap of the ignoble events that have been the crux of numerous websites and books before going beyond the looking glass to reason why these things actually happened. A set fire on The Exorcist, leaving only the Regan bedroom set untouched, separate aeroplanes of the cast (main star Gregory Peck) and crew of The Omen being hit by lightning, the tragic deaths of Poltergeist stars Heather O’Rourke (who died from a misdiagnosis during the filming of the second sequel) and Dominique Dunne (who died after her boyfriend strangled her) had nothing to do with the production of the films, and, of course, the apparent curse of the Lee family as Brandon Lee was shot and killed on the set of The Crow are just a few subjects covered here.
For Twilight Zone: The Movie there is only one specific focus, the sad deaths of actor Vic Morrow and two children on the set due to an accident involving a helicopter. Richard Sawyer, who was the production designer on the film, recounts how this film was his big break and the end of his career at the same time. He tells us of how the events unfolded, and it is truly heartbreaking to see this man laid bare as he clearly still blames himself, even though the extra information we are given proves that there are others who are more accountable than him. One warning we offer you, the viewer, about this episode, is that you do actually see the footage from the set which includes the devastating moment the helicopter crashes into the three victims. The moment is jarring and seemingly at odds with what is shown elsewhere in the series. It comes across as almost sensationalistic, and the event would have been better served if the footage had cut just before the crash. Of all the episodes, this moment actually leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.
What experts, including Kane Hodder giving the stuntman point of view, offer us are explanations that serve to provide a real-world grounding as to what actually happened - be it pure coincidence, bad luck, timing, or even pure negligence. In the Twilight Zone case specifically, director John Landis does not come across well, and it may be telling that the director allegedly did not respond to a request for comment by the creators of the show. There does appear to be more of a story behind the events on The Exorcist, with Linda Blair flatly refusing to discuss any further detail as to whether she actually had bodyguards after the release of the film in the US.
This may only be a one-off series, but it’s interesting to see the creators try and put a different spin on the rumours we’ve all heard and give us a fresh perspective on whether these films were actually cursed or not. Whether you decide to believe what you’re told here or prefer to hang on to the sensational history of these films is entirely up to you.