Cursed Films, 2020.
Directed by Jay Cheel.
Featuring Phil Nobile Jr., Ryan Turek, Mace Neufeld, Wade Davis, Kane Hodder, Linda Blair, Michael Berryman, Eileen Dietz, Richard Donner, and Lloyd Kaufman.
Documentary series focusing on five of the most famously troubled horror movie productions.
You could argue that every movie has its production troubles, from easily explainable mishaps to those odd little accidents that just seem to happen, such as pages missing from a script or special effects not quite working. Both things that happen on film sets from time to time, but what does it take for a movie to be considered ‘cursed’?
Naturally, it has to be a horror movie, because a ‘cursed’ romantic comedy or action extravaganza doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, and this is something that is examined in Jay Cheel’s Shudder series Cursed Movies, now given a Blu-ray release that features all five episodes from the first series.
Concentrating on arguably the most well-known cursed movies in the public consciousness – Poltergeist, The Omen, The Exorcist, The Crow and Twilight Zone: The Movie – the documentary uses the movies as a framework but goes further by delving into the nature of each movie’s ‘curse’. For example, when discussing The Exorcist the filmmakers touch on the tragedies that surrounded the production of the movie – fires on set, cast and crew accidents, etc. – and interview star Linda Blair (who won’t be drawn on certain aspects of her experiences, if that is an indication of anything) but then they go off on a tangent by interviewing witches, professional exorcists and, bizarrely, a couple of people who believe they are possessed before tying it back to the movie and its possible effects on the public consciousness.
With this tactic it is quite clear what side of the arguments the filmmakers – and the majority of those interviewed – fall on, which is neatly summed up by actor Michael Berryman, who simply says “No” whenever anyone asks him whether The Crow was cursed. But whatever the truths behind all of the scenarios, they do all make fascinating stories on their own, away from the main features if you like, and hearing about the tragedies that followed in the wake of Poltergeist and the near-misses that happened during the production of The Omen from those who were there at the time is interesting stuff and certainly less sensationalised than the newspaper reports from the time.
However, after raising eyebrows at the ‘possessed’ interviewees and hearing producer Mace Neufeld laugh off the good publicity Gregory Peck’s plane getting hit by lightening gave The Omen, things take a more sombre turn as the final two movies in the series are examined. Of course, everybody knows about the tragic death of Brandon Lee during the filming of The Crow but hearing the testimonies of those who were there and how they didn’t want the movie to be released despite studio pressures makes you realise that it is called showbusiness for a reason.
The same could also be said after watching production designer Richard Sawyer wipe back tears as he recounts what happened on the set of Twilight Zone: The Movie, where actor Vic Morrow, along with child actors Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen, were killed when a stunt involving a helicopter and lots of explosions went horribly wrong. Sawyer’s heartfelt telling of events is weaved into footage of Troma Films’ head honcho Lloyd Kaufman demanding absolute safety on one of his film sets and stating that “it’s only a movie” (where have we heard that before?), and as if to hammer home the point they then show the actual footage of the helicopter crashing into Vic Morrow and the two children he was carrying.
A dark note to end on but as an overall viewing experience Cursed Films is quite a fun and fascinating insight into how the Hollywood machine deals with controversy and, unfortunately, tragedy. Whether the events spoken about are due to coincidence, human error or there really are supernatural forces at work is entirely up for speculation and will no doubt encourage many more discussions than they already have but given how many movies claim to have been cursed over the years then this is a series that could – and hopefully will – run and run. Roll on volume two.