Cursed Films Series One - Blu Ray New Release Review
Director: Jay Cheel
Starring: Gary Sherman, Richard Donner, Linda Blair, Ryan Turek, Phil Nobile Jr.
Written by: Jay Cheel
Produced by: Robin Jones, Jay Cheel, Brian Robertson, Laura Perlmutter, Andrew Nicholas McCann Smith
Cinematography by: Jared Raab, Mike McLaughlin, Scott McClellan
Original Score by: Ohad Benchetrit, Justin Small, Weyes Blood
A five part documentary series which explores the myths and legends behind some of Hollywood's notoriously cursed horror film productions.
Back in 2020 a thrilling five-part horror centric docu-series called 'Cursed Films' hit Shudder and attempted to examine some of the behind-the-scenes controversy involved with some of the genre's finest films. Its goal was to focus on negative events that transpired just before, during or after shooting of each of the films and determine whether these films were doomed from day one. A great premise that not only horror fans would love but also a large percentage of general cinema goers might be interested in. Some of the episodes succeed and bring new information to the fold and some don't. One episode in particular was ripped to shreds on social media for going too far.
Lots of the docu-series plays out like an extended episode of 'Mythbusters' where cast and crew of the films involved are questioned about rumours surrounding the legendary productions and then subsequently shoot most, if not all of them, down. The films discussed are 'Poltergeist', 'The Exorcist', 'The Crow', 'The Omen' and 'Twilight Zone: The Movie'. For those who may only have a casual interest then lots of the revelations will be new but for the more obsessed horror fan much of what is discovered and discussed is territory that has already been addressed in other documentaries. That being said it's nice to have it all in one place.
As alluded to above, some of the episodes really dig deep into the production and there are some legitimate high points that really strike an emotional chord. Hearing Gary Sherman (Director, Poltergeist III) struggle through his interview segment, especially when discussing the tragic death of Carol Anne actress Heather O'Rourke, is tough to watch but a great insight into the actual real life effect that comes out of these horrible incidents. For years the rumour mill was that the original Tobe Hooper directed 'Poltergeist' from 1982 was cursed because O'Rourke died young after the third film and Dominique Dunne, who plays Carol Anne's older sister Dana, was brutally murdered by her abusive boyfriend. Throw in the rumour that the buried skeletons that are discovered in the film's finale were actually real (which is debunked here) and suddenly the film is known as a cursed film.
It's always great to see and hear Richard Donner talking about his films and here he recounts some of the difficulties he had while filming 'The Omen'. This episode doesn't clutch at straws as much and some of the incidents that occurred definitely do bring into question the idea of a curse. Especially when it involves a religious element. 'The Crow' episode is another difficult watch for obvious reasons. Sadly actor Brandon Lee died during filming of the film and the episode spends a lot of time discussing how and why this might have happened. It's a great episode because it works as a loving tribute to Brandon. It also focuses on how everybody reacted to Lee's death and how the script was rewritten to exclude a character called the Skull Cowboy played by horror icon Michael Berryman, who is interviewed about the role here.
But there are also low points too. Some of the episodes lose focus on what they are trying to achieve, bouncing around from one random rumour to the next. The episode on 'The Exorcist' starts off really well, examining the effect the film had on Linda Blair, the infamous on-set fire and the deaths of the some of the crew members, but ends up following around a so-called real life exorcist. This might've been an interesting element in any other documentary about the film but it doesn't really add anything to the goal of the episode. And the most controversial moment of the entire docu-series involves 'Twilight Zone: The Movie' in which there is video footage shown of a helicopter colliding with actor Vic Morrow and two young Vietnamese children during the 'Time Out' segment. The footage does cut away milliseconds before the brutal collision actually happens but little to nothing is left to the imagination. The segment was being directed by John Landis (An American Werewolf in London) and he and 4 other crew members were charged with manslaughter but were eventually acquitted of any negligence in a court of law. This is the one episode that really doesn't feel like it fits in this kind of docu-series and it has been called out for being exploitative and an unnecessary addition. Despite the controversy surrounding this particular episode I can't lie, it was incredibly engrossing and shed a light on just how dark Hollywood can really get.
'Cursed Films' is a must watch for any film fan who perhaps hasn't already been made aware of some of the notorious incidents that revolved around these productions. This bluray comes with audio commentary from writer/director Jay Cheel which adds some insight into each episode. It's well edited and put together with passion and the talking head sequences are mostly all very good with a stellar line-up of cast and crew and some other industry experts.
- Gavin Logan
'Cursed Films' is released in the UK on Blu-Ray and Digital by Acorn Media International on 27th February