Cursed Films is Shudder’s new docuseries that will give even the most prestigious horror aficionados a run for their money. Directed by documentarian Jay Cheel (How to Build a
Time Machine), the series is pretty self-explanatory. Horror fans have come to know certain classic films as being notoriously “cursed”. These films are not just associated with out of the ordinary on set mishaps, but actual tragic deaths and events. Over the passing of time, this “cursed” film stigma has evolved in many different ways – more notably boosting popularity and cultural presence. These modern myths have already been documented in many forms, and within one of the largest subcultures of cinema no less. Cheel elevates his docuseries to the best of his abilities by making it more than a trip down memory lane.
The series is split into five roughly thirty-minute parts, each focusing on a different film. The classics up for inspection are The Exorcist, Poltergeist, The Omen, The Crow, and Twilight Zone: The Movie. One does not have to be a fanatic of horror to already recognize some of the real-life tragedies associated with these films. Novice moviegoers of all kinds are also introduced to these films mainly thanks to their “curses” on a daily basis. Imagine how many times someone has had The Crow referred to them just because of Brandon Lee’s passing? The number is incomprehensible. Cheel’s docuseries attempts to cover all the essential facts behind these “curses” and mainly succeeds. He covers factual ground that is even bound to catch the most dedicated fans off guard. However, Cheel’s aspirations look farther than just simply being informative (a good portion of this information can be found within the internet’s sea of assets as it is).
Cursed Films is made for horror fans in the best way possible by being something they did not know they needed – an introspective study. Cheel has access to essential resources with firsthand insight such as The Omen and Poltergeist III directors Richard Donner and Gary Sherman. Other notable voices who stepped on these infamous movie sets are featured along with influential voices in film journalism. With this, any documentarian has enough to develop a solid series on these topics. To Cursed Films‘ great benefit, Cheel is not so focused on explaining cursed origins as he is on breaking them down. Not only questioning their validity but their roles within the cinematic cultural landscape. He thus tracks down a variety of out of the box voices, from extreme horror collectors to legitimate witches and magicians. The results fully immerse the viewer into the complex world of horror – rightfully accompanied by its very own unescapable chills.
Cheel thankfully does not succumb to what could have been the ultimate criticism of this work, lack of competency. These classic films are delightful to discuss, but they also demand great nuance. Discussing whether or not someone literally died because of a “film curse” can easily become a slippery slope. Cheel balances competency with refusing to beat around the bush when tackling these delicate events. Again, these things have already been massively covered, so why do it now? Cheel dives head-on by attempting to start new conversations, more about the emotional resonance behind the actual horrors themselves. Cursed Films evokes much more from the viewer internally than externally. Which in return serves as a just and tasteful gateway for anyone who wants to grow their horror repertoire.
In fact, one wishes these episodes would be just a tad bit longer. Each of these films is capable enough of harboring a feature-length documentary on their own “curse”. As the credits roll, the viewer is greatly enticed to dive even deeper into the world of horror. Not because they felt like something was missing, but from Cheel gracefully opening new doors. This is another step in distancing films, such as The Crow, further away from being “that movie where that person died”. This could not be a stronger sign of a successful docuseries.
Despite the want for longer run time, Cheel weaves the episodes together with specific threads. Each episode may focus on a different movie with its own unique history, but Cheel sets the viewer on a specific path. Their investment and curiosities are nurtured in a way that boosts their desire to see more. Cursed Films ultimately reaches unforeseen levels of insightfulness. Better than what a docuseries on this topic would otherwise be in less competent hands. Time flys when exploring this side of film history; to do so in such a compelling way makes this another must-watch for Shudder subscribers.