When I first heard of Shudders Cursed Films docuseries I was intrigued. As someone who loves to watch and hear about anything film-related, I wanted to know more about instances that happened on sets, the reasoning the myths. I saw the list of films and thought that we were definitely in for some good episodes. Let’s go through them one by one.
Episode 1 – The Exorcist
In the first episode, we learn about facts about what happened on set and how even one of the extras became a murderer, to even talking about Pazuzu the demon from the film. We learn about how the marketing helped amp up the fear factor causing Linda Blair to have bodyguards. We even look back into religion and horror films. It is all very interesting and you become invested in the episode. Until the episode decides to go so off the rails that it is unable to get me back in.
For a film that had so much intrigue and stories about being cursed, for the episode to go to a “real” exorcist and show the exorcisms is beyond pointless and exploitative. It totally just removes the point of the documentary. The episode is only 29 minutes long, why are we spending the last portion of it NOT talking about the film and about people giving money to be exorcised by an ex furniture salesman? It totally removes you from the episode and makes you doubt why you spent your time on it. Was the purpose to show how films such as The Exorcist has caused exploitation? Is that the curse? As I said, there are so many stories about the filming and production of that movie that it doesn’t need this bit at all. If memory serves there isn’t even mention of how things ramped up so much that they had the set blessed. An utter waste.
Rating – ★
Episode 2 – The Omen
We start the episode with Richard Donner stating how he was told that they were treading on very thin ice as the Anti-Christ would want to stop the film being made. As he says, a silly threat, nothing to worry about. But then the details of what happened before production. IRA bombings in the restaurant the team were due to go to the same day, Gregory Pecks missed flight that then crashed killing all onboard and a multitude more.
Then almost like The Exorcist, we go slightly off the rails while having a black magician provide a talking head. I really do not know what the filmmakers were going for by adding these in. Who told them that these would only get greenlit if they added nonsensical segments? It really just removes you from the film. I do not need to see witches and black magicians tell me. I want to learn about the film or from religious academics that provide details of curses etc.
They go away from the point of talking about The Omen for so long that you figure out that the episode has nothing really interesting to say. The Omen was just a function for the filmmakers to talk about curses and for over half of the episode, we learn nothing. Basically The Omen talk merely bookends the episode and you get the realisation that the docuseries isn’t interested in any of the films own personal accounts and more concerned with the legacies which are a big disappointment
Rating – ★
Episode 3 – The Poltergeist
We, as usual, begin strong, detailing all of the onset incidents and importantly detailing that having supposedly used real skeletons in the pool scene that everyone involved would become cursed. The tragic fates of Dominque Dunne, Will Sampson, Julian Beck (using a mask to have his character reprise his role) and especially Heather O’Rourke who died during the filming of Poltergeist 3.
This is without a doubt the most powerful episode because of the interview with director Gary Sherman of Poltergeist 3. His memories of Heather’s passing and how the studio handled said death almost distracts you from the cursed format. This episode works the best as it doesn’t seem to play along with the theories and cursed thoughts as the previous two episodes did. Where The Omen episode goes so to the point of having people who classify themselves as witches, here we have more literal talking head participants. We focus on the tragedy of what happened during the productions and the interviews with Craig Reardon and April Wolfe really put the whole thought process behind a curse and the idea of curses in films to bed with their interview. A great episode that makes me wish they had gone this route instead for the entire series.
Rating – ★★★★
Episode 4 – The Crow
While this is regarding the filming of The Crow, it is really about the Lee family “curse” and Brandon Lee’s death. There is a brief mention of an accident that occurred at the beginning of shooting and the history of the supposed curse. This is shot down quickly with facts about Bruce Lee and how he possibly came to pass. One being the painkiller that he took, but a new theory that suggested that because of surgeries that Bruce Lee had had that they may have helped caused or at least been an attributing factor. Utterly fascinating and this is repeated with the story of Brandon Lee. Showing his career, how things were planned and what ultimately happened to him.
Much like the Poltergeist the entire idea of curses is gone or thrown out by those who are interviewed who bring in facts and reality. This is when the docuseries works best and it is very odd that they went down the route that they did in the first two episodes. These are just completely different themes. The tragedy is prevalent here. Not a curse, not a myth. This is really what I came for with these episodes and it is utterly frustrating that the first two films which did not need the premise that they had could have been this good.
Rating – ★★★★★
Episode 5 – Twilight Zone: The Movie
The episode of course focuses on the major onset incident of the death of Vic Morrow and two child actors during a take. The background of talking about stunt effects and co-ordination was fascinating with all involved slowly building towards talking about the tragic accident. Equal amounts fascinating and heartbreaking.
We learn how haphazard John Landis was in certain scenes. Landis himself supposedly saying to hire children off the street and that he wanted bigger explosions that would at the time mostly endanger the people in the helicopter. The build is terrific, we hear from Kane Hodder on accidents on set that could happen and how that affects someone when it goes wrong. But for those who have already watched the other episodes, we know about the Brandon Lee accident.
The inclusion of Lloyd Kauffman is so left field and pointless from the whole theme. Yes the emphasis of having him there is to show how he makes sure everyone is safe before the thoughts of whether the film is good or not. Bit his inclusion is just so jarring from the perspective of the entire piece that it doesn’t really make sense for his inclusion. But that is the least of this episodes problems.
The idea that what happened on set as cursing those who are left with the memory is a good premise regarding this episode. You see the hurt and emotion with those interviewed, you feel it and it resonates. The build is terrific and all the audience needs are to be told what happened. That is enough, which is as sufficient as it needs to be.
But, throughout the episode, for those who know what happened and know the footage exists you hope they won’t show it. They couldn’t possibly show it that is just too much right? They won’t show the footage of the accident, will they? Not only do they show the footage of the incident, they show it to the point of impact. At this point, the episode lost me and to that point, the entire 2 and a half hours had truly left me from any positive vibes from the docuseries. There is absolutely no need to show the impact and thus the deaths of Vic Morrow and the children. What further illustrates the tone-deafness of the filmmakers in this regard is that they could have shown it once for a shock jock exploitative standpoint. But they KEEP going back to showing just before and after and a clip from the newsreel that shows it just before it cuts off. Words can truly not describe the feeling of including that footage it is incomprehensible.
Rating – zero stars
If you are to watch this series episodes 3 and 4 are the only ones worth your time as they are able to focus on the people involved in the films. You see the emotion and thoughts that remain with them. Episodes 1 and 2 had the possibilities of being just as good and seeing as they had as many noteworthy instances you would have expected far more. But for those episodes to misguidedly go off with Exorcisms and witches is a true disappointment. Episode 5 could have been like 3 and 4, but they ghoulishly decided to show the deaths. That really is a horrendous decision and one that left me in shock and I would cause me to second guess on suggesting the series as something someone would watch. What could have been special and respectful ends up being trashy and sensationalist for no reason? Disappointing