The Quarantine Stream: 'Cursed Films' is a Fascinating Look at Disastrous Film Productions and the Science of Belief
(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The Series: Cursed Films
Where You Can Stream It: Shudder
The Pitch: This documentary series explores “cursed” film productions, shoots that were plagued with deaths, accidents, and other catastrophes. Interviews with the filmmakers who were there, seasoned academics, and even experts in the occult all provide context, as each episode attempts to discern if these movies are actually cursed in a literal sense and why we’re so attracted to the idea of supernatural mayhem in the first place. The series covers The Exorcist, The Omen, the Poltergeist films, The Crow, and Twilight Zone: The Movie.
Why It’s Essential Viewing: Human beings like explanations. We like to think there’s a plan, a reason, or an excuse for why things go wrong. And the Shudder documentary series Cursed Films isn’t just about infamous film productions where something (or many things) went awry – it’s about how and why we compartmentalize tragedy and search for meaning in darkness. The academics on screen say it’s a natural human response to make sense of chaos. The occultists and dark magicians (yep) interviewed say curses are very real and very powerful. The filmmakers themselves say it’s grotesque to glamorize these events by injecting the supernatural into the tragic. And each of these angles proves fascinating in every episode of the series.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Cursed Films is its tone, which manages to be entertaining (stories of things gone awry are always fun!), informative (you will learn exactly what went wrong on these sets and why) and reverent (it never feels exploitative or gross, even as it digs into some truly grisly material). It’s an impressive balancing act, certainly the only show I’ve ever seen that manages to film a ritual where a self-described sorcerer attempts to curse a film production to prove it can be done and allow Troma head honcho Lloyd Kaufman explain the nuts of bolts of running a safe film set. It’s wild when it needs to be, and sober when the time is right.
The episodes themselves run the gamut from “pretty good” to “pretty great,” but even the weakest of them have their fascinations. The opening episode, which deals with The Exorcist, is the least interesting, only because the production itself wasn’t quite as “cursed” as the marketing would have you believe. But even then, the episode’s exploration of how the film influenced how we view religious terror today (complete with footage of a freelance exorcist going about his day-to-day!) is interesting stuff.
But more interesting is the episode about The Omen, which is a spooky and fun exploration of whether the disaster-plagued production was the result of negative spiritual influence or something more divine. Equally fascinating is the episode about the Poltergeist series, which was plagued with actor deaths – and the crew interviewed take serious issue with equating these tragedies with fantasy. The series ends with its most devastating episodes, breaking down and explaining as clearly as possible what went so horribly wrong on the sets of The Crow and Twilight Zone: The Movie, even bringing in modern-day effects artists to safely recreate aspects of the accidents in controlled environments. It’s educational, illuminating, and horrifying. Even if you’re familiar with these events, these episodes illuminate them far more than any Wikipedia page ever could.
Those looking for a straightforward making-of series need not apply here. Cursed Films is only moderately interested in film production. This series is more about the rational and the irrational ways we absorb bad news, how we scramble to come up with an excuse, any excuse, to define something awful beyond it being random chance or human error. No matter what you believe, this series is a thoughtful, consistently entertaining treat.
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