Cursed Films Review: Shudder's Must-See Documentary Series Leaves No Gravestone Unturned

Urban legends have regularly been the subject of horror movies, with some of them even drawing direct inspiration from documented, real-life events. In rare cases, the events connected with a film are even more horrifying than what is seen on screen, resulting in few films earning the distinction of being "cursed," with the events connected to these productions becoming the thing of urban legend themselves. Shudder's new five-part series Cursed Films dives deep into some of the most famous examples of horror films that are said to have inspired "curses," and while merely chronicling such curses would provide audiences with entertainment, the series instead attacks each curse from all imaginable perspectives in hopes of shedding light on the mysterious tragedies surrounding them that is just as educational as it is entertaining.

When it comes to cursed films, few are more well known than the one attached to the Poltergeist series, which earns itself an episode. Star of the original 1982 film Dominique Dunne was murdered by her boyfriend months after the film landed in theaters, while Julian Beck, star of Poltergeist II: The Other Side, died before the film landed in theaters. Similarly, Heather O'Rourke died before production had completed on Poltergeist III, having played the young Carol Anne in all three films. Given that the film famously used actual skeletons in a famous pool sequence, some superstitious viewers think that the filmmakers brought the curse upon themselves for disrespecting the dead.

In addition to detailing the devastating deaths connected with the series, this episode also uncovers the fascination that fans have with connecting with their favorite films through acquiring screen-used items or by visiting the actual locations that were used in the movies. Whether it be to overcome a personal fear or to connect with some residual, spiritual energy left behind from the production, the Poltergeist episode explores the notion of imbuing inanimate objects with the power we conjure ourselves. This means that, by not having a personal connection to the films ourselves, we can escape similar tragedies suffered by the films' stars. The episode balances perspectives of the curse by involving not just pundits in the world of horror, but also people directly connected with the films themselves, who can emphasize how tragic these events truly are and the disrespectful nature of ignoring their humanity to merely make their deaths part of some anecdote in an urban legend.

Another Cursed Films episode tackles the legends surrounding 1976's The Omen and the number of horrible instances connected to it. While the film's special effects consultant John Richardson and assistant Liz Moore were in a car crash months after filming, which was fatal for Moore, and animal wrangler Sidney Bamford being attacked and killed by a tiger that was meant to be featured in a scene, a majority of the "cursed" events involve near-fatal incidents surrounding the production.

The Omen episode leans much more heavily on interviews with members of the film's crew, while also incorporating figures who have a vast knowledge of curses, superstitions, and magick itself. As one expert points out, to claim that a film production could be "cursed" requires an individual placing a curse upon the production, shedding new light on the nature of curses and how they come into existence and seemingly refuting the notion of any production earning a curse, unless an individual has a reason to place one upon it. The concept of "sympathetic magic" is also introduced, or that "like produces like." In other words, with The Omen depicting blasphemous, supernatural occurrences, the act of bringing such events to life could make those responsible conduits for negative energy from any number of sources, including those of the Satanic persuasion.

Based merely on its premise, Cursed Films could have easily offered audiences an exploration of some of the most famous curses attached to horror movies to serve purely as a piece of entertainment, but based just on two episodes of the series, it's clear that the approach was merely to draw in horror fans with the promise of these curses, only to educate them on a variety of relevant subjects. Regardless of how much you believe in black magic, it's fascinating to learn about its contemporary use and the various distinctions between rituals that some might have all dismissed generically as "creepy stuff." The 30-minute run time of the episodes means we're given plenty of information to digest without ever feeling overwhelmed or bored with a program that might have needed to occupy an hour. The tease of uncovering these curses will surely attract viewers, though the series will hopefully open up their eyes to the core concept that, while it's fascinating to notice the bizarre coincidences that connect a diverse array of tragedies, it's the audiences themselves that conjure these curses in hopes of managing the random nature of these atrocities.

With episodes also focusing on The Exorcist, The Crow, and The Twilight Zone: The Movie, Cursed Films looks to be cementing itself as a must-see documentary series for horror fans that is engaging, exhaustive, and enlightening.

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Rating: 5 out of 5

Cursed Films debuts on Shudder on Thursday, April 2nd.

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