Horror fans have always been drawn to the idea that a film could be so powerful that it would transcend celluloid and impact the real world. Legends have sprouted around some of the most famous genre films of all time that have elevated their historical standings being “just a movie.” It’s common sense that some of the most beloved horror movies would become something greater. After all, we all think our favorite movies are special, but what if they had actual power? For generations, people believed stories of evil had evil power themselves, and just telling them could conjure something from another side. Those haunted tales around campfires have become “Cursed Films,” and this five-part series should be catnip to horror lovers.
The premiere is about arguably the most famous horror movie of all time, William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist.” Including interviews with Linda Blair herself, the episode of “Cursed Films” details the tumultuous and controversial production, including stunts being done by Blair and Ellen Burstyn that injured the actresses and the story that Friedkin fired a gun in the air to get an adequate fear response. The episode even digs into the legend of Pazuzu from which William Peter Blatty’s tale emerged as well as a brief interlude with someone who claims to be a real exorcist. More than the other two episodes, which I’d say are even stronger, the chapter on “The Exorcist” digs into the idea that the film itself influenced what we think we know about possession and exorcisms. The point is made that it defined the very meaning of its title for generations. It’s a film that’s impact is more than just a violent set or dangerous subject matter but one that transformed the very culture.
The concept of a “Cursed Film” is better explored through two upcoming chapters that were set to premiere at SXSW on “The Omen” and “Poltergeist,” two works of horror that have had tragedy follow their productions from the very beginning. From on-set accidents to the tragic deaths that forever altered the legacy of “Poltergeist,” these films are legendary in horror circles for how much malevolence seems to swirl around them. Again, these episodes are well-balanced with factual information and the urban legends that have sprung up around them. I particularly liked how much time is given to Gary Sherman, director of “Poltergeist III,” and how he places the incredibly tragic death of Heather O’Rourke back in human context instead of just part of a legend of a cursed film.
Each chapter also has a nice balance of creatives and horror experts, including people like Phil Nobile Jr. of Fangoria and April Wolfe (“Black Christmas”) intercut with the people who actually made the films. The result is a comprehensive picture of why movies like “Poltergeist,” “The Omen,” and “The Exorcist” continue to persist as cultural items that feel like more than just a movie. Is “The Omen” cursed? Is it hard to believe that a movie that seeks to prove the existence of the devil would carry with it some unique energy? And yet “Cursed Films” isn’t some cheapo scare tactic, focusing just as much on human stories and on-set details as it does the rumors of curses and bad karma around these movies. The result is more than just a fun trivia piece but odes to the power of each of these movies, both cursed and merely mortal.
Three episodes screened for review. Premieres today on Shudder today, 4/2 with one episode. “The Omen” and “Poltergeist” premiere 4/9. Episodes on “The Crow” and “Twilight Zone: The Movie” premiere 4/16.