Life can be a funny thing, full of inexplicable randomness. As humans, we often try to make sense of it by seeing patterns in things which are not really there. Look at the explosion in popularity of conspiracy theories, fuelled by social media, as people try desperately to find order in chaos, and give reason and meaning to the apparently arbitrary. Explanations have to be sought for things in which conventional logic seems to be either absent or elusive.
One of these appears to relate to the notion of luck, both bad and good. Anyone who seems to have a run of good fortune is viewed as having a charmed life. Conversely, where a series of mishaps or adversities crops up, especially where it comes across as being statistically improbable for there to be quite so much going wrong, we look to justify this by giving a kind of rationale, like saying something must be cursed. In doing so, it makes us feel better, by thinking there must be a force at work behind such events, a kind of rhyme or reason which explains why things happen.
The entertainment industry has seen more than its fair share of productions which have been viewed as having been fated by some external power, and a mythology has arisen around them, leading to all manner of speculation and conjecture. It seems that some have attracted more notoriety than others, with one notable case being the Superman franchise. From the suicide of TV Superman George Reeves being shrouded in mystery and intrigue, to a curse apparently being placed by the character’s co-creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster upon production of Superman: The Movie, with some saying that credence was provided by the fates which befell Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder.
(Some uncharitable wags have also attributed this ‘curse’ to the supposed downward career trajectory of Dean Cain, star of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman, due to his subsequent appearance in direct-to-DVD fare like Andy The Talking Hedgehog.)
A variety of other such examples can be found by any cursory search of the web, such as a purported curse being attached to The Addams Family, supposedly reflected in the untimely death of the big screen Gomez, Raul Julia, or a series of issues and mishaps on the set of the movie during filming, leading to director Barry Sonnenfeld reflecting in an interview that the film had karmic problems. Other instances of supposed ‘bad juju’ include features like The Wizard Of Oz, Apocalypse Now, and even something as seemingly innocuous as Moulin Rouge. Yes, it seems nothing is immune from being tarred as being bedevilled if it should have a run of ill fortune linked to it, no matter how tenuous it may be.
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One movie genre which has attracted more speculation and conjecture of this type is horror, most probably due to all of those negative connotations which come from dealing with the kind of subject matter linked to the supernatural and the dark arts. Urban myths and legends abound about a number of such motion pictures, and a series from Shudder – Cursed Films – focuses on five cases in its first season: Poltergeist, The Omen, The Exorcist, The Crow, and Twilight Zone: The Movie. Having initially premiered online on Shudder in April 2020, all five of the half-hour episodes from writer-director Jay Cheel have now been brought to Blu-ray, thanks to Acorn Media International.
Each instalment is a bite-sized morsel, giving an overview of the main controversies and stories attached to each feature, and managing – for the most part – to pack in a considerable amount of detail into such a relatively slight runtime. In fact, some of the subjects could probably warrant feature length documentaries all of their own, so credit must go to Cheel for ensuring the majority of the episodes stand up on their own merits, and leave the viewer feeling satisfied and informed, without skimping on material. There is even space at times to go off on some related tangents, giving greater context to the topic of each chapter in the series.
When discussing The Omen, for example, there is discussion of just what a curse really is, tracing it back from an historical perspective, and linking it to various occult beliefs. This does help to focus the mind greatly for the other four episodes, as the particular nature of each film’s ‘curse’ does actually vary, sometimes quite significantly. Some of it all comes down to superstition, or an unwillingness to ascribe certain events to nothing more than pure coincidence, and some arguments being offered in favour of a ‘curse’ are more compelling than others. A reasonable amount of debunking is also carried out throughout the series, rebutting some of the wilder or more outlandish theories or scuttlebutt.
The only time that Cursed Films goes rather too far off piste is in its examination of The Exorcist, when rather too much focus is placed on looking at the exploits of a supposed real-life exorcist, whose credibility gets chipped away gradually throughout. As interesting as this may be, it still feels better suited to a standalone documentary feature on that topic, as opposed to taking valuable minutes away from recounting the actual tales lying behind the making of the movie itself. However, this diversion is thankfully a minor bump in the road, which manages not to distract or divert too much from the overall quality of the series as a whole, which contains so little that could be considered mere filler.
What runs strongly throughout Cursed Films is a study of the nature of human belief systems, and the various situations or circumstances which can lead to rational people jumping to all manner of conclusions. Some of the stories being told here are the results of accidents, resulting from human error or misjudgement, but Cheel’s narrative makes us see just how comforting it can be to think that these instances stem from the hands of a higher power, rather than just being ascribed to chance or misfortune. As such, Cursed Films often ends up going far deeper than you might expect, or in a different and unexpected direction, and is consequently all the better for it, rather than being a ghoulish onlooker rubbernecking at real human losses.
Another strength of Cursed Films is its judicious use of the interview subjects chosen to talk about the featured flicks, such as the late director Richard Donner, actress Linda Blair, and – in a true highlight – horror icon Michael Berryman, who speaks in such a thoughtful and considered way about his experience of working on The Crow, and laying bare the true cost of mythologising awful tragedies at the expense of those involved. One important thing that can be taken away from this is you need not particularly be a horror fan in order to get something out of Cursed Films, and this series proves to be both intelligent and thought-provoking.
Cursed Films is out on Blu-ray on 27th February from Acorn Media.