The new Shudder docuseries “Cursed Films” explores the horror-movie productions (“Poltergeist,” “The Omen”) that people have deemed “cursed” for all the death surrounding them.
Even if you’ve never seen the original Poltergeist films or 1976’s The Omen, you’ve likely heard of the unbelievable strings of real-life misfortunes that plagued the makings of each horror classic. They’re “cursed” productions, or so the story goes—examples of how baiting the devil or the occult onscreen invites unholy consequences offscreen, too. Each became associated with the untimely (and often grisly) deaths of actors and crew members, freakish coincidences, and legendarily bad luck. The new five-part Shudder docuseries Cursed Films calls in the surviving makers of each film (and more, including The Crow, The Exorcist, and Twilight Zone: The Movie) to testify to the odds they faced and the impact of each “curse” on their lives.
But crucially, the series also stops to examine the cognitive appeal of a curse—why we, as humans, are so often tempted to explain unfathomable events through conspiracy theory. Somewhat eerily, the series also underlines a primal fear on which these “curses” are based: the viral nature of our conception of evil. That is, we tend to think of curses the way we do a virus; the individuals and locations associated with a cursed movie production become tainted by proxy, exposing others in turn to the wrath of some spirit or Antichrist. The series doesn’t expect its viewers to buy into superstition. But like horror films themselves, it knows that what we fear tells us a lot about ourselves. Through that lens, the study of these curses becomes worthwhile—plus, let’s face it, who isn’t morbidly piqued by the idea of supernatural forces visiting terror on a Hollywood movie set?