Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | April 16th, 2020
Cursed Films (Jay Cheel, 2020) 3½ out of 4.
Two weeks ago, upon its premiere, I reviewed Cursed Films’ first three episodes. This new five-part documentary series, available on AMC Networks’ Shudder service, follows the fraught, ostensibly haunted, histories, of five different horror films: The Exorcist, Poltergeist, The Omen, The Crow and Twilight Zone: The Movie. At the time of that first article, I had not yet seen the final two chapters. I now return to sing their cinematic praises. The penultimate episode on The Crow rivals my previous favorite, number 2 (on Poltergeist), and though the concluding one on Twilight Zone may not be quite as fine, it is superior to numbers 1 and 3. Overall, then, showrunner Jay Cheel has created quite the wonderful, and entertaining, look back at small slices of Hollywood legend.
The episode on The Crow, like the one on Poltergeist, offers an extremely poignant tale of tragedy and deep loss as Cheel walks us through the how and why of star Brandon Lee’s death on set. The son of the great Bruce Lee, himself dead before his time, Lee’s unfathomable shooting by a prop gun has fueled all kinds of rumors about demonic and/or gangster vendettas against his family, when the truth is far more mundane, if no less sad. Filled with interviews with fellow cast and crew, all of whom, even years later, still feel the pain of what happened, the episode stays consistently focused on the details of the production and its aftermath. This is fine nonfiction filmmaking.
The fifth and final segment, on the atrocity that occurred on the set of director John Landis’ section of the Twilight Zone anthology film, is almost as good, though it has some of the same digressions that plagued the otherwise watchable episodes 1 and 3. When Cheel keeps his lens squarely trained on those who were present when actor Vic Morrow and two Vietnamese American children were beheaded by the blades of a crashing helicopter, he has our full attention. I love how, without direct access to Landis, he keeps cutting to archival photos of his simpering smile, juxtaposed nicely with stories of his rash and dangerous on-set behavior. How that man escaped prison, I’ll never understand. At least here he gets his just filmic desserts.
That’s two excellent episodes, then, along with with one very good one, and two that mostly get the job done. Not bad for a short series of five 30-minute parts. If this is what being cursed is all about, sign me up!
[Cursed Films Episodes 4 and 5 premiere today, April 16, on Shudder]