REVIEW: ‘Cursed Films,’ Episode 1 – “The Exorcist”

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Cursed Films

Cursed Films is a five-part documentary series that explores the myths and legends behind some of Hollywood’s notoriously “cursed” horror film productions. It is produced and released exclusively on Shudder, AMC’s premier genre streaming platform. The premise of Cursed Films stuck me the moment it was announced. Originally set to debut at SXSW 2020, the docuseries tackles some of horror’s most long-held urban legends. And there is no better place to start the docuseries with than The Exorcist. 

The docuseries reveals the events that haunted these productions through interviews with experts, witnesses, the cast, directors, and producers who lived through real-life events.  The set of The Exorcist saw quite a deaths from cast and crew, which have lent to the cursed legend of the film. While this is discussed in the opening of the episode, the deaths aren’t the primary discussion, surprisingly. Instead, episode one uses The Exorcist to explore ideas of religion and the real-life horror that iconic actress, Linda Blair had to endure at a young age because of fans of the film, and detractors.

Cursed Films

I have my MA in Religious Studies and Anthropology, studying how pop culture affects religious identity and vice versa. So, when the episode moved into discussing how religion and horror fulfill similar functions for humans, I was not only excited for the conversation but ecstatic with how it was handled. Instead of just showing the controversy around portraying religion and sacred practices on screen, the episode explores the relationship that horror and religion have.

In short, by showcasing the fears and questions that both investigate, the episode explains that horror and religion are very much connected to one another, making films like The Exorcist a fit and not a deviation. From the functionalist standpoint, a definition of religion by Emile Durkheim which defines religion by the functions it serves rather than belief, this comparison is spot on. As a vehicle for the fears of the culture it comes out of, horror is built on empathy to answer our questions about death, the afterlife, and how our actions impact it all. Religion does the same, arising to answer our questions and quell our fears. Two sides, one coin.

But it’s perhaps the presentation of Blair’s childhood after The Exorcist that showcases the human impact of fan belief in curses. While Blair suffered a physical injury on the set, which ended up being used in the film, the way people treated her after is what seems to be the most troubling. With some audiences giving into the shock marketing used for the film, some believed that Blair was actually possessed on the set which led them to see her, a child, as evil. While one of the interviewees notes that Harvey Stephens, the boy who played Damian in The Omen didn’t carry this weight after his role wrapped, Blair needed bodyguards. And while she is a horror legend, there are parts of that film and the events after that she refuses to discuss on camera or at all.

Overall, in less than 30-minutes, Cursed Films sets the bar for the subsequent episodes and offers up thoughtful sociological takes on the way people project curses onto projects and people, as well as why religious horror like The Exorcist is ripe for this kind of fandom. Much like Shudder’s documentary, Horror Noire, this docuseries is necessary viewing. As a first episode, this is perfect, and I can’t wait for the next two to air next week.

The next episodes in this docuseries on Poltergeist and The Omen, will air April 9, 2020, exclusively on Shudder.

Cursed Films, Episode 1 - The Exorcist
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    Rating - 10/10
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TL;DR

Overall, in less than 30-minutes, Cursed Films sets the bar for the subsequent episodes and offers up thoughtful sociological takes on the way people project curses onto projects, people, and why religious horror like The Exorcist are ripe for this kind of fandom. Much like Shudder’s other documentary, Horror Noire, this docuseries is necessary viewing.