Cursed Films is a five-part documentary series that explores the myths and legends behind some of Hollywood’s notoriously “cursed” horror film productions. A Shudder Original from director Jay Cheel, the docuseries has looked at some of Hollywood and horror’s most infamous sets and productions, deconstructing the curses long talked about by fans and showcasing the impact on the cast and crew. One of the things that sticks out in the series is the way that Cheel has grouped episodes with similar themes to release close to each other. Now in the last episode, episode five, Cheel looks at Twilight Zone: The Movie, and the deaths that happened on John Landis’s set for the anthology.
Like episode four, this one focuses on the tragedy and the impact it had on the crew involved. But unlike Cheel’s look at The Crow, episode five confronted one of the darkest sides of filmmaking, an unrestrained director, the auteur. Notorious for putting their cast and crews through near traumatic experiences to elicit the reaction they see as fit for the movie. By exerting control in every piece of the filming, the auteur is able to ignore the rules set in place to protect those involved in the filmmaking process and in some cases, it has tragic results. That’s what happened on the set of Twilight Zone: The Movie when Landis illegally hired children and greenlit a dangerous stunt which led to their and lead actor Vic Morrow’s death.
This episode plays out as part true crime documentary by showcasing Landis’s trial, and part filmmaking 101 by moving even further into the world of stuntwork by interviewing stuntmen and props makers. By juxtaposing the events of Twilight Zone: The Movie with Troma Entertainment’s Lloyd Kaufman and how he puts safety above all else on his cult classic sets. While there is no judgment call on Landis’ actions, by presenting the angle that the tragedy could have been as much unforeseeable accident, Cheel presents enough information on both sides for the audience to make their decision.
Unlike the other episodes, the “curse” in question takes the backseat to Hollywood regulations and cutting corners onset, and this isn’t a bad thing. This episode rounds out the list of tragic films that have found lives in urban legend by word of mouth. Whether that is because of assumed curses or urban legends about tragic events. While this may seem like an outlier there is an uneasiness to this episode. Almost voyeuristic, Cheel chooses to show footage of the accident, of the helicopter crashing into the water after we watch Murrow running in the water, with the children in his arms. The footage is chilling and after hearing the event, it feels like you shouldn’t be watching. This is the first episode where the danger was clear from the onset of the description of the tragedy, where the footage was shown, and as the ending to Cursed Films, it delivers a gut punch.
As the closing episode, however, the focus on Twilight Zone: The Movie showcases what happens when information is made public and the world can watch the aftermath of a tragedy play out in court. Phil Nobile Jr., Editor-In-Chief of Fangoria, notes as much in the closing of the episode as he explains our connected world makes curses a thing of the past. Much like the incident on Landis’s set, anything that happens on set now would be very much in the public eye. It would be scrutinized, it would be shared, and we would have knowledge. But with that knowledge curses die, and after seeing the toll that these curses take on the very real people involved in them, I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
Cursed Film ends on a heavy note and forces the audiences to confront how we view and talk about film, especially the tragic ones. In its final episode, Cursed Films earns its spot on every must-watch list this year and beyond. It’s for horror heads and film buffs alike.
All episodes of Cursed Films are now streaming exclusively on Shudder.
Cursed Films, Episode 5 - Twilight Zone: The Movie
Cursed Film ends on a heavy note and forces the audiences to confront how we view and talk about film, especially the tragic ones. In its final episode, Cursed Films earns it spot on every must-watch list this year and beyond. It’s for horror heads and film buffs alike.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.