Monday, March 6, 2023

CURSED FILMS: SERIES ONE (Acorn Media International Blu-ray Review)


Label: Acorn Media International
Region Code: Region-Free 
Rating: Cert: 15
Duration: 138 Minutes 39 Seconds 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.38:1) 
Audio: Uncompressed English DTS-HD MA 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles 
Director: Jay Cheel

The Shudder Original documentary series Cursed Films comes to us from indie filmmaker writer-director Jay Cheel who I mostly now from the long-running Canadian movie podcast Film Junk. This five episode first season explores the oftentimes sensationalized 
stories behind some of Hollywood’s most iconic horror films. The initial season covers the films Poltergeist, The Omen, The Exorcist, The Crow and Twilight Zone: The Movie, and when it comes to the idea of cursed films they pretty chose the top five, so they're off to a great start. 

This is easily a premise that could have been something morbidly exploitative given the subject matter, often involving deaths associated with "cursed" film productions, but to my surprise the episodes handled these explorations quite fairly, and while there's certainly some exploitative elements it's not a tasteless tabloid-style deep-dive. Each episode features interviews with director's producers, editors, actors, writers, podcasters, psychologists, academics, historians, fans, critics, witches and more, offering a fairly nuanced and well-rounded examination of each film and the mythology surrounding them. For each flick we get people who were personally involved with the productions; for Poltergeist we get special make-up FX creator Craig Reardon and director Gary Sherman who helmed the third film in the series, the latter of whom offers a touching and deeply felt accounting of what happened to the young star Heather O’Rourke; meanwhile iconic director Richard Donner and Producer Mace Neufeld show up for The Omen and tell of the myriad problem and close-calls that surrounded the production, as does Linda Blair for the The Exorcist, Producer Jim Most from The Crow, and Production Designer Richard Sawyer from Twilight Zone: The Movie, who gives an accounting of the tragic accident that took three lives during the John Landis directed segment of that anthology film.  

There are several talking heads whom show up on several of the the episodes, these include Blumhouse's VP of Development Ryan Turek, film critic April Wolfe, Fangoria's Phil Noble Jr., as well as various authors, wizard, exorcists and black magicians adding their own color commentary to the proceeding, most of them being quite thoughtful in their discussion of dark forces that might hold sway on a production. One of the more eyebrow raising interviews is with an exorcist whom we witness perform a couple of exorcisms on camera. That didn't sit well with me, not because it was frightening in any way but because I am a skeptic, and it did little to sway that notion for me. Additionally we have plenty of clips from films, vintage behind-the-scenes pictures and video, as well as archival TV news and newspaper stories that add historical context to the stories. 

A lot of the first hand testimony from the likes of producer Jim Most and actor Michael Barryman on The Crow, or director Gary Marshall on Poltergeist III, and production designer Richard Sawyer on Twilight Zone: The Movie is heartfelt and you can still hear the difficulty in there voices when they talk about the deaths of the actors involved. One especially startling  bit of behind-the-scenes footage is that of the accident on the set of Twilight Zone: The Movie involving the death of actor Vic Morrow and the two young child actors Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen involving a helicopter - which is startling no matter how many times I see it. It's not all so morbid and mournful though, when Donner and producer Mace Neufeld talk about the truly bizarre amount of weird happenings that surrounded the production of The Exorcist they kind of play into the idea of it being a cursed film without it ever getting truly scary or morbid about it, ultimately dismissing it as a blessed film, but the stories stories are certainly curious. It's also pretty cool to see the inside of the Blumhouse office, as well well as the movie memorabilia in the office of Richard Donner as well as the fantastic assortment of screen-used props in the home of uber-collector Sean Clark of Horror's Hallowed Grounds. Another interesting bit is the recreation of the conditions that lead to the death of actor Brandon Lee during the filming of The Crow by a special effects technician who shows us using a real gun and the type of ammo used on a film set to show the deadly set of circumstances, it's quite chilling to the errors that lead tot he tragedy.

Audio/Video: Cursed Films: Series One arrives on region-Blu-ray from Acorn Media International in 1080p HD widescreen (2.39:1). It's a sharp looking digital shot image with no issues, the interviews are handsomely staged and look great, and while the archival footage quality is typically lower resolution but still attractively presented. Audio comes by way of English DTS-HD MA 5.1 with optional English subtitles, it's free of distortion and sounds fine. 

Extras come by way of Audio Commentary for each episode from writer-director Jay Cheel, each one was well-worth a listen as he discusses his views on the films, the "curses", and getting into meeting each of the interviewees. It's a cools peek behind-the-scenes of the docu series, and I enjoyed the personal touches, even bringing up his late father in a touching moment whole recalling his passion for Poltergeist as a kid. The single-disc release in an oversized UK standard keepcase with a single-sided sleeve of artwork. 

Special Features:
- Director’s Audio Commentary for All 5 Episodes

This is a thoroughly engaging docu-series that explores the mythology of "cursed" film productions, and even as someone who is well-aware of the stories behind the making of these films and the tragedies associated with them II found this absolutely fascinating. I definitely recommend this first season, as well as the solid second which is currently streaming on Shudder. 

Screenshots from the Acorn Media International Blu-ray: