The best horror films are the ones that linger with you even after the credits fade to black. They turn the shadows in our rooms to monsters. They leave us wide-eyed while we’re supposed to be sleeping. In other words, they make reality more frightening.
But, inversely, it’s sometimes reality that makes our favorite scary flicks scarier. Plenty of horror films have run with this idea and marketed themselves by claiming they are based on true stories. In some cases, like with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, this is a bit (a very large bit, actually) of a stretch. But still, it puts butts in seats! Plus, most of us don’t mind suspending our disbelief if it makes a movie freakier.
Beyond the dubious marketing practices of Tobe Hooper, though, there are a few instances of horror films that are actually based on true stories. But even scarier than this are those movies rumored of being cursed.
That’s the basis for Shudder’s aptly-titled 2020 short series Cursed Films. Each episode is a tiny documentary of the mysterious and disturbing circumstances around five different movies. The series invites viewers to decide for themselves whether the curses are real or imagined by overly enthusiastic audiences.
In the spirit of horror nerd-dom, here’s a ranking of the five episodes of the first season of Shudder’s Cursed Films. My criteria was simply based on subjective feelings of creepiness. This is because, at the end of the day, no one can definitively verify whether these cursed horror films are “real” or not. For better or worse, the existence of these curses is up to you.
Disclaimer: this article covers actual events that occurred during the filming of these movies, and real deaths are discussed. If that’s not your thing, check out one of our other recent articles.
5. What Happened to the Children from Twilight Zone: The Movie?
Look, making a list of Cursed Films episodes is pretty tough. All of the movies covered in the Shudder mini-series had some truly awful events happen during filming. That’s why they’re considered to be cursed horror films, after all. How do you compare terrifying – and tragic – moments like that?
I suppose the only real way to do it is by gut feeling. And to me, the story of the Twilight Zone: The Movie is more sad than it is frightening. Although Cursed Films presents a strong case, this movie just seems like a series of unfortunate events more than anything else.
For those who don’t know, something awful happened during the filming process. Twilight Zone: The Movie (based on the original Twilight Zone TV show) is split into four different segments, and one of those segments involved a slew of explosives and other action elements. Poor choices on set led to some of the blasts going off near a helicopter which then struck and killed three actors: one adult and two children.
While other film accidents discussed in Cursed Films feel like they could be plausibly explained by some demonic connection or otherworldly magic, Twilight Zone appears to be an easily explainable human error. That doesn’t make it any less devastating, though.
4. Did People Actually Die During the Filming of The Omen?
The Omen is one of the absolute classics of horror cinema. Released in 1976, it preceded the true start of the Satanic panic era, yet it reflected a general cultural fascination for demons, Devils, and possessions. And at the time, making a movie about topics like that came with baggage.
The very fact that The Omen was based on the Antichrist was enough to get people talking about the film’s morality. The more concerned viewers even wondered whether the movie itself was haunted by the Devil. They guessed that making a movie about him would, like, summon him or something. Makes sense, right?
Well, maybe that idea wasn’t that far off. Cursed Films goes into detail about the strange circumstances around The Omen’s filming, and it’s definitely freaky. Gregory Peck, one of the main actors in the movie, had two different instances of plane trouble. A flight he was nearly on ended up crashing, killing those on board. Later, the plane he was on that was headed to the set was struck by lightning.
It’s not that big of a mental leap to think that some kind of force was trying to prevent this movie from being made. But the craziest anecdote about The Omen’s curse is the fact that an artist from the film – the one who helped work on the decapitation scene – was in a car crash that ended up decapitating his wife. If that’s just a coincidence, it’s a helluva eerie one.
3. Was The Exorcist the Original Cursed Horror Movie?
Like many of the movies on this list of cursed horror films, there are real deaths linked to the filming of The Exorcist. That is, in part, what made the movie such a success.
When The Exorcist was first released in 1973, it broke new ground in marketing. Word started to spread that this movie was actually – no, like, for real – related to the Devil. You know, the Big Guy in Red. The producers of the film ran with this idea of the movie being Actually Evil and used it to create massive controversy around the movie.
Unfortunately, things started to get a little too real. Rather than just being a fun marketing scheme, the idea of The Exorcist being cursed started to become a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts. Multiple actors involved in the movie ended up dying. Some of these deaths are mysterious and questionable; others, like when Jack MacGowran succumbed to influenza, felt poorly timed rather than like symptoms of a curse.
There are some aspects to The Exorcist’s filming that do feel a bit inexplicable, though. Part of the set randomly going up in flames seemed to be evidence of demonic involvement, for instance.
The knowledge from Cursed Films that has stayed with me the most, though, is the fact that Linda Blair suffered real injuries during some of the more violent scenes of the movie. That means that you’re watching her actual pain and suffering on screen. That feels more cursed than almost anything on this list.
2. Did Brandon Lee in The Crow Die Because of a Curse?
The story of Brandon Lee’s untimely death during the filming of 1994’s The Crow is equal parts tragic, strange, and creepy. While the actual cause of his death appears explainable, the context surrounding it raises plenty of questions. Maybe a real curse could be the explanation.
But before we get to that, it’s important to make note of the other seemingly “cursed” events from the filming of the movie. The set was destroyed by terrible weather at one point, and a member of the production crew was electrocuted and subsequently caught on fire. Sounds unnerving, yeah?
The most important story, though, is obviously the death of Brandon Lee. While filming a scene that involved a gun being shot at him, a terrible mistake led to his death. The prop gun that was being used for the movie accidentally contained a round in the barrel that ended up being fired at the young actor. He died from the injury.
So, yeah. Weird and very sad. But what makes this one of the more compelling and creepy episodes of Cursed Films is the fact that there was reportedly a curse on the Lee family before filming for The Crow even began. This curse was said to cause the deaths of multiple male members of the family – including the famous father of Brandon, Bruce Lee.
And it gets stranger. Not only did Bruce Lee face an early and mysterious death, but one of his movies even seemingly foreshadowed his son’s death long before it happened. One of Bruce’s movies, Game of Death, features Bruce’s character dying after being shot by a faulty prop gun on a movie set. That might just be the coincidence to end all coincidences.
Of course, there are lots of compelling reasons to believe that the Lee family curse is nothing more than superstition and hype. But the connections between Bruce, Brandon, and the filming of The Crow are eerie to say the least.
1. Is The Poltergeist Actually Cursed?
For the most part, Cursed Films does a good job of presenting objective facts about the filming of so-called “cursed” horror films and letting us decide whether any supernatural malfeasance was actually at play or not. However, we won’t fault you if you walk away from the episode on The Poltergeist with the feeling that there’s no way to believe that this movie wasn’t doomed from the start. But that isn’t the fault of Shudder’s documentarians. The Poltergeist is just supremely chill-inducing.
Those who have poked around into the history of The Poltergeist have likely discovered a rumor stating that the skeletons in the climax were real human bones. It’s one of those movie facts that sounds too good to be true, but it actually is. This is especially startling given the movie’s theme, and it seems to give credence to the idea that this movie actually had some kind of curse.
Unfortunately, that’s not the creepiest part of the tragic story of The Poltergeist. As the episode details, multiple cast members met untimely ends. Dominique Dunn was murdered by an ex-boyfriend shortly after the release of the movie. Heather O’Rourke, the tiny star-in-the-making who played Carol Anne, died after the second movie in the series at only 12 years old. She still posthumously appeared in Poltergeist III, though, which is both complicated and creepy.
Cursed Films goes over all the other events that make The Poltergeist especially cursed. With real human remains and the death of a child at play, it was the episode in the series that freaked me out the most.
Last Updated on February 25, 2022.