Shudder’s documentary series Cursed Films returns this week, and since season one got the heavy hitters out of the way (Poltergeist, The Omen, The Exorcist, The Crow, Twilight Zone: The Movie), season two allows for a somewhat looser interpretation of the series theme — though Hollywood nightmares still abound.
The first episode of season two signals a shift for the series — which was previously only concerned with horror films — by digging into The Wizard of Oz, addressing many of the well-known stories and legends about the 1939 classic. These include: original cast member Buddy Ebsen had to quit after the suffocating Tin Man make-up landed him in the hospital (true); a cast member hung themself on-set, a tragedy said to still be visible in certain cuts of the film (false, and extensively discussed here); and the actors who played the Munchkins partied fiercely throughout the production (false, though Cursed Films II does show the infamous talk-show clip of Judy Garland blithely giving rise to that rumour). Brisk editing (each Cursed Films episode is around 45 minutes, which feels just right) and some surprising yet welcome interview subjects keep things lively — the latter in this case including Steve Rash, director of 1981’s notorious Oz-themed Chevy Chase comedy Under the Rainbow, and comedian Gregg Turkington, who makes a deadpan case for being considered Under the Rainbow’s biggest fan.
With Oz experts and offspring alike weighing in — including Margaret Hamilton’s son, who recalls his mother recovering from severe burns after a special-effects malfunction during one of the Wicked Witch of the West’s dramatic exit scenes — the most insightful talking head might be former Mythbusters host Adam Savage. He suggests that calling movies “cursed” is really a way for fans to cope with unfortunate, but not necessarily cosmically pre-ordained, things that might have happened during a particular movie’s creation. “Do we remove some magic about a narrative by busting a myth about that narrative? I submit ‘no,’” Savage says. “I submit that no one ever minds knowing more about a subject. You can certainly demystify things and still celebrate them at the same time … While some people may complain that in telling the true stories about some narrative, we’re somehow reducing some of its magic, I don’t think that’s true for most people.”
Episode two dips back into horror with Roman Polanski’s occult thriller Rosemary’s Baby, which came out in 1968 — a time of great cultural and political tumult, something that’s given helpful context here. It was also just a year prior to Polanski’s pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, and others being brutally killed by members of the Manson family. As such, it comes across that the “curse” of Rosemary’s Baby is more, “bad things that happened after the movie” rather than “bad things that happened as part of the movie.” The Manson story gets a beefy tangent here (as does the strange life story of Rosemary’s Baby co-star Victoria Vetri); there’s also the fact that the Dakota, the New York City apartment building whose exterior was used in the film, was the site of John Lennon’s murder over a decade later. (Polanski’s later legal troubles, however, go unmentioned.)
Cursed Films II — which is written and directed by Jay Cheel — premieres with The Wizard of Oz episode today on Shudder. New episodes drop weekly thereafter and the subject matter this season is overall rather inspired; along with Rosemary’s Baby, episodes will focus on Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 sci-fi film Stalker, Wes Craven’s 1988 Haitian Vodou exploration The Serpent and the Rainbow, and Ruggero Deodato’s infamous 1980 “found-footage” trailblazer Cannibal Holocaust. You can also stream all of Cursed Films’ first season now on Shudder.