Shudder Presents: Cursed Films Episode 2 & 3 – The Omen & Poltergeist
Living through the real world horrors of a global pandemic and quarantine makes sitting for horror-based entertainment very interesting, to say the least. Shudder is there for us horror fans, updating their catalogs with a “Halfway to Halloween” theme as well as a new series from writer/director Jay Cheel, Cursed Films. Last week’s premiere episode: The Exorcist, was Shudder’s second biggest streaming debut ever behind their updated Creepshow series last year. This week, we get a two-fer of episodes dealing with two of the most notoriously plagued and cursed productions in cinematic history, let alone horror history: The Omen and Poltergeist.
Episode 2: The Omen
The Omen was the first horror film I saw as a kid that legitimately terrified me. Many of the stories touched on here I heard before, including star Gregory Peck’s plane getting struck by lightning and the plane he was supposed to be on crashing. Perhaps most horrific was the horrible decapitation death of special effects artist John Richardson’s assistant Liz Moore in a car accident; her grisly death mirroring one of the film’s iconic death scenes. What I didn’t know was that Richardson claimed seeing a road sign near the accident sight for a Dutch Town Ommen, at 66.6 kilos away. The hair on my neck stood up upon hearing that.
Director Richard Donner (Superman, The Goonies) as well as the film’s Executive Producer Mace Neufeld were on hand to discuss the events and the “curse” surrounding the production. But writer/director Jay Cheel does very interesting things with these 28-minute episodes. Rather than focus exclusively on the film every second, he also discusses the nature of curses and human perception. A main focus here is on the conflict between coincidence and curse. Actual witches, a “Black Magician” and the Publisher of Skeptic Magazine, Michael Shermer make truly compelling points about people, specifically horror fans seeing what they want to see. Shermer uses the “gorilla experiment” which I will not ruin, but I will admit I failed miserably.
In the end it almost seems, like with The Exorcist, the “curse” in question benefited the film, leaving many including Donner thinking his film was blessed rather than cursed… but blessed by whom???
Episode 3: Poltergeist
Another horror film that truly scared me was Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist from 1982. The clown puppet, the face-ripping scene, that damn tree… yeah this one was scary. Maybe more than both The Exorcist and The Omen combined, it’s very easy to label Poltergeist cursed. Several key cast members died tragically during and after production of the film and its sequels. Franchise star Heather O’Rourke was only 12 when she passed away in 1988 during final production on Poltergeist 3. Dominique Dunne, the older sister in the original, was brutally murdered by an ex-boyfriend, and two actors from the sequel, both Will Sampson and Julian Beck, died of cancer shortly after.
For years many attributed the curse to an urban legend about the skeletons used in the climactic pool sequence and whether they were in fact real skeletons. Cheel does a great job conveying the dual nature of the “curse” label to a horror film. We meet super horror fan and star of Horror’s Hallowed Grounds, Sean Clark who shows his amazing collection of horror props including the infamous Poltergeist clown puppet. He, like many others, has visited the “Freeling House” in California. We as horror fans create mythologies based on these “curses” and those mythologies elevate the films to legendary status.
The other side of this coin is the sad and harsh reality that in the case of Poltergeist, people died tragically and others were left to pick up the pieces. One particular interview with Poltergeist 3 director Gary Sherman left me with tears in my eyes as he recalled finding out about Heather O’Rourke’s passing and then being forced by the studio to complete the film. Craig Reardon, who did special makeup on Poltergeist, discussed the “real skeletons” question, calling conspiracy theories and “curses” an insult to the memories of Dunne and O’Rourke.
Next Thursday Cursed Films returns to Shudder with episodes on The Twilight Zone: The Movie (1985) and The Crow (1994). Shudder is a necessity for horror fans, and they offer a 7-day free trial at shudder.com and it’s less than $5 a month after that.