Cursed Films II

Their first season having covered the heavy hitters of the horror genre which fell within the remit of movie productions supposedly as notorious for what happened behind the scenes as what was screened in theatres, The Exorcist, The Omen, Poltergeist, The Crow and Twilight Zone: The Movie, the second season of Cursed Films is casting its net wider to less well known properties and one not normally considered horror except by those contracted to be on set.

Based on the novel by L Frank Baum, The Wizard of Oz was released in August 1939, a film normally associated with hope and overcoming adversity, yet mere days from the start of the Second World War it was first seen by audiences beset by understandable fear and anxiety, but despite the joy depicted in the colourful fantasy musical the shoot had been unpleasant, exhausting and at times dangerous, but is that sufficient to consider the film “cursed?”

With teenage star Judy Garland given amphetamines to keep her weight down, Buddy Ebsen forced to give up his role after developing pneumonia from inhaling aluminium dust used in the makeup for the Tin Man and Margaret Hamilton suffering severe burns when a fire effect detonated prematurely in the Wicked Witch’s departure from Munchkinland, to say nothing of the revolving door of directors attached to the project, the Yellow Brick Road was not a safe place to be, winged monkeys or not.

With interviews with Jane Lahr, daughter of Cowardly Lion Bert Lahr, Steve Rash, apologetic director of Under the Rainbow, Garland’s daughter Lorna Luft and others, the picture painted is of an extremely ambitious production with complex special effects, many of them experimental, and insufficient oversight and safety precautions; less convincing are those with not even vicarious claims to insider knowledge who steadfastly claim early prints of film contain the body of a hanged Munchkin in the background, one of them even struggling to pronounce the words as he express his beliefs in “the conspiracy.”

Undeniably more tragic is the story of Rosemary’s Baby, or to be more precise what happened the summer following its release with the murder of director Roman Polanski’s young wife Sharon Tate and her friends at the hands of “the Family” of cult leader Charles Manson; while not even tangentially connected to the film of a New York Satanic cult and the young bride they impregnate, the coincidences are surprising.

The interviewees including photojournalist Julian Wasser who accompanied Polanski to document the crime scene to assist in his private investigation, Terry Castle, daughter of producer William Castle, and Victoria Vetri who under the name Angela Dorian appeared in the film as Rosemary’s friend Teresa, the cumulative losses they have experienced and witnessed are many, but while Paramount Studios may be built on a reclaimed cemetery that is not evidence of cause and effect.

Supposedly once a Native American burial ground (where in America isn’t?), Benedict Canyon where Polanski and Tate lived has a longer history of murder, suicide and desperate behaviour, but is it more significant than that of any town where the people don’t make newspaper headlines when they overdose, the suburbs of Hollywood already more likely to be populated by people whose careers can vanish overnight, leaving them alone and prone to addictions?

Further episodes of the second season of Cursed Films considering The Serpent and the Rainbow, Stalker and Cannibal Holocaust, the sensational title seems more of a cover for writer/producer Jay Cheel to examine the genuinely interesting stories behind these films and their carefully orchestrated publicity campaigns, MythBusters’ Adam Savage perhaps best summing up the human need to see patterns in random events: “You want to believe… something is in charge, because the reality is no one is in charge and the universe doesn’t care about you.”

Cursed Films II will be available on Shudder from Thursday 7th April



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