TV Review: Cursed Films kicks off season 2 with the dark myths behind The Wizard of Oz
The first season of Shudder’s Cursed Films turned the tables on what its own title seemed to suggest, that it was going to be about the supernatural elements at play in the making of certain horror films. Instead, it went for a more noble goal. It sought to debunk the myths and conspiracy theories that haunt certain movies afflicted by a history of tragedy, irresponsible filmmaking, and superstition. Season two of the docuseries is a continuation of this, and it decided to go for one of Hollywood’s (and cinema’s) most treasured films for its opening episode: The Wizard of Oz.
A cursory online search about the supposedly dark secrets contained within the original cuts of 1939’s The Wizard of Oz (dir. by Victor Fleming) will yield a hefty volume of grim hits that promise to reveal the “truth” behind deep backlot rumors concerning hanging munchkins and abusive Hollywood producers that took turns in abusing the movie’s star, Judy Garland, while on set.
Cursed Films 2 employs the same approach that made season one such a compelling watch. It goes for an aggressive deconstruction of the very idea of what a cursed film is and why reality, and not superstition, offers the best explanations for the mysteries that’ve latched on to it. Taken as a whole, season one ultimately suggests that films become cursed thanks to fans who want to explain production woes and accidents via the same lore that’s in the content of the movies in question.
Weird noises on the set of The Exorcist? It had to be the devil. It’s what the movie is about in the first place. You can’t really blame anything that happened during its production on a vampire, for instance. The movie is not about undead bloodsuckers. It’s about a possessed girl who, in one scene, claims to be the devil. The same goes for the other movies explored in the docuseries.
The Wizard of Oz, the show suggests, becomes a cursed film for its position in American film history and how it stands to represent the spirit of Hollywood, a place that is as classy and fantastic as it is ugly and corrupt. Add in the internet’s message board community culture, plus its conspiracy-heavy leanings, and you’ve got a cursed film.
The episode is well-scripted and researched, featuring interviews with surviving family members of the movie’s cast along with other commentators, such as Mythbusters’ own Adam Savage (brought in to discuss the case of the Tin Man’s original aluminum-based makeup and how it nearly killed the first actor that was cast to play him). Surprises are plentiful throughout, especially when it comes to the rumors that swirled around the actors who played the munchkins in the movie. This part of the episode is one of its strongest and is sure to give viewers something to talk about.
Perhaps one of the most effective components of the episode comes in the form of incident reenactments. They possess a haunting quality that strengthens the show’s idea on reality being dark enough on its own without requiring curses to explain away the strange happenings. They’re presented with a grainy filter that heightens the events they recreate while adding context and texture in the process. It’s a very successful approach and I hope the remaining episodes feature them as well.
The decision to open a new season of Cursed Films with a staple of classic American filmmaking is a daring one, and a resounding success at that. It can even be viewed as a statement on the controversial practice of declaring . Cursed Films goes to the land of Oz to say that no myth is safe, that they can be exposed as distorted truths for all to see. The upcoming episodes include Rosemary’s Baby, Stalker, Cannibal Holocaust, and Wes Craven’s The Serpent and The Rainbow (the one I’m looking forward to the most). You should expect them to scare you with what actually happened rather than with demonic forces that hold grudges against troubled Hollywood productions.