Have you heard the rumor that real skeletons were used in Poltergeist? Or how about all the mysterious incidents that surrounded the shooting of The Omen? If you’re a horror fan, you’ve heard these stories – and more. Certain iconic horror films are surrounded by this sort of legends – the type that make an already scary movie extra scary, as if the very film itself was emitting bad vibes, or toxic fumes.
These rumors, rumblings, urban legends, and more, crawl out of the shadows and into the light in Cursed Films, a new Shudder docu-series from director Jay Cheel. Each episode attempts to get to the bottom of these stories, and, should they be total bunk, track their origins. In doing so, Cursed Films uncovers dark secrets and stark realities harsher than any mythical curse.
Baseless speculation and bits of trivia don’t exactly make for a compelling TV series, and thankfully, Cursed Films rises above all that. It’s not interested in spreading rumors, but rather in digging as deep as it can to get to the truth – or some semblance of the truth. The two episodes provided for critics, focusing on Poltergeist and The Omen, are both unique in their approach. The Poltergeist episode is the better of the two, primarily because it feels like the most in-depth. So much of the stories surrounding The Omen – planes hit by lightning, IRA bombings, and more – have always seemed so secondary, so tacked-on – as if fans are so desperate for a curse that they’ll force a square peg into a round hole to make it work.
But Poltergeist is a different story. There’s the rumor – a true rumor, in fact – that real skeletons were used as part of the film’s climax. And then there’s the sad fate of two of the film’s actresses – Dominique Dunne and Heather O’Rourke. Dunne was murdered by her ex-boyfriend at the age of 22, while O’Rourke, who would appear in both Poltergeist 2 and 3, died at 12 from cardiac arrest and septic shock caused by intestinal stenosis. These tragic outcomes have hung over Poltergeist like a dark, ominous rain cloud ready to burst – but do they really indicate a full-blown curse?
Dealing with such difficult topics isn’t easy. A lesser filmmaker could’ve gone for something far more exploitative here; crasser; crueler. But Cheel finds the perfect balance here, touching on these troubling subjects with as much grace as possible. It’s all part of the plan to effectively tamp down any future talk of curses. Yes, real skeletons were used in the film – but real skeletons were used in many other films as well – films that have never suffered anything resembling a curse. And yes, Dunne and O’Rourke died tragically young.
But is that really a sign of some ghoulish, ghostly, otherwordly curse...
The 2006 Oscars will forever be remembered as the infamous ceremony where “Crash” beat “Brokeback Mountain” for Best Picture. Ang Lee’s groundbreaking gay romance was the critical favorite and it won three of the eight Oscars it was nominated for that year: Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Original Score. Headlining actors Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal both earned Oscar nominations for their performances. The actors were asked to present during the 2007 Oscars telecast, but Gyllenhaal revealed in a recent interview with Another Man magazine via NME that Ledger turned down the opportunity because it would mean making jokes at the expense of the gay “Brokeback” love story.
“I mean, I remember they wanted to do an opening for the Academy Awards that year that was sort of joking about it,” Gyllenhaal said. “And Heath refused. I was sort of at the time, 'Oh, okay... whatever.' I'm always like, ‘It's all in good fun.’ And Heath said, 'It's not a joke to me — I don't want to make any jokes about it.’”
Gyllenhaal, “That's the thing I loved about Heath. He would never joke. Someone wanted to make a joke about the story or whatever, he was like, 'No. This is about love. Like, that's it, man. Like, no.'”
Ledger was nominated in the Best Actor category but lost to “Capote” star Philip Seymour Hoffman. Gyllenhaal lost to George Clooney in “Syriana” for Best Supporting Actor. “Brokeback Mountain” marked the first Oscar nominations for both actors. Ledger would go on to be nominated and win his Oscar in the Best Supporting Actor race for his role as the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight.” Ledger received the Academy Award posthumously. “Brokeback” remains Gyllenhaal’s sole Oscar nomination to date.
Gyllenhaal has previously spoken about Ledger’s disdain for “Brokeback Mountain” jokes, but this is the first time the actor has revealed his late co-star turned down the Oscars. Gyllenhaal told “Today” in July 2019 that “Brokeback” marked a pivotal moment in his career. “It opened tons of doors,” he said. “It was crazy. It was amazing. It's defined my career in different ways. [But the film] is bigger than me...It has become not ours anymore. It's the world's.”
Read Gyllenhaal’s latest interview in its entirety on the Another Man website.