Filmmaker Jay Cheel is no stranger to uncovering the truth. Having directed the 2016 documentary How to Build a Time Machine, which followed two men on a quest to build their own time machine, he is now on a journey to bring about the truth surrounding certain horror films and the supposed curses that befell them in the upcoming Shudder original series, CURSED FILMS.
For the upcoming release of the documentary series, Jay and I chatted about all things curse related. During our interview we discussed everything from filming real-life exorcisms to his favorite cursed film, and what he’s excited for fans of horror to uncover in the series.
What inspired you to do a documentary about cursed films?
Jay Cheel: Shudder approached me with the general concept of doing a documentary series on cursed films and asked what my approach might be. As a horror fan, I had heard of these stories before, but I thought that there might be an interesting angle beyond the internet listicle take on this subject matter. I was excited by the idea of using these cursed legends as the opportunity to explore why we are so fascinated by these stories and how horror films prime us for belief in the supernatural and unexplained.
When filming, was there information that you found that was really surprising or made you uneasy?
Jay Cheel: We filmed a series of real exorcisms, which made me quite uneasy, although not in a way you might expect. In terms of the information, The Omen curse is definitely a wild one. I was also surprised by how thoughtful and engaging the various witches and black magicians we spoke with were. Not that I necessarily assumed they wouldn’t be, but I felt as though I could actually be friends with these people, joyfully cursing films on weekends while listening to Bauhaus.
Were there other films that you wanted to focus on in terms of curses that you couldn’t? Which is your favorite famous cursed film?
Jay Cheel: My favorite cursed film is definitely The Exorcist. That one is a formative one for me (and many others). My favorite CURSE connected to a film is probably The Omen. There are so many wild stories connected to that production that I think even the most skeptical observer might raise an eyebrow. In terms of films we didn’t focus on, I would’ve loved to have covered the story connected to the making of The Conqueror, but we were focused mainly on horror (or horror-adjacent) productions. For those of you unfamiliar with the challenges faced during the production of The Conqueror, Google it!
Outside of the people involved in the making of these films, how did you go about finding additional interview subjects? What were some of the specifications you looked for?
Jay Cheel: I wanted a well-rounded chorus of voices for the series from various perspectives and backgrounds. Those included professors, authors, critics, podcasters, witches, black magicians, and of course, the talented people who worked on the films discussed. The process of approaching these people is one you might expect nowadays, as we are all pretty well connected. The real challenge was convincing some of them that this series wasn’t just another program exploiting the tragedies connected to these curses.
What are you most excited for fans to see in this documentary?
Jay Cheel: I’ve always hoped that fans might walk away from this series with a list of recommended films and books that they could then seek out as supplemental materials. Thankfully, some of those films are actually on Shudder! I’m very happy that we had the chance to discuss so many interesting aspects of horror cinema, psychology, religion, and the occult, and I am thrilled to be able to share all of those perspectives with our audience.
CURSED FILMS will premiere on Shudder on April 2, 2020. For more on the documentary series, check out our review here.