Shudder’s ‘Cursed Films’ Director Jay Cheel: The Horror News Network Interview

by Nick Banks

Every horror fan has heard the legends surrounding classic horror films such as The Exorcist and Poltergeist.  These tales include stories about haunted sets, tragedy, mysterious mistakes, and the lives forever scarred by being associated with some of the greatest the genre has to offer.

Life-long horror fan Jay Cheel grew up hearing these same stories and in his new Shudder documetary series, Cursed Films, the director attempts to seperate the facts from the legends and entertain both novice and hard core fans all the way.

In this exclusive interview with Horror News Network, Cheel discusses the origins of the project and what fans should expect from the new series.

Horror News Network: How did you become involved in Cursed Films

Jay Cheel: Cursed Films is a project that came to me from Shudder and I was thrilled because I have always been a big horror fan, so it was right in my wheelhouse.  I remember watching Twilight Zone: The Movie in a drive-in as a child, and while not pure horror per se, it got me hooked.  After that I recall discovering the John Carpenter films and that was the first time I realized that there was someone behind the camera controlling the entire production, from the music to the camera shots; that was my journey to the genre.  So getting to meet people like Richard Donner, Linda Blair, and many of the others who worked on the subjects of Cursed Films was a highlight for me as a fan.

It’s also interesting that there has been no real proper documentation of these stories.  Today, everything is documented and filmed and we have almost complete access to information. That was not true when these films were being made.

HNN: You approach each film and the story behind the bad luck and tragedy associated with them from multiple perspectives, from both believers and the skeptics.

Cheel:  That was definetly important to me, to get the varying opinions of the people who were there on set.  When we interviewed special effects artist Craig Reardon for the Poltergeist episode, he shared some strong opinions about the framing of the curse on that film.  It was important to examine the curse and how/why it has been perpetuated.  The skeptic’s perspective is an important one to share.

HNN: Sharing that perspective certianly lends credibility to the series. 

Cheel: For sure.  The goal was not to convince the people involved in the productions to tell a spooky story.  If it was, Cursed Films wouldn’t be as interesting.  The key for me was to allow those involved to be as honest as possible and not telling them that there are certain parameters that they have to stick to was important for the process.  We didn’t need them to be spooky to tell the stories and a lot of fans have heard those stories before.

HNN: Was there one film that you looked forward to exploring out of the many that are featured on Cursed Films?

Cheel: Yes, Poltergeist.  I watched that film the most growing up.  And although there has been a lot written about Poltergeist, we uncovered some unexpected discoveries, primarily having to do with the skeletons used in the pool scene.  Being able to go to the actual house where they filmed Poltergeist and getting to discuss the film with Craig Reardon was something I always wanted to do.  The fact that I now consider Craig a friend of mine is something I never imagined when I began production on Cursed Films.

HNN: Was there a film that you highlighted on Cursed Films that surprised you in terms of what you discovered? 

Cheel: Yes, The Crow episode was surprising.  We had a stunt team come in and recreate how Brandon Lee was killed on set, with a dummy bullet in a prop gun.  Today, movie sets stress safety at all times, but it was pretty clear how the accident could have occured after recreating it.

HNN:  Do you have some ideas for future installments of Cursed Films after this season? 

Cheel: There are some films that we are targeting, and some that are on the periphery of the horror genre that would be exciting to explore.

HNN:  What are you working on currently, aside from Cursed Films?  

Cheel: I’m currently in development on a documentary about a man named John Titor, who in 2000 claimed to be an American military time traveler from 2036.  It is partly non-fiction and partly sci-fi.

I also host a film podcast called Film Junk where we discuss all types of cinema.

Cursed Films debuts on Shudder on April 2 with The Exorcist episode.  The other episodes will debut in order twice a week on April 9 and April 16.


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