Shudder’s final two episodes of their intriguing docuseries Cursed Films deal with tragic on set accidents that resulted in the loss of life.
Unlike the supposed supernatural curses associated with The Exorcist, The Omen, and Poltergeist, the disastrous events on the sets of Twilight Zone: The Movie and The Crow were the direct results of mishaps on set. And perhaps that’s the real curse.
Real Life Tragedies Worse Than Horror Films
Long before Shudder released this docuseries, both The Crow and Twilight Zone: The Movie were already infamous for the tragic deaths that occurred on sets.
While the production of The Crow dealt with an electrician getting severely burnt, as well as a hurricane in North Carolina, what we all remember is Brandon Lee being killed by a freak accident involving a dummy round that mistakenly fired from a gun, lodging itself in his abdomen.
Some attribute it to the “Curse of Bruce Lee”, but other than a few references to that, this episode (along with the Twilight Zone one) focus less on supernatural speculation, and more on what we can learn from dark incidents such as this.
And of course, none can forget the horrific accident on the set of Twilight Zone with cost actor Vic Morrow his life, along with two child actors, only 6 and 7 years old.
In hindsight it’s easy to see what went wrong in both instances, but the question that we all ask is, could these circumstances have been seen ahead of time?
The Nature of Stuntwork
Movie stunts have always been a dangerous business, which is why it is always emphasized that these are being done by trained professionals, and that people should not be attempting them at home.
There’s a great interview with famed Jason Vorhees actor Kane Hodder, who discusses the inevitability of things going wrong.
He states that obviously you do all you can to can to prevent accidents, but that there’s always an unpredictable nature, even recounting a time that a fire stunt he did went wrong, leaving him burned and in the hospital for months.
We also hear from the eccentric head of Troma Entertainment, Lloyd Kaufman, who has a very different approach. To him, no film is worth risking the safety of anyone.
To be fair however, it’s probably much easier to keep away from potentially dangerous stunts with the lower budgets that Troma tends to work with. They can’t really afford expensive car stunts or even having helicopters.
But Kaufman rightfully points out that any accident like the ones mentioned in these episodes happened, the ensuing lawsuits and settlements would bankrupt the oldest independent film studio in America.
Who’s To Blame?
Whether it’s a natural disaster, financial crisis, virus pandemic, or accidents on set, it’s human nature to want to find someone or something to lay the blame on. Whether that’s right or wrong is entirely up for debate.
But in the case of The Crow, no one blamed actor Michael Massee, other than himself of course. He was the one who fired the round into Brandon Lee, but he had no way of knowing what had gone wrong, and he wasn’t in charge of ensuring that the gun was safe.
While everyone on that set will take that tragedy with them to their own graves, none took it so hard as Michael Massee, who sadly passed away himself in 2016.
Actor and stuntman Michael Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes), who played Skull Cowboy in a scene that ultimately had to be deleted, has a very different verdict for who was at fault.
He claims that because North Carolina was an at will state, the studio was trying to save money, and dismissed a seasoned professional, replacing him with an inexperienced local to be in charge of the special effects.
And with the nature of this accident, it does seem like a more experienced technician might have thought to check the gun just to be safe.
The case of who was responsible for Twilight Zone deaths became a matter of civil and criminal court. John Landis was ultimately found not guilty of involuntary manslaughter, but there are those who feel that his cavalier attitude towards safety may have created the circumstances for something terrible to happen.
While he wasn’t found legally responsible for the deaths, he and other producers were fined for illegally hiring the child actors, and the event even reportedly ended his friendship with Steven Spielberg.
The Future Solution
While many film fans decry the overuse of CGI, it does certainly seem like a way to safely do these stunts. Using green screens and adding digital effects in post-production certainly leads to less risk of something happening.
Films like Life of Pi and the live action Jungle Book avoided any danger to animals, or danger to people from animals by featuring CGI creatures rather than real ones.
There will always be a charm to having real, practical effects on screen, but perhaps using this digital tool can prevent anything like these tragedies from ever happening again.
What did you think of the docuseries overall? What other movies would you like to see highlighted if Shudder does a follow up? Let us know in the comments below!
Cursed Films is streaming exclusively on Shudder.