Just in time for quarantine viewing, Shudder has released its five-part documentary series, Cursed Films. It’s a show that goes in-depth into the dark histories of five classic movies, from the strange freak accidents that plagued The Omen to the tragic events that hounded The Crow. It’s a fascinating series, where interviews with cast members sit alongside those of spiritual advisors and people get deeper into the mystique behind some of the best horror and fantasy films and their deeply checkered pasts.
Of course, there is a contingent out there, a small (but hopefully vocal) contingent, who were really hoping that this would be a series of films with actual curses in them, much like the videotape from The Ring or Antrum and want that once-in-a-lifetime experience of actually seeing something that could have upsetting consequences. Unfortunately (or fortunately, as the case may be) such things mainly reside in the realm of fiction. But worry not! We’ve prepared a list of our favorite books about actually cursed films so those of us looking for something a little more cursed and a little less historical can get our fix.
Experimental Film, Gemma Files
Drawing on Files’ extensive knowledge of film and filmmaking, Experimental Film begins with the history of Iris Whitcomb, a socialite and experimental filmmaker who one day mysteriously disappeared in a disaster. When Lois Cairns, an ex-film critic and professor, finds a sampled piece of silver nitrate film from one of Iris Whitcomb’s earlier works, it sets her on the train of what really happened to Whitcomb and the disappearance of her films. Files is fantastic at setting stranger or more eldritch elements in a modern context, and Experimental Film‘s blend of eerie folk horror, film history, suspense novel, and strange supernatural presence works wonderfully. The deep film knowledge also adds a heavy note of authenticity to the book, making it seem like the world of Whitcomb is just out of reach.
Memento Mori: The Fathomless Shadows, Brian Hauser
Hauser’s debut novel is an investigation of Tina Mori, a fictional underground filmmaker who vanished under mysterious circumstances (get used to hearing that during this article) after releasing several short movies and a feature-length film heralded as an underground classic. Through a variety of found documents including a horror fanzine edited by a teenage girl, film reviews, and script fragments, Hauser pieces together the strange and shadowy world that’s sprung up around Mori. The found-document style definitely helps sell the idea that you’re reading the aftermath of these doomed characters, and it gives the whole book an unnerving feel, like you’re being drawn deeper into this shadowy and supernatural world the more you read.
Lost Films, ed. Max Booth III & Lori Michele
No list of this type would be complete without a whole book of cursed films and film-related stories, from a variety of amazing writers. In here you’ll find a veritable evil film festival of horrors, each weirder than the last, from celluloid vampires to occult-influenced horror movies, and some even stranger things from there. For one thing, you know it’s a good collection of cursed-film stories when the snuff film story is the least weird thing in the volume. But all of them are hypnotic, strange, and compelling stories of what happens when an artwork, a singular object, suddenly takes on an upsetting and terrifying cast. It’s a good introduction point to a whole slew of authors who work on the weirder side of things, and a great collection if you’re a film fan.
Standout stories: “The Thing in the Side Room” by Dustin Katz, “Elephants That Aren’t” by Betty Rocksteady
Ring, Koji Suzuki
Suzuki, one of Japan’s more successful horror authors, kicked off his trilogy of terrifying novels about media, viruses, and ghosts with this much-adapted (at least three times, not counting sequels) title. A disgraced reporter for a Japanese newspaper discovers a string of mysterious deaths all taking place at a holiday campground, leading him to discover an unusual videotape with disturbing abstract images. A warning at the end of the videotape tells him he’s cursed and has only one way to lift the curse, only for the tape to abruptly end with a commercial before it can tell him how. The book is a vivid waking nightmare of a ride, as Suzuki’s mystery unfolds slowly over pages full of detail and disquieting imagery, teasing tension out of ice cubes in a glass, or the image of a man unable to take off a motorcycle helmet.
Camp Ghoul Mountain VI: The Official Novelization, Jonathan Raab
Raab’s wild meta-horror meditation on horror movies, aliens, artistic symbolism, and trashy slasher cliches reads like one part Pale Fire and one part pulp horror in the best way possible. But the story spirals into even weirder places from there, as the process of writing the novelization seems to cause Raab hallucinations, puts him in touch with a terrifying megacorporation he previously made up, and plunge him the shadowy history of the film’s director, who was apparently murdered under mysterious circumstances. It’s a great gonzo-horror ride with film-history underpinnings, and the footnotes and essays serve as an excellent guide to the world of Camp Ghoul Mountain VI as well as the horror genre in general. It’s one that seeps into the real world just enough for you to catch yourself wondering about what you just read.