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CURSED FILMS II: The Wizard of Oz | A Review that takes us down the yellow brick road

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These past few years Shudder has become the number one stop for streaming great horror content. One of the most popular shows on the service has been Cursed Films, a series that examines the many myths, legends, and tales about some of Hollywood’s most iconic horror films and franchises. All of these have had numerous issues prior to and during filming, featuring conversations with cast and crew who were there to witness these tragedies firsthand and some still bear the weight of them to this very day.

Today Shudder releases its anticipated second season as Cursed Films returns with a whole new 5-part documentary focusing on more notoriously “Cursed” productions. When people look at films that are super beloved, and when they hear stories about the difficulties or tragedies that happened on set they then go on to ascribe that production as a “Cursed Film”.

All the films in this new season have a darker thread but Cursed Films 2 gives viewers a great look into the world of factory filmmaking and also an eye-opening dissection of the many deep tragedies of some of Hollywood’s most beloved films.

Episode one of season II takes us further down the yellow brick road than ever before and showcases an emotional, nostalgic, and troubled examination of one of Hollywood’s greatest Achievements, The Wizard of Oz. Released back in 1939 on the cusp of WW2 and post The Great Depression created an illusion of a hopeful, brighter future. It’s a story about good vs evil, wanting more, and longing to go home that features a variety of colourful characters, dazzling effects and a pleasant soundtrack of gleeful songs. To this very day, The Wizard of Oz is still treated as an iconic family film and is preserved in the library of congress in the United States Film Registry for being culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.

Cursed Films II: Episode 1: The Wizard of Oz (© MGM)

But what if I told you that The Wizard of Oz is one of the most infamous cursed films of all time and has been the subject of more speculation as the film suffered from many bizarre, horrific moments during production. Episode 1of Cursed Films II dives into the stories that are outside the box and showcases the good which unfortunately behind the scenes was terrible working conditions and the treatment of its cast. The show ultimately makes it more about the people they’re interviewing and how their experiences have changed them, such as showcasing Judy Garland’s unintentional addiction mirroring her own daughter overcoming hers and the unfortunate event during filming where Margaret Hamilton sustained 3rd-degree burns whilst filming her exit as The Wicked Witch of the West in MunchkinLand and the efforts she took. Hearing her son tell during the interview that she made up a story about dressing up In a Mummy costume for a role so that he wouldn’t be scared when she came home with bandages from the injuries she suffered.

Cursed Films II: Episode 1: The Wizard of Oz (© MGM)

The large portion of the first episode showcases the tarnished legacy surrounding the Munchkin cast as rumours began to pour through Hollywood of drunken and sexual behaviour which was started unintentionally by Garland herself. These words plagued the cast for years and ruined their reputation and turned them into laughingstocks. Throughout the episode, Hollywood and the production are described as a factory with dangerous working conditions due to the ignorance of the studio.

With many of the children of the actor’s being interviewed with their own insights, we also see a Wizard of Oz theme park with character actors who took on these roles after becoming inspired by what they saw growing up. This episode’s roster also includes Mythbusters host Adam Savage and Gregg Turkington, both offering insights into the mysteries of the hanging Munchkin and the make-up poisoning of Jack Haley who was supposed to play the Tin Man.

VERDICT

I’m officially hooked on the returning series it highly produces an examination of the many myths and tales of horror classics with a pure cinematic lense. Director Jay Creel’s second season maintains its focus on the film and its stories.

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HORROR

Prey | 20th Century Studios | Hulu

The origin story of the Predator in the world of the Comanche Nation 300 years ago. Naru, a skilled female warrior, fights to protect her tribe against one of the first highly-evolved Predators to land on Earth.

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Genre:

Action, Drama, Horror

Release Date:

20222 (Hulu)

Director:

Dan Trachtenberg

Cast:

Amber Midthunder, Dane DiLiegro, Stefany Mathias

Plot Summary:

The origin story of the Predator in the world of the Comanche Nation 300 years ago. Naru, a skilled female warrior, fights to protect her tribe against one of the first highly-evolved Predators to land on Earth.

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HORROR

Choose or Die – A Miss For Netflix

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Netflix’s home page suggestions can always be hit or miss, and unfortunately its latest release ‘Choose or Die’ falls into the category of the latter. Captivated by Asa Butterfield on the poster, I was curious to see what this film had to offer and begrudgingly it didn’t have a lot.

We follow Kayla, a broke student who has a lot to deal with in terms of her family situation and being the sole provider for herself and her mum. She then stumbles upon a retro video game from the 80s which forces her to choose and ultimately leads to various chain reactions of horrific events involving people close to her.

Lola Evans as Kayla and Asa Butterfield as Isaac

The premise of the film sounds interesting, however, I think it swings and misses quite early into the film’s first act. Eddie Marsan sets the tone and trail of interest for Choose or Die as we are introduced to this sadistic game and the chain of events it will inevitably pursue. 

Choose or Die doesn’t make it easy to empathise with its characters, finding any connection to Kayla or Isaac was difficult. This ‘are they aren’t they’ subplot lingers throughout the film’s narrative but adds nothing to the overarching story. The supporting characters, such as Thea and Laura, are much more interesting and genuinely have you intrigued as to what decisions they will make.

What stood out to me was the violent and gore-like scenes of 80s horrors, with some pretty good stomach churning special effects make-up. Those intense scenes, one involving a rat, had me genuinely glued to the screen, anticipating what may happen next. Choose or Die’s strongest component are the early moral decisions Kayla has to make and ultimately demonstrate Meakin’s passion for the horror genre.

Ioanna Kimbook as Grace in Choose or Die, seen here in the diner in one of the more grotesque decisive moments for Kayla

The way in which this film is shot, felt very “student-esque” with its lackluster camera movements and setting. The set design lacked little depth, except for Isaac’s room which is full of detail, therefore making the world feel small and less three dimensional. An element which pulled me out of this cinematic experience, was the fact that this was evidently filmed in the United Kingdom, and the cast contained predominantly a lot of British actors doing an American accent so I wasn’t fully immersed into this world. 

Meakins clearly uses his passion for the horror genre to influence this film’s dark tone, from it’s leading characters’ moral compass as well as the gorey visuals that inevitably come with those decisions. The whole world feels cold and derelict, be it the place in which Kayla cleans or the housing estate of which she lives in, this is an unwelcoming world that no-one wants to comfort you in. 

Choose or Die isn’t a film that will stick out as one that defined 2022, however I’m sure someone will take something away from this film, be it’s reference to 80s gaming or the violent and graphic elements that the director is clearly passionate about. 

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Off Season – To Premiere Exclusively on Shudder

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Shudder, AMC Networks’ premium streaming service for horror, thriller and the supernatural, announced that OFFSEASON will be available exclusively to stream on the platform starting on Friday, June 10, 2022. As a Shudder exclusive, the platform will be the only subscription service that will carry the film in the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.

Upon receiving a mysterious letter that her mother’s gravesite has been vandalized, in OFFSEASON, Marie (Donahue) quickly returns to the isolated offshore island where her late mother is buried. When she arrives, she discovers that the island is closing for the offseason with the bridges raised until Spring, leaving her stranded. One strange interaction with the local townspeople after another, Marie soon realizes that something is not quite right in this small town. She must unveil the mystery behind her mother’s troubled past in order to make it out alive.

Check out the film’s trailer below and read our review HERE as it debuted during SXSW 2021

Written and directed by Mickey Keating (Psychopaths), OFFSEASON stars Jocelin Donahue (Doctor Sleep), Joe Swanberg (The Rental, “Easy”), Richard Brake (3 From HellMandy), Melora Walters (The Pale Door, “Pen15”) and Jeremy Gardner (After MidnightThe Mind’s Eye).

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