Cursed Films II Episode 1 is an emotional and cathartic examination of one of film’s greatest achievements, The Wizard of Oz.
When Cursed Films II released its first season on Shudder in 2020, it told the tragic, strange and sometimes humorous stories of 5 films as well as examining the idea of urban legends and how quickly they spread from person to person. Despite some issues with going too far in the more surreal side of these stories with interviewing people who only have small connections to the subject matter, it nevertheless provided a hugely engrossing and fascinating series of stories that shed light on subjects and stories that got out of control over the years. With Cursed Films II, the series is planning on dipping its toes outside of predominantly horror productions, and what better way to start this slight deviation than episode 1 covering arguably the most innocent and family friendly film out there, The Wizard of Oz.
If you ask any filmmaker what film inspires them, The Wizard of Oz is likely going to appear in the conversation. Released in 1939 on the cusp of WW2 and post The Great Depression, the film created a hopeful and bright image of the future for Americans and the world to envelop themselves in. It’s a simple story of good and evil with a variety of unique characters, dazzling effects and pleasant music that delighted families all around the world. It’s a trait that is very new for Cursed Films II to explore in episode 1 as it’s mostly focused on films that were right in line with streaming service Shudder’s specific line up of horror films which traded yellow brick roads for gore and violence.
Despite the cheery and innocent nature of the film however, The Wizard of Oz has had its fair share of stories and urban legends surrounding it that paint a much darker picture. Whether it’s the antics of the Munchkin cast that were wildly overblown or the highly dangerous set that resulted in the injuries of multiple actors on set, stories surrounding the film are plentiful. Episode 1 of Cursed Films II is quick to dive into these stories but, at the same time, it isn’t quick to forget the good that came out of the terrible work conditions and treatment of its cast. For every story of Judy Garland’s unintentional addictions or Margaret Hamilton’s horrific injuries, there’s also stories of overcoming the hereditary nature of addiction through Garland’s daughter and the efforts that Hamilton took to protect her son from the realities of the injuries she suffered.
A large portion of the first episode is tied to the media attention and tarnished legacy surrounding the cast of the Munchkins as stories started largely albeit unintentionally by Judy Garland. Drunken misbehavior and rumors of orgies plagued the cast for years and turned their image into one of mistreatment and a far cry to how they were presented in The Wizard of Oz. Due to the film’s age, the urban legends surrounding it were enraged in ways no other film covered by this series has come close to. The hanging munchkin and the 1981 film Under The Rainbow which was also inspired by said urban legends created an image of munchkins that soured their reputation and turned them into laughing stocks. Hollywood, for the glitz and glamor it seemingly provides on the surface, has a dark underbelly that is pushed into the spotlight through this unlikely culprit.
Judy Garland is often referred to in the episode as a bright young woman who was subject to the Hollywood machine that she was no match for. Despite this, she still became an icon for many both young and old. For all the tragedy caused by MGM’s workmanlike attitude to film sets and the dangerous working conditions due to the industry’s naivety of the increasingly complicated nature of film sets, The Wizard of Oz still took the world by storm in the face of incoming war and tragedies which this episode doesn’t let the viewer forget.
Cursed Films II, as always, grabs a large variety of people to interview both connected to the film and connected to the larger legacy it leaves behind. The children of the actors are interviewed with their own insights but we also see theme park actors who took on the characters of The Wizard of Oz who took on the roles after being inspired from what they saw as children. Also included in the episode’s roster is Mythbusters host Adam Savage and Gregg Tuckington, the co-host of On Cinema at The Cinema who also offer insights into the general public’s depiction of the urban legends that’s usual territory for this series as well as going into some detail of the inaccuracies and falsehoods spread about the film.
Much like the first season, Episode 1 of Cursed Films II has an incredibly strong production quality, as director and editor Jay Cheel gets straight to the point and leaves little time for meandering. In the age of Netflix documentary series becoming more bloated by the day, it’s incredibly refreshing to have a series that trims the fat and delves into what the viewer truly wants to hear about.
Cursed Films II Episode 1 seems to have addressed many of the complaints raised at the first season in terms of its general narrative like focus and presentation. While being the longest episode the series has had so far, it maintains its focus on the film and the stories from it almost entirely. Substituting the outlandish for a much more melancholic deep dive into what TheWizard of Oz did to its cast, crew, fans and family. It’s a terrific beginning that’s truly emotional and a strong start to what looks to be a very strong second set of stories.