From the notorious play in Robert W. Chambers’ The King in Yellow all the way up to Sadako’s viral videotape, horror writers have been fascinated with cursed media since time immemorial. After all, the idea that a piece of art can be powerful enough to affect the real world is a compelling thought in and of itself, especially when you consider that this also applies to works of evil.
That’s why it makes sense that there are so many scary movies about curses that spread through paintings, music and even video games. However, as a lifelong cinephile, I’ve always been fascinated by meta horror stories that explore the consequences of cursed films. With that in mind, we’ve decided to come up with a list celebrating six of the scariest cursed films in horror, as movies don’t necessarily have to be real in order to scare you.
For the purposes of this list, we’ll only be considering cursed productions that exist within the universe of their respective films and are commented on by the film’s characters. This means that a movie doesn’t necessarily qualify as a cursed film just because it’s found footage of a supernatural event.
With that out of the way, don’t forget to comment below with your own fictional scary movie favorites if you think we missed a particularly spooky one.
Now, onto the list…
6. The Unfinished Documentary – Butterfly Kisses (2018)
On the surface, Erik Kristopher Myers’s Butterfly Kisses seems like just another riff on The Blair Witch Project, but this multi-layered deconstruction of the genre has a lot more up its sleeve than you might initially realize. For starters, the horrific documentary contained within the film is only one part of the story, with the aftermath of a filmmaker encountering and editing together the footage telling a whole other tale about academic criticism and the nature of horror entertainment.
Of course, the documentary itself is undoubtedly scary, dealing with a faux urban legend in the form of the ever-approaching Peeping Tom – a supernatural being who begins to haunt the film’s footage and, consequently, those who watch it. My only real gripe here is how the film’s limited budget means that some of its effects and editing are less than convincing, though you shouldn’t let that stop you from checking out this underrated gem.
5. Candle Cove – Channel Zero (2016)
While this entry technically isn’t a movie, I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the exceedingly creepy Candle Cove, with this fictional children’s show becoming the basis for the first season of SyFy’s hit anthology series, Channel Zero. Based on a legendary creepypasta, Candle Cove initially seems like a harmless pirate puppet show until its characters begin to deal with hellish imagery and disturbing dialogue.
Brought to life through eerily convincing retro effects, Candle Cove remains a perfect example of fictional media being used to haunt the characters of a horror story, with the show within the show only appearing as static to the adults of Iron Hill while brainwashing unsuspecting children.
4. Antrum – Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made (2018)
Presented as a documentary about the so-called “deadliest film ever made,” Antrum is a bona fide masterclass in anticipation. While the cursed film within the film can’t quite live up to the expectations set up by the initial interviews hyping it up as a supernaturally evil force, there’s something to be said for this demonic potpourri of occultist tropes.
Sure, the movie would have been way scarier had the filmmakers secured a higher budget and shot the whole thing on actual film, but it still stands as one of the most successful recreations of the 70s horror aesthetic and a personal favorite of mine.
3. The Snuff Film – 8mm (1999)
I’ve already discussed this underrated Schumacher venture in the past, calling it a “hellish ride still worth taking today” despite some obvious limitations when compared to the original script, but I’ll never pass over an opportunity to remind horror fans that Nicolas Cage is a bona fide genre veteran.
Telling the story of a private investigator tasked with finding out the truth behind a disturbing film shot on 8mm, Schumacher’s movie only allows us brief glimpses at the soul-crushing contents of the snuff production, but these isolated frames are more than enough to earn it a place on this list as the flick slowly destroys our protagonist’s psyche.
And if you’re anything like me and love 8mm scares, don’t forget to check out Scott Derrickson’s Sinister!
2. La rage du Démon – Fury of the Demon (2016)
Maybe it’s the muddy visuals or even the inconsistent frame rate, but there’s something naturally eerie about the silent film era, especially when primitive special effects are concerned. This is precisely what makes Fabien Delage’s 2016 mockumentary so effective, with Fury of the Demon exploring the dark history of a madness-inducing short film allegedly directed by the cinematic pioneer George Méliès.
While this is another case of the supposedly cursed movie being hyped up by external factors, the filmmakers went out of their way to make the horrific impact of this faux lost film appear as genuine as possible while also paying enough attention to historical details so that the whole thing feels scarily believable.
1. La Fin Absolue du Monde – Cigarette Burns – Masters of Horror (2005-2007)
I’ve always thought it was ironic that one of John Carpenter’s greatest love-letters to horror cinema never made it onto the big screen, but I’m still grateful that Masters of Horror gifted us with Cigarette Burns. A meta-fictional horror yarn about a rare film dealer (played by Norman Reedus) who embarks on a quest to find a cursed French film, this is by far one of Carpenter’s best works.
Sure, we don’t see much in the way of footage here, but the implied horrors that went into the cursed film’s production are already the stuff of nightmares. From mutilated angels to homicidal movie-goers, La Fin Absolue du Monde will likely never leave your head even though none of us will ever be able to watch it – which is precisely why I believe it earns the number one spot on this list.