We’ve all heard the allegations about cursed movies. You know, the ones someone will inevitably bring up during the opening credits. Maybe you’ve heard about the animal attacks on the set of The Omen, the injuries Linda Blair and Ellen Burstyn sustained while filming The Exorcist, or the supposedly real human skeletons in the Poltergeist pool. For those of you who love these urban legends, I’ve pulled together this list of thrillers about cursed movie sets for your reading pleasure.
Today, the idea of a cursed film is so popular that films like Antrum and Lake Mungo have gone meta with it. The trope pervades creepypasta, where you’ll find it repurposed in stories like “Candle Cove,” “Pokémon Black,” and “Ben Drowned.”
This is nothing new; cursed media has captivated humanity for centuries. In the late 20th century, the so-called Satanic messages backmasked on popular LPs had parents up in arms. Oscar Wilde played with the idea of a cursed painting in The Picture of Dorian Gray. Before that, cursed and haunted books were the enemy.
Given the recent Hollywood strikes — which are still ongoing as of this writing — and conversations about the ethics of AI in creative fields, I personally think we’ll see an uptick in books about cursed movies over the next five years or so. All that (righteous) hostility toward Hollywood bigwigs has to go somewhere, after all.
Below, a dozen thrillers about cursed movie sets you can read right now.
Thrillers About Cursed Movie Sets
The Remaking by Clay McLeod Chapman
Humans are the storytelling animal, but is that necessarily a good thing? This 2019 horror offering revolves around the story of Ella Louise and Jessica: a mother and daughter burned at the stake for witchcraft in the 1930s. Two decades later, a man who knew the executed shares their story with a group of kids. One in the audience will go on to make a movie out of it in the 1970s. Twenty years after the infamous cult classic premiered, the woman who played Jessica — and is still haunted by her experiences on set — appears in a similarly disastrous reboot. Now, 80 years after Ella Louise and Jessica were killed, their story is about to get another retelling, as a young podcaster seeks out the ill-fated actress to find out what really happened. But will his endeavour have the same consequences as the rest?
Go Hunt Me by Kelly DeVos
The summer after their high school graduation, a group of teenage filmmakers travel to Romania to make one last short film: a Dracula retelling, shot on location in a crumbling castle. But when Go Hunt Me begins, only one of the crew, Alex, has made it out alive. From there, the novel shifts between Alex’s testimony, the screenplay she and her friends were trying to bring to life, and the interpersonal tensions playing out behind the scenes.
Episode Thirteen by Craig DiLouie
The crew of a ghost-hunting reality show find themselves in dire straits in this 2023 title from the author of Suffer the Children. Filming an episode inside the infamous Paranormal Research Foundation is a dream come true for Matt Kirklin, who plays the Mulder to his wife, Claire’s, Scully on the show each week. This place is haunted — like, haunted haunted — and that’s exactly what Matt needs to convince Claire and the rest of the skeptics that there is life after death. What could possibly go wrong?
Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant
Another reality TV-inspired outing, Into the Drowning Deep, tells the story of a documentary team sent to research a mockumentary film crew’s mysterious disappearance in the Mariana Trench. It’s been seven years since the Atargatis disappeared with Victoria’s sister onboard. The only evidence of the missing crew’s whereabouts were a few grainy clips that appeared to show their murders at the hands of killer…mermaids. The videos were swiftly dubbed a hoax, largely due to the fact that a horror producer was responsible for the Atargatis‘s expedition. Now, Victoria’s out to learn the truth, even if it means suffering the same fate.
Demon Theory by Stephen Graham Jones
OK, so Demon Theory isn’t exactly about a cursed movie set. Instead, this thriller takes the form of a novelization of three horror movies, which were based on a book inspired by interviews with psychiatric patients. The story here largely plays out in the footnotes, which seek to clarify the myriad connections between those layers. It’s masterfully done — just what readers know to expect from Stephen Graham Jones.
Pretty as a Picture by Elizabeth Little
Marissa’s just taken a job that could change her whole career trajectory: editing a prominent director’s newest film. The movie’s already shooting on a remote island in Delaware when she arrives, and Marissa soon finds she’s walked into a minefield. Half of the crew is gone, and everyone is on edge. Adding to the web of whispered rumors, a couple of determined teenagers crash the set in a bid to solve the murder mystery that inspired the film. Things are only about to get worse in this slow-burn thriller.
Silver Nitrate by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Another editor takes center stage in Silver Nitrate. This time, it’s Montserrat, a sound editor struggling to break into the Mexico City film scene in the 1990s. She gets her chance when she’s introduced to a cult horror director who faded into obscurity after he got his hands on a film reel cursed by a Nazi wizard. The director needs Montserrat’s help to restore his career. Doing so could give her own profile a much-needed boost…if she survives the ordeal.
Audition by Ryu Murakami
Including this novel here is a little bit of a cheat on my part since there’s not an actual film set here. Audition centers on Aoyama, a widower, who sets up a screening process to find himself a new wife: auditions for a fake movie put together by a friend in the film industry. When his casting call attracts Asami, he thinks he’s met Ms. Right. But this shy 24-year-old is hiding a dark secret, and Aoyama is about to regret ever looking for a new mate.
The Lost Village by Camilla Sten
Years after everyone in her grandmother’s village vanished without a trace, a documentarian returns with her team to investigate the tragedy. The settlement has been abandoned since the incident…or so they think. It doesn’t take long for them to realize that someone doesn’t want the village’s story told. But who? And to what lengths are they willing to go to prevent the film’s completion?
The Shoemaker’s Magician by Cynthia Pelayo
After her husband discovers a link to a forgotten film at a brutal crime scene, a horror influencer attempts to track down a cult figure in this novel from Stoker Award winner Cynthia Pelayo. YouTuber Paloma has long been a fan of Grand Vespertilio and the horror films he hosts on his show. If anyone will be able to help solve the murder with an obscure silent movie connection, it’s him. But when her autistic son’s life is put in jeopardy, Paloma will be forced to re-evaluate her involvement in the case.
We Eat Our Own by Kea Wilson
Inspired by the behind-the-scenes story of a legendarily cursed found-footage film, We Eat Our Own follows its unnamed protagonist deep into the heart of the Amazon rainforest. There, he learns that his predecessor quit upon reading a script that may or may not have ever existed. To make matters worse, the cast and crew are working under intolerable conditions, and the whole project is at risk of being scrapped. And that’s if they survive their run-ins with the local mobsters and militia.
Burn the Negative by Josh Winning
Former child star Laura has spent her life trying to escape the shadow of The Guesthouse: a ’90s slasher in which her character had the uncanny ability to predict victims’ deaths. Eight people died during the filming, catapulting the movie to instant cult status. Now working as a journalist, she’s headed back to Hollywood to cover The Guesthouse‘s streaming series reboot…and the Needle Man murders have picked up right where they left off.
Want more celluloid suspense? Check out these found-footage horror novels and get a reading recommendation based on your favorite B movie.