Superstitions. Curses. They’re applied to just about any unspeakable force we know nothing about, and even if science has more answers than not these days, some of the stuff still lingers to the fear of the unknown that can sometimes keep us up at night.
Movies are no different from that territory, with just about anything happening behind the scenes, sometimes too eerie with circumstances. With the month of spooks in October, we will be sharing our list of Cursed Film Projects. We’re delving into the surreal and see what weird and scary events have happened to those involved and the film itself. Let’s begin.
10. The Conqueror (1956)
This one is less a strange occurrence of events and more just horrendous luck and some information that could have been useful to know better. The Genghis Khan biopic starring the legendary John Wayne is where he met his end there along with others, and while not suddenly, it was surely.
The sets were filmed in Utah, just close enough to a military site where nuclear bombs were being tested, 11 to be precise. Lead actors John Wayne, Susan Hayward, Agnes Moorehead, and even director Dick Powell contracted cancer soon after and died from it, possibly from the vast radiation there.
Still feel it was coincidental? A study in November of 1980 brought 220 living members of the cast and crew to diagnose any cancerous cells, to which 91 were developing it, with half of them past the survival stage. Take what you may, a large amount of years in between could have cancer developing at any point, but considering over 40% of them have been actually developed it involved in the film alone? It seems plausible to some degree. At least they didn’t turn into Feral Ghouls.
Oh, and there was also a “sudden flood” during filming that nearly killed the entire crew, a 120 degree heat that was very peculiar at the time, as well as a panther that attacked Susan Hayward. Ought to be worth noting that.
9. Passion of the Christ (2004)
Whether it was a Christian excuse for torture porn or Mel Gibson‘s excuse for his anti-Semitic mindset, Passion of the Christ was one for the books to talk about, and the behind the scenes was something else entirely. You think Jan Michelini, the assistant director, was struck by lightning not once but twice was enough? Friends, that was just the tip of the iceberg compared to Jesus himself.
Jim Caviezel, star of the film, took the worst of it. At the filming of the sermon scene, he was struck by lightning. The whipping scene actually tore off a piece of his flesh. The crucifixion scenes had him dislocate his shoulder. Then when make-up was applied to graphically enhance the injuries of Jesus, painful skin infections were caused of this. Add in hypothermia, lung infections and pneumonia and you have one hell of a suffering King of Jews. Call it faulty production support, but there was a lot more happening than just a simple accident at this point.
Of all the things God kind of lets happen in the world, seems like this one was the closest one to him not wanting to be released…
8. Superman Curse (Various)
Not even the Man of Steel can get past some of these horrific events.
Since the release of Superman visual medias dating back as far as the 1950s, there have been significant cases made for the leading actors. George Reeves of Adventures of Superman (1952-1958) was killed by a gunshot wound to the head at 45, Christopher Reeve of the four theatrical films was paralyzed in 1995 from a horse riding accident and afterwards died of a heart attack. Dean Cain of Lois and Clark (1993), the more fortunate one, had his career completely die off once the series ended.
This doesn’t just affect the Superman actors either. The list also has been stretched out to other actors involved, specifically in the theatrical Superman films. Jor-El’s Marlon Brando had his personal life in ruin shortly after with his son’s shooting and daughter’s suicide, Lois Lane’s Margot Kidder was diagnosed with severe bipolar disorder, and comedian Richard Pryor, who played Superman III‘s villain Gus Gorman, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis early on and died of cardiac arrest.
Maybe someone should check up on Henry Cavill before Justice League wraps up…
7. The Omen (1976)
God may not want a film made about his child, but you get Satan’s son involved it’s bound for a lot more chaos.
The plane of scriptwriter David Seltzer was hit by lightning. As was star Gregory Peck‘s. And executive producer Mace Neufelds.
Speaking of planes, one that was used for the film, which had rescheduling done due to the airline needing it for a commercial flight, crashed and killed everyone on board. Then IRA bombings hit both a hotel Neufeld was staying at as well as a restaurant the director and actors were to eat at. One of the tiger trainers died as well. Gregory Peck‘s son shot himself before the film’s release. A stuntman from the film later hospitalized himself when doing another film shortly after, with the accident involving him purposely throwing himself off a roof. Really batshit insane stuff.
An assistant to special effects consultant John Richardson had a really graphic end. When Richardson drove him in Holland, a horrible crash happened where the assistant was sliced by the front wheel of the car. Near the crash, Richardson noticed the first road sign: Ommen, 66.6km. The date? August 13th, 1976.
6. Atuk (???)
Never heard of this film? You probably haven’t as it was never released and plagued from the start.
Atuk was to be a theatrical adaptation of Mordecai Richler‘s 1963 novel The Incomparable Atuk, a fish out of water comedy featuring the big city and an Inuit hunter. It was to mix satire on materialism, racism and other pop culture. The film’s halt was due to the lead actor dying for each attempt, which was four. That’s right, four attempts of getting this film made ended with each actor passing away before anything could be done.
John Belushi was the first to approach it in 1982, expressing great interest in the character, only to have his speedball overdose occur just months later in California. The role then went to Sam Kinison in 1988, only to have Kinison die of a car crash before doing any scenes. 1994 would have John Candy take the role, and before filming could begin, died of a heart attack. Chris Farley was the final one, and much like Belushi, died of a drug overdose before, again, any production with him could begin.
Currently, the production has been shelved on a long hiatus, and whether the superstitions are true or not, it does grow quite alarming knowing when the next time this Pandora’s box is opened.
5. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
What could go wrong with two Lucifer baby films?
Roman Polanski‘s film follows the story of a woman whose mysterious pregnancy begins to control her new life, discovering her husband had made a pact with a secret religious cult and that the father of the baby is the Devil himself. Already an unsettling plot for a film that can be seen as creepy behind the scenes material.
Producer William Castle, who also appears as a cameo role as the impatient man near the phone booth, had his mailbox filled with mass amounts of death threats. According to his autobiography Step Right Up! I’m Gonna Scare the Pants Off America!, Castle explained it got to 50 letters a day, with notorious ones quoted as “You have unleashed evil on the world” and “YOU will die as a result” and a particular one going as far as “Bastard. Believer of Witchcraft. Worshipper at the Shrine of Satanism. My prediction is you will slowly rot during a long and painful illness which you have brought upon yourself.”
On October 31st of that year, a business trip to New York resulted in a collapse, a spinal tap required to remove a blockage in his urinary tract, causing it to reoccur several times through his life, at one emergency admission even going as far as to yell out “Rosemary, for God’s sake, drop the knife!“. Castle frequented mental health wards until his death, explaining he was in great fear of the film and its legacy.
Krzysztof Komeda, the composer of the film’s score, most notably the track entitled “Rosemary’s Lullaby“, suffered of cerebral hemorrhage just mere months after the release of the film at the age of 38. The disturbing irony is this is the exact cause of death of the character Hutch in the movie. This was the last film Komeda has ever composed for.
Roman Polanski has also had his own form of traumatic happenings. The director and screenplay writer ended up marrying actress Sharon Tate and originally wanted her as the lead role, only to have her ended up as an extra in the party scene. On August of 1969, Tate was hosting a dinner with celebrity hairdresser Jay Sebring, coffee heiress Katie Folger and screenwriter Wojciech Frykowski. With Polanski out of the country at the time, Tex Watson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Linda Kasabian, followers of the cult of Charles Manson, invaded the home, cutting the phone lines and proceeded to do “the devil’s business” as they were quoted. Tate and her three guests were murdered with over a hundred stabbing wounds and Tate’s last moments were spent pleading for her unborn child’s life as Atkins placed the final knife through her, drinking her blood and spelled “PIG” on the walls of the mansion, according to Manson.
Maybe we should let a professional daycare deal with this baby.
4. Rebel Without A Cause (1955)
This coming of age tale of rebellion, troubled pasts, enemies and friends is easily one of the biggest influences of the future’s generation of youth and identity. The cult following film should also be noted for the lives of all four lead stars ending at an early age, ironically having us remember them in their prime as the voice of youth.
Less than a month before its initial release, there was the death of main lead James Dean, who played the main character James Stark. His Porsche 550 Spider crashed on the highway near Cholame, CA, an immediate death from a broken neck at 24. Days prior to that, Dean met with Alex Guinness, Obi-Wan Kenobi himself, and upon looking at the “Little Bastard“, the sinister appearance had Guinness tell Dean that “if you get in that car, you will be found dead in it by this time next week.”(A true disturbance of the force indeed). As well as additional lives taken, the car itself has received a “cursed” history of its own outside this list. However, one more final bit of irony is that a week before the incident, a Safe Driving PSA was filmed with him:
Nick Adams, who was also one of Dean’s closest friends and had romantic relations with Natalie Wood, was found on February 1968 in the bedroom of his house of a drug overdose. Traces of paraldehyde were found, common in battling alcoholism, but no history of drinking were present for Adams at the time, nor were any signs of injections or prescriptions found. Whether this was a suicide or not is a mystery he takes to his grave.
Plato’s Sal Mineo was coming back from a play rehearsal on February of 1976, murdered by Lionel Ray Williams, a pizza deliveryman and robber whose burglary was botched upon Mineo’s return home.
The death of Natalie Wood was the last of the line of young deaths, a suspicious one that is still unsolved in fact. Woods was on the yacht with her husband actor Robert Wagner, friend Christopher Walken and the ship’s captain Dennis Davern. She was found in her nightgown on the ocean coast of California in 1981, the cause of it being drowning.
For a film such as this, there certainly were a few causes that added up. Like they say, the good die young.
3. Poltergeist Trilogy (1982 – 1988)
The story of ghosts terrorizing the home of a suburban family in California, the original horror film was the brainchild behind Steven Spielberg and director Tobe Hooper (of Texas Chainsaw Massacre fame)and spawned two direct sequels. However, the disturbing pattern of premature deaths of several people associated with the film also followed through the span of the original three films.
Heather O’Rourke, the star of the franchise known for the “They’re here!” line, died just before the third film was released, “cardiac arrest and septic shock” being the combined reasoning for her untimely death at age 12. Dominique Dunne, playing her older sister in the first film, was murdered by her ex-boyfriend shortly after the release of the first film. Will Sampson died of kidney failure just a year after his role as Taylor in the second film. Julian Beck, who played the villainous Kane, died of cancer upon shooting the second film.
The urban legend passed around for these deaths was said to be the fact the first film was confirmed to have used real corpses. According to makeup artist Craig Reardon, plastic bodies were difficult to purchase and settled on using real skeletons, unknown to many of the actors (they even had Will Sampson attend to bless the grounding at points due to his Native ancestry). It even made its infamy in a segment of E! True Hollywood Story entitled “Curse of Poltergeist”. That kind of authenticity is enough for a talk on this list.
2. The Exorcist (1973)
I’m sure there is no introduction necessary for the infamous film that took the horror world by storm around its time with its visuals and controversy, cited by many as the “scariest film ever”. The story of a possessed little girl that Fathers Karras and Merrin (Jason Miller and Max on Sydow respectively) must perform an exorcism. As the film builds more of the frightening powers of the devil child, it results in some real horror and some disturbing practical effects.
William Blatty‘s horror novel turned to film was based off true events of a 1949 exorcism and demonic possession at Georgetown University Hospital, where the possessed boy was pulled from restraints and slashed one of the priest’s arms. The actual book and film ended up having twelve-year old Regan MacNeil, as the family of the real inspiration asked for their “Roland Doe” to have his identity protected.
Now we’re getting to the spooky stuff. The start of shooting was delayed because the house the set was to be filming on burst into flames because a pigeon flew into a circuit box, destroying majority of it except for the room of the titular little girl.
It appears that some of the scripted events followed along with real-life events for certain actors. Ellen Burstyn, who played Regan’s mother, had a scene where she was thrown by the possessed child and actually ended up injured, the very take being used in the film, realistic scream and all. Actors Jack MacGowran and Vasiliki Maliaros died during post-production, much like their characters also died.
As well, there were even connected events of loss during the film, such as Linda Blair‘s grandfather and Max Von Sydow‘s brother, the latter on the first day of shooting no less. Jason Miller‘s son almost died of a motorcycle accident around the time too. The voice of the demon Pazuzu herself, Mercedes McCambrige, had tragedy in her life as well, when her own son killed his wife and children before committing suicide himself.
There are also some other rumors of subliminal reactions in the theaters this played at, as well as sounds coming from the projector, though not much to really support this. Point being, let’s never take Satan to a movie date.
1. The Crow
No list like this would be complete without mentioning 1994’s The Crow. From the start, the source material from James O’ Barr’s comic was created due to some very dark circumstances.
O’Barr created the comic after his fiance’ was killed by a drunk driver as a way to cope with the tragedy. The comic became a best seller and movie rights were quickly snatched up.
Before focusing on what happened with Brandon Lee, let’s talk about some other weird stuff that happened on the set:
- One of the film’s carpenters got shocked and burned by a scissor lift while on set.
- A grip truck unexpectedly went up in flames on set.
- A disgruntled carpenter plowed through a plaster shop in his car.
According to certain stories, some of the incidents, actually made Brandon Lee tell people to be careful. That would prove to be ironic, however.
While filming a scene that required a revolver to actually be fired at Lee from a distance of 12-15 feet, there were dummy cartridges exchanged with blank rounds. At some point, the gun was loaded with an improperly-deactivated cartridge in the chamber – which set off the primer with enough force to drive the bullet into the barrel. The prop crew obviously failed to recognize this, because when they were filming the scene and actor Michael Massee pulled the trigger, it actually struck Brandon Lee in the abdomen, critically wounding him.
He was rushed to the hospital and spent 6 hours in surgery but it was unsuccessful, as he was pronounced dead at 1:03 PM EST. at the age of 28.
The video footage of the actor’s death was destroyed after an investigation and due to terms of a lawsuit.
The producers were then faced with the task of deciding whether or not to finish the film. Lee’s family gave their blessing to release the film, feeling that the actor would have wanted it.
The rest is history. The film went on to become a cult-classic (and Box Office success) and highly regarded by fans and critics alike. It’s just sad because it’s the film that would have launched Brandon Lee into stardom (not counting his posthumous success). The weird thing, is that Bruce Lee suffered almost the same exact fate.
You could also say that due to the recent trouble that the reboot (or remake) has had over the years (company going bankrupt, actors and directors leaving the film, etc.) that the project is just cursed in general. But apparently, a reboot is moving forward with Jason Momoa as The Crow. Personally, in my humble and very unpopular opinion, I don’t think the reboot is a big deal. But that’s a topic for a different day.
Given the almost supernatural vibe that the film carries because of what happened to Lee on the set, and because of the dark subject matter, there was no better film for the #1 spot on this list. -Frank Palmer
Crackpot coincidences or surreal misfortunes? You decide yourself and let us know in the comments!