Horror movies are about death and disaster, the paranormal and fear of the unknown. Hauntings, curses, ghosts, bogeymen -horror films conjure dark and sentient energies that are sometimes better left forgotten or untouched. But what happens when a horror movie, or any film genre for that matter, is so plagued by tragedy and misfortune that the inquisitive and conspiratorial amongst us begin to wonder if the film production itself might be haunted or cursed?
There have been many films throughout the years beset by bizarre accidents, strange and unexplainable occurrences and coincidences that don’t make sense, but when do those occurrences and coincidences turn into something more -bad luck or fate, curses, hauntings, or acts of God? Is it possible for film productions to be cursed, or are “curses” just another version of apocryphal stories, urban legends that have been distorted, exaggerated and sensationalized? Chance. Bad luck. Foreshadowing. Whatever type of semantic spin is placed on the inexplicable events surrounding these films, one thing remains: in Hollywood lore, these 7 movies have the most haunted or cursed productions.
7 Apocalypse Now (1979)
The bad luck and acts of God surrounding Francis Ford Coppola’s classic Vietnam War film Apocalypse Now were nearly insurmountable, and several accounts claim the director was suicidal and believed his career was ruined. The 1991 documentary, Heart of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, gives an in-depth chronicle of the issues Coppola faced trying to adapt Joseph Conrad’s novel, Heart of Darkness –a novel most people believed was un-filmable. The Apocalypse Now curse includes massive budget over-runs, set-destroying monsoons, and numerous production delays as Coppola struggled creatively to figure out the ending to the film. Meanwhile, Martin Sheen, the film’s star, suffered a minor heart attack, and Marlon Brando arrived on set bloated and unwilling to learn his lines.
“The horror…the horror,” is what Kurtz (Marlon Brando) famously whispers at the end of the film, and while the phrase may be about colonialism, barbarism, or the ultimate frustration of a man who had 'great plans' but can not live to accomplish them, it’s also an apt description of what it was like for Francis Ford Coppola to make Apocalypse Now.
6 The Passion of the Christ (2004)
Directed by Mel Gibson, The Passion of the Christ portrays the final 12-hours of Jesus’ life according to the New Testament Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The film’s graphic violence made it highly controversial. While The Passion of the Christ was a major commercial hit, it received mixed reviews from critics, many feeling that Gibson’s gratuitous use of violence obscured the religious message of the film. Words like “troubling,” “historically inaccurate,” and “anti-Semitic” were hurled about in both religious communities and the left-wing media, all of which made The Passion of the Christ the must-see film of the year.
Jim Caveziel played the role of Jesus Christ. At the time, Caveziel was an up-and-coming actor, but the role of Jesus changed his trajectory, and today, 10-years later, Caveziel’s career is stalled. However, in addition to the injuries The Passion of the Christ caused his career, Caveziel suffered from hypothermia during the filming of the movie. The actor was also hit by lightning on the set, not once, but twice, causing more than a few people involved with the film to utter the words: Higher-Power.
5 The Crow (1994)
Based on James O’Barr’s 1989 comic book, The Crow is a gothic, supernatural revenge film. Eric Draven, a rock musician, is revived from the dead to avenge his murder and that of his fiancé. Directed by Alex Proyas and starring Brandon Lee (son of martial arts star Bruce Lee), The Crow gained instant notoriety and cult status when Lee was accidently killed during filming. Coincidentally, while filming the scene in which his character, Eric Draven, is murdered, the gun used on set was improperly loaded; the discharged shell casing pierced Lee’s chest and killed him instantly.
While Brandon Lee’s death is the main reason behind “The Curse of the Crow,” there were rumors from the onset that the set might be cursed. Filming was plagued with a wide-range of mishaps. A carpenter was severely burned when the crane he was in hit high-power lines. A lorry mysteriously caught on fire. And a crew-member drove a screwdriver through his hand.
4 Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)
Produced by Steven Spielberg and John Landis, Twilight Zone: The Movie is a theatrical version of the 1950s and ‘60s TV series created by Rod Serling. The film remade three classic Twilight Zone episodes and featured one original story, which was written and directed by John Landis.
In one of the most graphic on set events in film history, actor Vic Morrow and two child actors (ages 6 and 7) were killed in a freak accident involving a helicopter. Supposedly, the helicopter was flying too low. When pyrotechnics were used on set, the blast severed the tail rotor, sending the helicopter spinning out of control. When the helicopter crashed, it decapitated Morrrow and one of the children with its blades, while the other child was crushed to death. The accident resulted in a decade of legal battles. Regulations involving children working on film sets at night and during special effects stunts were changed.
3 Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Based on the 1967 bestselling novel by Ira Levin, Roman Polanski’s psychological horror film centers on a young mother-to-be, Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow), who begins to suspect that her kindly, elderly neighbors are part of a satanic cult. Is Rosemary sane, or has her pregnancy led to some form of female hysteria? Did her husband (John Cassavetes), a struggling actor, make a Faustian deal with the neighbors, allowing the devil to rape and impregnate his wife in exchange for a successful career? Control, isolation, urban paranoia –Polanski tackles a wide range of modern anxieties in this horror classic.
Only months after Rosemary’s Baby was released, Charles Manson’s followers murdered Roman Polanski’s pregnant wife, Sharon Tate. The Manson Family’s Helter Skelter killing spree took the lives of seven people and is one of the most notorious acts of violence in American history. Furthermore, The Dakota, the landmark apartment building on Manhattan’s Upper West Side where Rosemary’s Baby was filmed, is the same building where John Lennon lived from 1973 to 1980, as well as the location of his murder.
2 Poltergeist (1982)
Directed by horror-maestro Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) and co-written by Steven Spielberg, Poltergeist is one of the creepiest PG-rated horror films ever made. The film revolves around the Freeling family, an average, middle class family who move to a peaceful suburban housing development in California, only to find that restless spirits haunt their new home. “They’re he-e-ere!”
Four actors associated with Poltergeist and its two sequels died under unusual and tragic circumstances, leading to rumors of a Poltergeist curse. Most notable were the deaths of the two young actresses who played sisters in the original film. Dominique Dunn (who played Dana) was strangled at her Hollywood apartment by estranged boyfriend, John Sweeney, six months after filming Poltergeist, and Heather O’Rourke (Carol Anne), died in 1988 of septic infection caused by an acute bowel obstruction.
Some people believe the Poltergeist curse started when real human corpses were used as props in the original film’s climactic pool scene –spoiler: the Freeling’s house and the entire suburban neighborhood was built on a sacred Indian burial ground –because they were cheaper than buying plastic skeletons.
1 The Exorcist (1973)
Adapted from the 1971 novel by William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist was named “The Scariest Film of All Time” by Entertainment Weekly. William Friedkin’s masterpiece deals with the demonic possession of Reagan, a 12-year old girl, and the two priests who perform the exorcism. From the famous head-spinning scene to the spine-tingling spider walk sequence, The Exorcist broke new ground in the horror genre. It also happens to be one of the most cursed movie sets of all time.
According to legend, at least 9 people associated with The Exorcist died during the shoot. In fact, the film was surrounded by so much tragedy that it’s rumored William Friedkin asked the technical adviser Rev. Thomas Bermingham to exorcise the set. Other ominous events surrounding The Exorcist include an unexplained fire that destroyed a set, a spike in the number of deaths in Georgetown (the location where The Exorcist was filmed), and a mysterious lightning strike that destroyed a 400-year old cross at the film’s premier at the Metropolitan Theater in Rome.