Below you will find the Hollywood movie curses show notes from the podcast episode of the same name.
Hollywood has a long and rich history of filmmaking. Even the switch to digital hasn’t ended the need for actual film reels. Many still believe film stock is far superior in quality than shooting in digital only.
The average film reel originally only contained 11 minutes of watchable programming- laid out that one reel would stretch out over 1000’ feet.
Given the average movie was about an hour and a half, that’s roughly a mile and a half of film. Theaters rented the movies that were shown on screen. The number of film copies needed grew exponentially as the popularity of theaters boomed. Add in all of the scenes that hit the cutting room floor or multiple takes to get a shot, and it’s hardly a surprise to estimate that the amount of film used in Hollywood’s lifetime up until now could easily stretch to the moon and back multiple times!
Somewhere hidden amongst all of those hundreds of thousand reels is where we find ourselves today. Not necessarily seeking out the scariest movies ever, though there is something to be said about how filming the supernatural seems to draw it to your set. Yes, we are talking today of haunted sets, spooky happenings behind the cameras, and the tragic toll Hollywood has wreaked on its actors and crew.
Most likely we have all heard about the curses that follow certain play productions. Shakespeare’s play Macbeth has been cursed since the very start. Folklore says a coven of witches objected to the Bard using real incantations within his story. So they put a curse on it. The actor playing Lady Macbeth died horribly on opening night in 1606. Shakespeare himself had to step in to fill the role. Other mishaps of that first production included real daggers being used instead of stage props. This was during the murder of King Duncan scene, which resulted in the actor’s death.
It’s a play that has been plagued ever since. The rivalry between two actors who played Macbeth in different productions caused a riot at Astor Place in NY in 1849. At least 20 people were killed as a result and over 100 more were injured.
Other productions have been full of accidents. These include actors falling from the stage, and mysterious deaths.
Laurence Oliver’s Production
Even Laurence Olivier’s production at the Old Vic in 1937 was troubled. The actor was just able to dodge a falling stage weight that could have killed him. Even if the play isn’t being performed it is still considered bad luck to say the name “Macbeth” while inside a theater. Should you break that it is said you need to immediately exit the theater, spin around three times, spit, curse, and only then can you knock on the theater door to see if they will allow you back in.
But we aren’t here today to discuss plays, be they by the Bard himself or otherwise. Today we are covering film and all of the horror that can come along with it. So without further ado, let’s part the curtains, push aside all of the tinsel that Tinseltown can throw, and peer into the darkened corners of soundstages and long-since vacated location shoots. We will even step into the casting office and hear of the movie that will never get made.
Let’s start with something a little more modern, shall we? Horror master Sam Raimi’s The Possession came out in 2012. It was based on a real object called the Dybbuk Box (Dibbuck).
The box, in real life, is a small wine cabinet. It is said to be seriously spooky, bringing bad luck and accidents to its possessors. Foul smells can be found within the building where it’s stored. It has also been blamed for the death of a whole lot of mice and some aquarium fish.
The box is covered with Hebraic symbols on the back, which are supposed to hold a dybbuk. A displaced soul looking to possess another’s body in order to accomplish its assigned task. Bad luck and catastrophes are said to be the dybbuk’s way of being passed on to another person and another until it can reach someone who can help it with that task.
Strange things happen on set
On the film set, the crew had their fluorescent light bulbs blowing constantly. Bursts of cold wind would roar through the sets during the middle of a take. This caused everything to have to be reset and started over. The props were carefully stored away after filming just in case some shots needed to be redone. The prop shed went up in flames. It burned so hot and so fiercely that everything within was reduced to ash. No traces of electrical issues or arson were ever found.
The cast and crew were all pretty spooked. When the Dybbuk box’s current owner offered the actual box to be used in the film, director Sam Raimi firmly declined as he was too spooked to want it around.
Actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan has gone on record stating, “I am very skeptical. But not only would I not want the box around and to tempt fate, but there were enough weird things going on around our set that I have never seen happen on sets before.” According to Morgan the cast and crew had a sort-of mantra during production: “don’t mock the box”.
The Dybbuk Box
The history of the Dybbuk box itself was fascinating. It was supposedly purchased at the estate sale from a woman who had survived the Holocaust. She had refused to open the box or let others claim it. She insisted the box, which is from Spain, needed to be kept closed. The man who purchased it from the estate claims he gave it to his mother for her birthday. But it was quickly returned to him.
He tried passing it on to others, but it would always be quickly returned. Finally, he listed it on eBay, selling it for $300 to a college student. The student claimed he and his roommate suffered all sorts of bad luck, including their fingers being broken several times.
The box even wound up in Zak Bagans’ possession for a time in his Haunted Museum in Las Vegas. He had a quarantine special feature where he planned to open the box. Zak even took it out of its glass case and videotaped it to see what the box would do. He claims a mist slipped from the unopened box, which enveloped him. That he determined wasn’t scary, but rather warm as if the box accepted that he was its master.
Of course, in the end, he decided to leave it unopened. This caused many of his fans to call him out on it.
The story is a fake
In 2021 the man who listed the box on eBay admitted that the whole thing was a hoax. Kevin Mannis is a creative writer and owns a furniture restoration business. Claiming he purchased the box at a yard sale in his local Portland area.
He carved the back and added a lock of hair. He also added a concrete artistic piece he had made. Then he created its elaborate backstory, and then sat back to see what would happen. He then said, “I am a creative writer. The Dybbuk Box is a story that I created. And the Dybbuk Box story has done exactly what I intended it to do when I posted it 20 years ago…which is to become an interactive horror story in real-time.”
He does, however, admit that along the way he would add new elements to the story to help it evolve and keep it relevant and interesting.
This is all interesting. But why, then, did the cast and crew of “The Possession” have such trouble on their set? Did they inadvertently pull some malicious spirit their way to plague them during production? We will never know. All of the set pieces are now either burned to ash and scattered to the winds. Or so dispersed and rotated from warehouse to warehouse over the years as to be untraceable.
It certainly has a true skeptic believing that there is something more out there…
2011’s The Innkeepers, however, had some seriously supernatural creepiness going on during its production. The story is about two employees of the Yankee Pedlar Inn and how they try to expose it for its haunted past.
Surprisingly, the Yankee Pedlar Inn is a real 52-room place in Connecticut that really is haunted. The director decided to go ahead and shoot at the actual location. He and the cast and crew were suddenly immersed in bizarre happenings. Doors opened and closed on their own, and TVs turned off and on, whether plugged in or not. The lights constantly were being changed as they would burn out. Though a check of the electrical systems showed there were no issues with the wiring. Since they were filming in the inn, it was decided that everyone would just live on location. They used whatever rooms weren’t in the production, but everyone quickly began having vivid nightmares every night.
The hotel itself truly is haunted. Most reports center around Alice, the original owner. Who, along with her husband Frank built the inn over a hundred years ago. She still checks in on the guests of her beloved Inn. Her old bedroom, 353, remains the most haunted spot in the hotel. Her rocking chair, which was kept roped off in the lobby with a sign warning visitors to please not sit on it, would often rock itself back and forth. Frank, is spotted as a gray-haired figure in a dark suit in the inn’s pub, over by the old phone.
Guests reported the same happenings as the film crew had. Also, they claimed feelings of being pushed or pulled gently. Those who stay in room 295 could feel someone climbing into their bed at night. Low whispers can be heard in guests’ ears, as odd smells come and go. Sadly, the year after the movie was filmed, the inn closed its doors for good. It has since been sold, but plans are for it to remain shuttered and unopened. This is much to the dismay of local residents. Just another casualty to the Hollywood curse…
The same can be said for another “cursed” film that constantly crops up on lists: 1993’s The Crow. An achingly brutal but beautiful story of a man and his fiancé who are horribly murdered. Our lead in the film, actor Brandon Lee, was poised to become a big star, like his father Bruce Lee. Things went wrong when a prop gun fired a round during a stunt. The gun killed Brandon just 8 days before filming was scheduled to end.
Of course, there is more to this story, so perhaps it truly was cursed. Filmmakers have left a voicemail saying that bad things would happen if they went ahead and made the movie. On the first day of shooting, an electrician backed a cherry-picker truck and hit the powerlines stretched above him. He was electrocuted and caught on fire, rushed to the hospital, and treated for second and third-degree burns. He survived, but both of his ears had to be removed.
A carpenter drove a screwdriver accidentally through his hand. A stuntman fell through the roof of the set. A disgruntled crew member who had been fired drove his car through one of the workshops on set. A hurricane destroyed the set. That’s when the media started spreading rumors of the curse. Some hint broadly that since Brandon’s father had died under mysterious circumstances, there was a family curse possibly involved.
A prop gun was used that had a dummy round lodged in the barrel. The blank rounds loaded in the chamber were enough to discharge the dummy with the velocity of a real bullet. It struck Brandon. He later died in the hospital after six hours of surgery.
The script was quickly rewritten to try and work around the actor’s tragic loss. Despite persistent rumors, his real death does not appear in the film. The studio worked hard to see that any film did not make its way into the media’s hands.
Some said it was hardly surprising. The writer of the original comic wrote it as a way to cope with the death of his fiancée at the age of 18 and come to terms with the loss and find closure. The story itself is also based on a real crime. That of a couple robbed for their engagement ring and then needlessly killed.
And, fun fact for a moment of lightness after all this dark. Did you know that the movie doesn’t have a single crow in it? Instead, the animal trainer brought in ravens, as they are similar in appearance but are nicer birds to work with. And he didn’t even use that many- only 5 ravens altogether were used for the film.
Okay, now the one that everyone has been waiting for… after all, who hasn’t heard of the Poltergeist curse? This 1982 classic horror movie focuses on a middle-class family that is attacked in a series of vicious paranormal events. The film based its spooky beings on the house being built on an old Native American burial site. What should have been just another popcorn thriller had its share of horror behind the scenes. Four cast members died during and shortly after the popular trilogy ended. Two are considered especially puzzling, so it’s no wonder that the word “cursed” gets tossed around on this one.
The focus of the movies was a young girl played by adorably blond and cherubic Heather O’Rourke. She was six when the first movie hit the theaters. At 11 years old she was misdiagnosed with Crohn’s Disease in 1987. She was ill again the next year, but her family was told it was the flu. The next day she collapsed when her heart stopped. She died during surgery where it was discovered it wasn’t Crohn’s after all. But a congenital intestinal issue where her bowel would become obstructed.
Dominique Dunn, who played older sister Dana in the first movie left her boyfriend. He eventually returned, asking her to take him back. When she refused he grabbed her by the neck and choked her, eventually leaving her lying in the driveway. The ex-boyfriend, John Sweeney, was only sentenced to 6 and a half years in prison. But he was released before serving even 4 of them.
The third death was that of the evil preacher Kane who was in the second movie. Julian Beck had been diagnosed before filming with stomach cancer but went to work on the film anyway. He passed away shortly after he finished working on the film. Real-life Native American shaman Will Sampson died after filming ended after the second film. His death came from kidney failure right after having a heart and lung transplant. It doesn’t help with the scariness factor that Sampson performed a real exorcism after filming wrapped.
Actor Richard Lawson, who played Ryan in the first film nearly died when the commercial flight he was on crashed in 1992. Out of the 51 passengers aboard, 27 died. The last death to date, Lou Perryman, who played Pugsley in the original film was murdered in 2009. He was killed with an axe by an ex-con who wanted to steal his car.
Skeletons in the Pool
It was JoBeth Williams, who played the family matriarch, Diane in the first two films who started claims that the skeletons used in the film were real and not plastic props. According to Williams, Spielberg insisted on using the real thing as they were cheaper to procure than bringing in manufactured skeletons.
Gil Kenan, who shot 2015’s Poltergeist remake had strange experiences as well. They had persistent and repeated equipment failure, but only in the small group of houses, they were shooting in. Equipment taken out of the area all began working just fine. GPS failed to work for aerial drone photography and lights would blow that had worked just a few minutes before. In fact, things on the new set became so unsettling that they eventually brought in paranormal analyzer Brenda Rose. Her job was to cleanse the set of evil energy.
But how about 1976’s The Omen? This one had some seriously creepy issues that just don’t add up to mere coincidence. While absolutely tragic, we do not believe that the fact that star Gregory Peck’s son, tv news journalist Jonathon Peck, committed suicide right after his father accepted the role has anything to do with a curse.
Depression can happen to anyone at any time and is a truly devastating thing to happen to a family. Chalking his death up to a “movie curse” just cheapens the loss for this poor family.
As far as movie curse possibilities DO go, when Gregory flew out months later to start filming, the plane he was on was struck by lightning. This caused the plane engine to catch fire and the plane nearly crashed.
The screenwriting David Seltzer also had his plane hit by lightning, as well as producer Marc Neufeld’s flight. All three on separate occasions. There were precursors to this. Apparently when advertising executive Bob Munger approached producer Harvey Bernhard with the idea of making a movie involving the antichrist.
He cautioned Bernhard though that the subject should be treated with caution. Munger gave a warning that he thought that the devil wouldn’t want them to make the picture, saying,
“ if you make this movie, you’re going to have some problems. If the devil’s greatest single weapon is to be invisible and you’re going to do something which is going to take away his invisibility to millions of people, he’s not going to want that to happen.”
Bernhard would later recall, “the devil was at work, and he didn’t want that film made.” Bernhard actually wore a cross on set. During filming, a small plane was hired for an aerial shot. The plane was switched out at the last minute. The plane crashed on takeoff, killing everyone that was on board.
Marc Neufeld, who had already survived his plane being struck by lightning was staying in a hotel that was then bombed by the Irish Republican Army. Though both he and his wife survived the bombing.
A zoo scene shot near a group of wild baboons apparently sent them into a frenzy. This happened as soon as the young actor playing Damien appeared on set. Actress Lee Remick, Damien’s mother, was legitimately terrified during the scene captured on film. The baboons got so agitated that an animal trainer had to step in for the safety of the cast and crew. The baboons were eventually calmed down once the scene was over and the cast departed. The poor animal trainer, however, was killed instantly by one of the zoo’s tigers the very next day.
Animal trainers did not do well in this film at all. The trainers of the Rottweilers used in the film were attacked by the dogs. Up until that point, the dogs were friendly and loved to lick the cast members and play with them.
The show had a special pre-release screening on 6/6/76. It was the closest they could get to the number of the beast. A special effects wizard, John Richardson, had just finished his part in the film. This includes a gruesome decapitation. He got in a terrible car accident on his next production, A Bridge Too Far with Richard Attenborough. John survived the accident, but his assistant, Liz Moore, was beheaded.
In a spooky tie-in, the local officials noted their distance to the nearby town of Ommen. It was 66.6 km from the site of the accident. Just the same that’s incredibly creepy.
Strange Things Follow
Alf Joint had been a stuntman on the Omen followed Richardson to the shooting for A Bridge too Far. He was hospitalized after a stunt went wrong. He was supposed to jump from a roof onto an airbag. But the camera caught him moving strangely before the fall. He missed the airbag. After regaining consciousness in the hospital he claimed something invisible pushed him violently from the roof.
By this point, Bernhard was openly pointing out the film’s myriad accidents. He claimed that a demonic figure was shadowing the cast and crew to inflict pain and misery on them. This is regarded mainly as a publicity stunt. The studio soon joined in, claiming satanic interference as the movie was approaching its release. For years people wondered what became of young Harvey Stephens, who played Damian, as Hollywood claimed he had vanished. An AMC special in 2001 on “The Omen Legacy” even hired a private eye to find him. But he had no such luck. This is funny, considering the 2006 Omen remake with Julia Styles and Liev Schreiber had no bad luck on set. They even had Harvey Stephens in for a small role as a tabloid journalist.
Stephens even had a small role in 1980 made for the television film “Gauguin the Savage”. He spent most of his time as an animator in England. In 2008 he told Howard Stern that he had just started appearing at various horror conventions. He was accompanied by a small tricycle.
Sadly, in 2017 he was involved in a road rage incident in England. He ended up pulling over and beating two bicyclists that he felt were blocking his way. The cyclists were traveling separately and one had just pulled alongside in order to pass. Stephens overcame them on the narrow roadway.
Honking wildly at them induced one cyclist to flip the middle finger at Stephens. Although he did pull over to the side of the road to get out of Stephens’ way. Stephens instead pulled over and hit the man who had flipped him off, knocking him unconscious. When the second bicyclist tried to intervene, he was punched repeatedly. This not only damaged his teeth but broke his helmet as well as the severity of the attack. Stephens received a suspended jail sentence and was ordered to pay restitution to both cyclists.
So was the Omen cursed? It certainly had more than its share of troubles. Though it certainly made the futures and fortunes of the lead cast, director, and studio. Furthermore, the 3 sequels it inspired seemed to have trouble-free sets. So if the devil were truly upset, he didn’t appear to stay that way for long.
So what about the 2013 film, the Conjuring? After all, basing a movie on paranormal hauntings should likely draw a similar kind of attention. Surprisingly, there wasn’t a whole lot that seems to have happened on this one. Still, it makes a lot of cursed film lists. Apparently, Vera Farmiga, who played real-life paranormal investigator Lorraine Warren, was so scared about making the film that she refused to take the script into her home. She left it instead outside. Still, she claims she woke up one morning to find three slashes on her laptop screen. They disappeared before she could show them to anyone else.
The Perron Family
The Perron family, who were the ones actually affected by the hauntings, would talk with the screenwriters on the phone. Static would often interfere with the conversations. Or sometimes the line would disconnect. Hardly convincing.
Carolyn Perron, however, says that even though she was now living in Atlanta at the time of production, felt an odd presence in her home. She somehow fell over and wound up going to the hospital. Shortly after this the cast and crew had to evacuate their hotel because of a fire.
It is said that when the family visited the movie’s set, a strange gust of wind followed them around the set. The film crew especially noticed that the trees just across from the Perrons’ weren’t moving at all no matter how strongly the wind around the family grew.
The Director’s Office
The movie’s director became spooked about staying in his office late. His dog kept growling at what could only be an unseen entity across the room. James Wan reported even getting up and investigating. But he could never find anything over there that could possibly be antagonizing his dog.
Convincing? Well, it seemed so to those who were there. Reading this out loud it just sounds like bad phone connections, an unfortunate hotel fire, and people giving themselves the jitters. Doesn’t it?
How about another film based on the Warrens? 2014’s Annabelle is based on the spooky Raggedy Ann doll. Warrens keep it in a glass case as she is said to move around. Annabelle the film uses a suitably creepy doll, as the makers of Raggedy Ann refused to allow them to use their doll’s likeness.
The director, John Leonetti, claimed during the movie to have seen “three fingers drawn through dust” on set multiple times. The reason this was so terrifying to him? The doll used for Annabelle had 3 fingers.
There are also claims that when they were shooting one day in an old apartment building in Koreatown the actor playing the demon walked into the green room before shooting and a complete light fixture fell down on his head. Otherwise, we really couldn’t find anything horrific or supposedly cursed happenings. Also, the Conjuring series has like 8 movies in its universe now.
While we admit that the Warrens have had some truly scary things happen around them. We also don’t deny that Annabelle the possessed Raggedy Ann doll exists. However, we don’t feel that this or any of the Conjuring series has been involved in any movie curses.
We’ll cover Superman in general. Simply because it’s popped up on at least two lists that we’ve come across. There is supposedly a curse in playing the iconic superhero. This one began with George Reeves. Reeves couldn’t find a role doing anything else. The world seemed to only see him as the Man of Steel. Tragically, in his depression, he shot himself in his bedroom. This happened during a house party, wearing the iconic suit that made and then broke him.
It is said that Christopher Reeve was also typecast. Also, the horseback accident that paralyzed him was part of the curse. In our opinion, Christopher Reeve loved playing the Man of Steel. He also didn’t really have a problem finding other roles to play. Though none were box office smashes like Superman was. He went into directing and still continued acting even after his accident. Christopher Reeve was a man who had an unfortunate accident. But he didn’t let it stop him from doing what he loved.
Wizard of Oz
And the same goes for our next entry in movies that are supposedly cursed: 1939’s The Wizard of Oz. This one has so many myths and legends surrounding it that it’s just ridiculous.
No, one of the Munchkin actors did not hang themselves in the film, so no, that’s not what you see in that one scene that is forever popping up on shows and specials. What you are seeing in the backdrop is one of the large birds on set simply lowering its head to the ground. Yes, this has been proven time and again.
Costume and Makeup Issues
True, there were mishaps on the set- directors came and went at a rapid pace. Buddy Ebsen, the actor originally to play the Tin Man had an allergic reaction to the paint used, so it was switched by the time the replacement actor, Jack Haley. Jack himself wound up with an eye infection due to the new makeup.
Yes, there was a pyrotechnical issue that burned Margaret Hamilton who played the Wicked Witch of the West. Hamilton’s makeup contained copper oxide, which is flammable, so she did wind up with some burning on her chin, the bridge of her nose, her right cheek, the right side of her forehead, and her right hand. However, none were permanent. Her stunt double suffered from burns on her leg, however, that were permanent after sitting on the smoking pipe that was worked up to look like the witch’s broom.
Burt Lahr’s heavy and very real lion hide gave him little ventilation while filming under hot lights, so he was constantly dehydrated, and Ray Bolger, who played the Scarecrow even had makeup issues- the cloth-style makeup left marks on his face that took over a year to fade.
Not fun, but that still doesn’t make this a cursed set.
Death of Auntie Em
Well, people like to add that Clara Blandick, who played Auntie Em, would commit suicide 22 years later. She had retired over a decade before, was losing her eyesight to blindness, and had arthritis all over. Palm Sunday 1962 she tidied her long-term room at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, laid out her favorite pictures and press clippings, dressed in an elegant dressing gown with her hair nicely done, laid down on her couch with a blanket pulled over her shoulders, took a lethal dose of sleeping pills and tied a plastic bag over her head.
While this is sad, and the suicide note is just heartbreaking, this has nothing to do with any such movie curse. Nor does the fact that Judy Garland herself would overdose 7 years after Clara from accidental barbiturate poisoning. Nor does the fact that the year the film came out that Oz himself, Frank Morgan, was involved in a serious car accident. He and his son weren’t injured, while his wife reinjured the same knee she had trouble with in the past, but their chauffeur was killed.
Were there tragedies? Yes. Curse? No. And not only has the Wizard of Oz continued on to delight audiences for over 75 years, but it also appears it will continue to do so for years and years to come. Besides, we have two fun facts for you to help lighten the mood.
Our researcher, my sister in law already knew that the Horse of a Different Color was a range of horses of different breeds chosen for the film’s iconic sequence, however, she was amazed to find out that filming for each horse had to be done quickly as the ASPCA determined that Jell-O crystals were the safest thing to use as a dye for their coats. The problem, however, is that the horses enjoyed the sugary crystals so much that they kept licking their colors off!
And secondly, there was an eventual wedding thanks to the movie- The Tin Man’s son, Jack Haley Jr eventually married Dorothy’s daughter, Liza Minelli back in the 1970s.
So not all was doom and gloom for this so-called “cursed” set. Okay, so Haley and Minelli only stayed married for 5 years, but you have to admit that story about the horses was incredibly cute.
We’ve actually hosted an episode in the past on this next subject- the Amityville Horror. Both the 1979 and the 2005 remake continually pop up on lists of cursed films, but, other than star James Brolin being not keen to star in the movie being scared because, while reading, a pair of his pants fell off a hanger causing him to jump out of his chair in fright, we can’t find anything spooky happening on the set of the original film.
The remake, however, did have a body wash up on shore next to the set just before filming was due to begin, but given the nature of the ocean currents, that in itself is hardly suspicious. However, according to Ryan Reynolds, the cast and crew would all wake up at 3:15 AM, which is when the actual murders took place. Neither film, however, was made in the actual home but rather was filmed in other coastal towns with the houses used remodeled to resemble the real home that sits in Amityville.
We would chalk this one up to people being on edge due to the spooky story being told, rather than from any residual evil being attracted to the set.
1983’s Brainstorm. This one only makes lists because it’s still a mystery of the lead actresses’ death.
Brainstorm, which starred Christopher Walken and Natalie Wood, was about a machine that allowed people to live out someone else’s experiences- good or bad. The issue is that Natalie, her husband Richard Wagner, and Walken all went out during filming on Wagner’s yacht.
Wood, terrified of water and unable to swim, hated the yacht but went out anyway. Apparently, there was a lot of drinking and some drugs going on before Wagner and Wood got into some sort of argument.
She supposedly went to their room to go to sleep while the men stayed up and continued drinking. It wasn’t until hours later that she was found to be missing and a search was begun.
Eventually, her body was located floating, and the investigation determined that Wood must have decided she wanted to row herself ashore on their little dinghy, and, being drunk, fell, hit her head on the way into the water and no one had noticed as she drowned.
The controversy continues to this day as neither Wagner nor Walken has come forward with anything usable, and Natalie’s sister insists still that her sister was so scared of water and had a terror of drowning that, even drunk, she never would have risked getting into the dinghy, let alone row herself to shore in one alone.
The captain of the yacht’s story has changed several times over the years. First, he claimed the same thing as Wagner (Walken refused to discuss the matter), that Natalie was drunk, said she was going to her room and instead must have accidentally drowned. Years later his story changed to say that Richard Wagner killed her and Walken knew all about it.
The details kept changing. The captain insists that it’s just because it’s been so long since the incident happened that it’s hard to keep everything straight, but his credibility is pretty much shot to everyone except for Wood’s sister.
The production company was forced to hire a body double, delayed the film for years, and then quietly released it with no fanfare and let it die off. Yet another tragedy, but the only supernatural or cursed thing to it is Natalie’s sister, Lana Wood, who claims her sister would never have tried leaving the ship while wearing her nightgown, and how Natalie once had a premonition she would die in the water. Just a tragic accident where no one really knows what may or may not have happened.
1973’s The Exorcist. Probably one of the most cursed films to actually hit any list, there are at least four deaths linked to the film, though some say as many as 9. There were several injuries on set and a freak fire.
The first death is that of Jack MacGowan, who played a film director who is killed by little Regan when his neck is broken and he is flung out her bedroom window. In real life, Jack caught influenza during the London Flu epidemic of 1973 and died from complications.
A woman with no previous acting skills, Vasiliki Maliaros, who played the mother of Father Damien Karras also died just before the movie was released, with an inquest stating she died from natural causes, hardly surprising, considering she was 89 at the time.
Barton Heyman, who had a small part in Dr. Klein, died 23 years after the film’s release due to heart failure at the age of 59.
This year the news went out that Linda Blair had died, but it turns out to have been a hoax, though she has since been added to the list of those that the curse has killed.
Lee J Cobb, who played William Kinderman died of a heart attack at the age of 64 just 3 years after the film’s release. Mercedes McCambridge, who voiced the demon in the movie, died of natural causes in 2004. Jason Miller, who played Father Karras, died of a heart attack in 2001. Max Von Sydow, who played Father Merrin, died in 2020.
Death is not a curse but what about fire?
As is obvious from the dates, most of these, if not all, are sad, but cannot be attributed to some unholy curse. It shouldn’t have to be us to state the obvious, but actors are not invincible. They succumb to death just as frequently as anyone.
However, that freak fire does make you think. The set for Regan’s family home burned down at the start of production when a bird flew into the circuit box. The only part of the set to survive was Regan’s bedroom, where the exorcisms would take place. Six weeks later, once the set had been reconstructed, Jesuit priest Thomas M King was called in to give the entire set a blessing… just in case.
As for injuries. Ellen Burstyn, who played Regan’s mother, wound up with a spinal injury after being pulled around the set while strapped into a harness.
She was forced to use crutches for the rest of the production.
Ellen does not blame this on any set curse, but rather remembers telling the film director that the crew was pulling her too hard. Apparently, her concerns were dismissed, with the director telling her the stunt had to look real.
The next take, according to Burstyn, the crew member smashed her into the floor. She was in so much pain that she was screaming for them to “shut the f*ing camera off”. The director insisted that yes, the stunt hurt, but that she wasn’t really injured.
Linda Blair, however, also claims that poor harness rigging led to her developing scoliosis after she fractured her lower spine- footage she claims is actually in the movie.
The Media Hypes it up
After its release, claims of a curse simply grew- during a screening in Rome, someone claimed a bolt of lightning struck the church opposite the cinema. An American woman who passed out during the movie and broke her jaw successfully sued the studio, while in the UK it was claimed that ambulance staff was kept at each screening to help any distressed moviegoers.
The studio kept filling column after column in the papers claiming audience members were fainting right and left, that some would make it to the aisle before vomiting excessively and walking out in droves from screenings simply built upon the hype, making audience attendance simply grow.
So what do you think? Is it all just bad luck and marketing, or do you think there really is a curse at play for The Exorcist?
In 1956 a movie came out that was supposed to be just another in the long line of John Wayne hits. Unlike his popular westerns, in The Conqueror, Wayne plays Genghis Khan even though he had a broad accent and in no way looked like a Mongolian.
Hollywood of the way back when never let minor things like ethnicity get in the way of their productions as they preferred to keep their money-making actors churning out one movie after another. Wayne himself had lobbied for the role after reading the script, feeling that a change of genre wouldn’t diminish his audience as he was at the top of his game at this point in his career.
Sadly, the Conqueror failed to conquer the box office, though it certainly lined the pockets of the medical community; specifically that of cancer treatment facilities and specialists.
The film was made around modern-day St. George, Utah, however, they also made use of surrounding locations near where nuclear bombs had been recently tested. Thankfully, St. George and surrounding areas today are safe to explore and have many beautiful places to visit while you are there.
Those places were still beautiful in the 1950s, which is why it was filmed there, however, many of the exterior scenes were shot in the Escalante Desert, which was 137 miles (220 km) downwind from the US’s National Security Site in Nevada. In 1953 eleven above-ground nuclear tests were performed.
Howard Hughes, who produced the film even shipped 60 tons of the area’s dirt back to Hollywood for reshoots so they could try to recreate realistic terrain to match the location shots.
Did they know about nuclear testing? Of course, they did, but the government assured both the studio as well as local residents that the testing posed no health hazard whatsoever, and besides, shooting out in the middle of nowhere made for a cheap filming permit.
Out of the 220 film crew members, 91 developed cancer, while 46 of them died from it. When viewed in the timeline of an individual’s lifespan, these numbers are fairly average among the general public, but the film’s location shoots and how many from that specific film all wound up with some version of cancer, it was definitely felt that a link was there, especially as so many of those who wound up with cancer developed it so soon after shooting, and while still considered at a younger age than average.
The director, Dick Powell, died of cancer just 7 years after the film was released. Of the main cast, Pedro Armendariz killed himself 7 years after the film’s release when it was discovered the pain in his hips actually stemmed from neck cancer that had spread down his spine.
He spent the months before his death filming the Bond film, From Russia With Love while in great pain, just to be sure his family had money coming in. He shot himself in the chest with a gun that he had smuggled into the hospital once he discovered the cancer was terminal.
Lead actress Susan Hayward continued acting until her health deteriorated in 1972, 15 years after making The Conqueror. It was then the doctor’s found a lung tumor than metastasized into her brain. In 3 short years of fighting cancer, she would suffer from a seizure and die.
Agnes Moorehead, the second female lead died of uterine cancer the year before Susan Hayward’s death. Morehead was a non-smoker, a non-drinker, and a health fanatic.
John Wayne himself wasn’t sure if his lung cancer diagnosis was due to the film location or if it was because he was a heavy smoker, but he beat it in 1964 after the removal of his left lung and two ribs.
Nearly 15 years later in early 1979, he went in with what he thought were gallbladder issues when doctors discovered cancer in his stomach. His entire stomach was removed, and a few months later part of his colon was removed due to what appeared to be colon cancer, but he died a few months later.
While his heavy smoking, even after the removal of a lung, and his heavy drinking certainly increased his cancer risk, to have three separate cancers instead of having one just metastasizing to other organs is highly unusual.
John Wayne’s Sons
Two of Wayne’s sons, Patrick and Michael, were both also diagnosed with cancer, and both had spent time with when they were young with their father on the set. Still, the list of those who either survived or died from cancer on this set goes on further.
I think the point has clearly been made though. Not only was this movie a box office bomb, but it was also not only voted the worst movie of the 1950s, it has seriously been argued by critics as one of the worst movies of all time.
Considering how many crappy films are out there, that definitely makes you think.
1967’s Rosemary’s Baby gets a lot of play as one of the most cursed movies to come out of Hollywood. While the film itself seemed to go without a hitch, it was after it was released that horrible things started happening.
The first was composer Krzysztof Komeda (CHRIS-TOFF KO-MEE-DAH) who was roughhousing at a party and fell. He spent 4 months in a coma before dying without ever regaining consciousness. The same affliction that witches inflict on Rosemary’s suspicious friend in the film.
Producer William Castle received so much hate mail that he wound up in the hospital with severe kidney stones. In his delirium he supposedly hallucinated parts of the film, and shouted aloud his urgings for “Rosemary, for God’s sake, drop the knife!” While he survived the kidney stones and delirium, he never made another hit movie.
And then there is Roman Polanski, whose story has been told and retold ad nauseum, but, for those who don’t remember, here are the cliff notes: Polanski’s girlfriend Sharon Tate had gunned hard for the lead role in Rosemary’s Baby but lost out to Mia Farrow. Apparently, Tate hung around the set and wound up appearing in the film without credit in the background of a party scene.
Years later a friend would quote that Tate was seemingly becoming obsessed with the occult, saying “the devil is beautiful. Most people think he’s ugly, but he’s not.”
Polansky was out of the country in July of 1969 while she was growing close to giving birth to their child. August 8th Tate was brutally murdered along with her unborn son and house guests.
The public, as the movie was still playing in theaters at the time, likened Polanski to offering his wife as a blood sacrifice for his Hollywood success. Other conspiracy theorists felt that the murders were part of a Satanic score on the Beatle’s White Album, as it was written while in what was considered an unchristian meditation session (that actress Mia Farrow apparently was present for!) This rumor grew even stronger after John Lennon was assassinated around a dozen years later while standing across the street from the Dakota, which is where Rosemary’s Baby was filmed.
Ira Levin, who wrote the original novel while observing his own wife’s ongoing pregnancy, didn’t escape the curse either. Considering himself an Atheistic Jew, Levin was aware that what he was writing was going to be controversial, but wasn’t expecting how bad it was going to be.
The Catholic Church condemned his story for mocking religious persons and practices. While Levin didn’t believe in curses or witches, he appeared on a 1980 episode of The Dick Cavett Show, alongside Stephen King, he stated how as a child his aspirations to write horror didn’t scare him at all, but now, he said, he was terrified. Still, years later he insisted he felt a sort of guilt for causing the popularity of the occult, witchcraft, and Satanism, though he openly dismissed people who believed in backward messaging in song lyrics and the like.
It didn’t stop him, however, from slapping together a poorly planned sequel called Son of Rosemary, which sold well despite the poor reviews. It was the last book he ever wrote before his death.
The curse for Levin, perhaps, was being first acclaimed and then spurned for the same thing. He poked fun at himself as a sellout and a fraud, which, in itself, is incredibly sad.
Rebel Without a Cause
Rebel Without A Cause was supposed to be the latest hit to launch James Dean into the stratosphere. Sadly, before the film was even released, he was dead in a car crash. Despite having racing experience, Dean could not help avoiding a 1950 Ford Tudor making a left turn into his lane.
It is thought that Dean tried to steer into what is considered a “side-stepping” maneuver, but didn’t have enough room, and his new 550 Spyder Porsche hit the Ford nearly head-on. A witness claimed the Spyder smashed into the ground 2 or 3 times while doing cartwheels, before coming to rest in a gully beside the road.
Dean suffered a crushed foot as it had been caught between the clutch and brake pedals. His neck was broken and he had massive internal and external injuries. By the time the ambulance arrived he had already been pulled from the car by a nurse and other witnesses, and his passenger, who had been thrown from the vehicle, was barely conscious. Dean’s cause of death was reported as a broken neck, multiple fractures of his upper and lower jaws, both arms were broken, and internal injuries. His passenger survived after surgery to repair a broken jaw, and serious hip and femur injuries. The driver of the Ford suffered only some facial bruises and a bloody nose.
Dean and his passenger had been breaking the car in for an upcoming race by hitting the road, alternately speeding and passing cars, and slowing down to a rate that more closely followed the speed limit. At the time he had only owned the car for 9 days. Despite reports saying Dean was racing along at speeds of 85 mph, it was later determined that he was going closer to 55 at the time the accident occurred.
The Ford driver stated he hadn’t seen the low-profile Spyder approaching when he turned into their lane and was absolved from criminal responsibility by a jury. Still, the accident haunted him for the rest of his life and he died in 1995 from lung cancer. So what does this horrible accident have to do with curses? Well, all 3 of the film’s stars would die far too soon.
The Other Stars in the Film
Sal Mineo’s career dropped off not long after as he tried transitioning from teen roles to things more adult. He was eventually to make a potential comeback in a play but was stabbed to death while on his way home from a rehearsal. He had parked his car behind his apartment building in 1976 when neighbors heard him crying for help. A man was seen running from the scene, and Mineo was left with a deep chest wound. He died just moments later.
And young Natalie Wood we covered earlier when she drowned while out on her husband’s yacht along with her co-star.
It is probably prudent to mention another curse here, although it has nothing to do with a movie. It’s the enduring curse of those who have owned pieces of Dean’s maimed Spyder.
The car was purchased by George Barris, who had customized the car, and was known for designing both the Batmobile as well as the Munster’s Koach.
For a while, Barris would loan the car, which Dean had dubbed the Little Bastard, to the California Highway Patrol to use in displays to discourage speeding. Eventually, he sold the engine and chassis to two physicians who were racing enthusiasts, and the two surviving tires to a young man from New York.
There have been so many rumors surrounding the death and destruction that has come to those who have owned or been close to parts of the car.
We will list just a few:
- The two doctors who bought the engine and chassis were racing their cars when one of them spun out of control, wrapping the car around a tree and killing himself instantly. The other doctor was seriously injured when his car rolled while taking a curve in the same race.
- The New Yorker put the tires on his own vehicle and both blew simultaneously, sending the car to smash into a ditch.
- A souvenir hound ripped his arm open while trying to steal the car’s steering wheel from where it was placed in storage.
- The Fresno, CA garage that was housing the car caught on fire, destroying everything except for the car’s remains.
- In two separate accidents, trucks hauling the car’s remains had fatal accidents. A third transportation truck that was parked on a hill had its brakes give out and it smashed the windshield of the car behind it.
- The car was on display in 1959 in New Orleans and fell into pieces without warning.
What happened to the remaining parts?
After New Orleans Barris had it shipped back to California, but the car never arrived. Other than a restored passenger door, which Barris hadn’t shipped to New Orleans, the rest of the car’s whereabouts are completely unknown.
It has been postulated that perhaps Dean’s family members are holding onto the remaining parts, and from time-to-time car parts claiming to be from Dean’s Spyder find their way onto the market. There is a reward still offered by the Volo Auto Museum in Illinois for the missing car, but if you want to claim the million-dollar reward Barris himself has to verify the vehicle.
So is Dean’s car still out there in the world? Or did it just supernaturally disappear? Is it in the clutches of an obsessed collector, or did Dean merely reclaim what was his?
The Case of the Incomparable Atuk
The final movie on our list never made it onto the screen- big or small. There are thousands upon thousands of films that never make it past the scripting stage, even if they are good. For one reason or another they just never seem to keep cast or directors attached for one reason or another. The case of The Incomparable Atuk, a satirical comedy about an Alaskan Inuit who moves to Toronto has surprisingly been one of the most horrific of them all.
Death of Leading Actors
The film started off with John Belushi attached as the lead, but he passed away from a drug overdose. The movie was then handed over to Sam Kinison, who demanded that the entire script be rewritten. He was fired shortly thereafter and almost immediately died in a car crash. John Candy was given the role but then died of a heart attack. Popular Saturday Night Live writer who had merely discussed the film with Candy would die shortly thereafter from a brain hemorrhage. The film role was then offered to Chris Farley, who died of a drug overdose, and then to Phil Hartman.
Hartman, tragically, was having marriage troubles with his third wife Brynn Omdahl, who, rather than let him leave her due to her relapse into alcohol and cocaine abuse, murdered him in his sleep with a shotgun blast between his eyes, in his throat and then his chest.
Omdahl left the house and drove to a friend’s house where she admitted what she had done. The friend used to her outbursts and manic behavior did not believe her. They drove back to the Hartman home, where Phil was found dead. Her friend called 911, but Omdahl barricaded herself in the bedroom and then killed herself with the same shotgun she had used on her husband.
Was it Cursed?
So do you think Atuk is cursed? It has at one point or another interested other comedians who are still with us, such as Will Ferrell, Jack Black, John Goodman, and Josh Mostel. Apparently, Jonathan Winters, who died in 2013, was also interested, but he was never directly attached to the piece, as well as Robin Williams.
Movie Curses Podcast
Listen to the podcast here.
Watch the replay on Youtube.
Movie Curses Show Notes – Resources
13 Cursed Movies for Friday the 13th, From ‘Poltergeist’ to ‘The Crow’
25 Most Cursed Movies Ever Filmed