Curses and misfortune have persisted in the realm of artistic creation since the premiere of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, quite possibly before that. But the stories behind the curses that terrorize some productions would seek to prove that the supernatural can affect more than just the imagination. The following stories are just a few of the more intriguing ones we’ve discovered haunting the hallowed history of Hollywood.
CALORIES OR CURSES?
A Confederacy of Dunces
Widely regarded as one of the most cursed projects in Hollywood, A Confederacy of Dunces, based on the absolutely hilarious and bestselling book by John Kennedy Toole, has yet to even get off the ground. It probably could, if every lead star attached to it didn’t happen to die.
When the moneymakers in Hollywood (and there have been many attached to this) decided to adapt the book for the screen, numerous A-listers sought out the lead role. Unfortunately, the closer they got to starting, tragedy would fall. First there was John Belushi who died after he accepted. The role then passed to John Candy. After his death, the role passed to Chris Farley. Then the role passed to Harris “Divine” Milstead, who also died shortly thereafter. And the curse was only picking up steam.
After the deaths of nearly every overweight funnyman in Hollywood at the time, Paramount began to lose total interest in the film, the head of the Film Commission of Louisiana was murdered, and then Katrina nearly wiped out New Orleans.
So blame it on the writer, blame it on the role, or blame it on the triple-meat, triple-cheese, triple-bacon burgers with extra fries, A Confederacy of Dunces may never see the light of day.
AFTERLIFE IMITATING ART
Arguably one of the most well-known film curses, the Steven Spielberg and Tobe Hooper film and trilogy was plagued by the tragic deaths of its players. It is said the curse stems from the fact that real cadavers were utilized in the filming of both Poltergeist I and II, an act many pundits have decried as ghoulish and utterly profane. Stranger still is that the premise of the entire film series is based on the supposed supernatural consequences of disturbing those laid to rest.
During the six years it took to release the three films, Dominique Dunne (the older daughter in the family) was strangled by her boyfriend in ’82, Julian Beck died unexpectedly from stomach cancer in ’85, Will Sampson died suddenly of post-operative complications from a kidney operation in ’88, and the worst part, Heather O’Rourke who played Carol Anne, tragically died from septic shock due to a misdiagnosed bowel obstruction.
What is most notable about the deaths of these talented individuals was the extraordinarily rare circumstances that claimed their lives. Could it be mere coincidence or were the desecrated dead exacting their revenge?
THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS
Of all the purported curses, few were as truly terrifying as the events that surrounded The Omen, a horror/thriller about the birth of the AntiChrist. It was a film many said the Devil would not allow to be made, and the surrounding events may lend that ominous statement a rather notorious credence.
The most notable events included the suicide of lead actor Gregory Peck’s son two months before filming began; the attacking of the animal handlers by the trained Rottweilers used on set; a professional tiger handler died two weeks after filming when he was pulled headfirst into a lion’s cage and was eaten alive; the principal actors were involved in a terrible head-on crash the day filming commenced; director Richard Donner’s hotel suffered an IRA bombing; and lead actor Gregory Peck and writer David Seltzer’s planes were struck by lightning on two separate occasions.
Peck also had yet another brush with the curse when a flight he and others were scheduled to take was switched to another carrier at the last minute and the original flight later crashed resulting in the deaths of everyone on board. And even more horrifying was the death of Visual Effect Supervisor John Richardson’s assistant on the set of A Bridge Too Far one year later. In a scene eerily reminiscent of the photographer’s death in The Omen, Richardson’s assistant was decapitated in a car accident.
When Richardson came to after the horrific collision, the first thing he remembered seeing was a road sign just ahead that read ‘Ommen – 66.6 KM’.
SATAN HAS NO SENSE OF HUMOR
The reigning champion of film curses, The Exorcist saw more bad luck and misfortune than any film before or after it. It would certainly seem that films steeped in religious dogma or Catholic belief structures tend to fare for the worse and if otherworldly forces were ever intent on impeding or alltogether stopping a film from being made, it was this tale of possession and the extreme Catholic rite of the exorcism.
The cast and crew of The Exorcist suffered unimaginably during the filming of William Friedkin’s classic horror film. There are literally so many tales surrounding the film that we could not possibly list them all here (E! released a two-hour True Hollywood Story episode dedicated entirely to the curse). Some of the more terrifying ones included the deaths of upwards of nine people during filming; the severe spinal injury of Ellen Burstyn during a stunt gone wrong; sets catching fire for no explainable reason; Linda Blair inadvertently predicting a crew member’s death during filming; and the admonishment of evangelist Billy Graham who stated that he “felt the darkness” surrounding the film and that “There is a power of evil in the film, in the fabric of the film itself.” Initial audience reactions included widespread fainting, vomiting, and a powerful unease while watching the film.
Probably most strange was when the film made it’s premier at the Metropolitan Theater in Rome. The theater stood a short distance from two 16th-century churches, each adorned with massive crosses. As audience members filed in, torrential lightning and rain pounded the area, and shortly before the start of the film a horrendous sound was heard from outside. What was discovered was that one of the crosses, eight feet long and over 400 years old, had been struck by lightning and landed in the center of the plaza below.
GOD’S A CRITIC TOO
The Passion of the Christ
One could expect the Devil to cause havoc and distress upon a film set, but what about the Almighty Himself? Well apparently even ‘He Who Is Called I Am’ can take issue with the movies. Especially anyone who would choose to portray his only begotten son.
Though some consider the events surrounding actor Jim Caviezel’s portrayal of Christ in Mel Gibson’s epic The Passion of the Christ to be more of a stern warning from God, it could be seen that the production was cursed, which still persists to this day. Actor Jim Caviezel suffered greatly during filming through being struck twice by lightning, hypothermia, lung infections, pneumonia, an accidental whipping, a dislocated shoulder, and 8-hour makeup routines that left him with severe headaches and skin infections. And even though he remained professional and completed the picture, his own career has since been one disaster after another. Included in that is Mel Gibson himself, who suffered his own career shaking meltdown, legal battles, severe alcohol addiction, and a disastrous breakup with longtime girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva. Only now is his own career starting to show very mild signs of improvement.
It could be coincidence, but if you yourself decide to portray Christ on film and capture the Crucifixtion or the Sermon on the Mount for posterity, I’d smell for ozone in the air before you start rolling
A REAL LIFE CHRISTINE?
Rebel Without a Cause
This classic film detailing the sordid adventures of a youth struggling with identity and clashing generational attitudes is widely regarded as one of the most significant movies in film history. The story behind it however would seem more at home between the covers of an issue of Us Weekly, Star, or even the National Enquirer. The supposed curse that followed may be even stranger still.
One month before the release of Rebel Without a Cause, James Dean, his slicked hair and bright red jacket an instant and gratifying symbol of the rebellious fifties generation, was killed in a head-on collision while driving his Porsche 550 Spyder, the same vehicle he drove while shooting Rebel. It was Dean’s premature death that cast an understandable pallor over the film but it was the incredibly emotional and volatile behavior that occurred on set and the horrific death of the lead actor that many have blamed for the curse that followed. Co-Stars Sal Mineo and Natalie Wood also suffered horrific and premature deaths, Sal being stabbed to death outside his apartment and Natalie drowning accidentally after falling off her yacht.
But the most startling connections belong to the car itself, the Porsche Spyder. After the accident that killed Dean, the mechanic called in to remove the wreckage had his leg broken when the vehicle inexplicably collapsed on him. Performing wrecker work is dangerous business and it could be a case of human error, but it was also discovered some time after that the wreckage was recycled by two private buyers into two other cars. Both cars ended up involved in head-on collisions that claimed the lives of their owners.
But what remains truly eerie was a little known TV spot that James Dean himself did shortly before his death while promoting his final film Giant. Asked to speak on driving safety, James was scripted to say the famous line, “The life you save…may be your own.” However, Dean, always the jokester and rebel at heart, ad-libbed at the last moment, uttering the phrase, “The life you save…may be mine.”
PUTTING THE MAN OF STEEL TO THE TEST
Superman (all of them)
The Last Son of Krypton, creation of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, first appeared in 1938 and is now considered one of the most prominent figures in American literary history. But what appears to be a dreaded curse has followed behind the Savior of Metropolis ever since his inception.
Beginning with his creation, a legal battle ensued between the creators (Shuster and Siegel) and DC Comics, the copyright holder of the comic icon. Due to the pittance the duo received for their work, it is rumored that Shuster and Siegel were either the first victims of the curse or the progenitors of the curse themselves for their mistreatment at the hands of DC.
Following the initial debacle, numerous events have darkly-colored Superman’s history. The Fleischer Brothers, pioneers of early animation figures such as Popeye and Betty Boop, found themselves poor, fighting and utterly failing after introducing Superman to their animation block. Kirk Alyn, who portrayed Superman in the ’40s failed to find work afterwords ever again. George Reeves, the first nationally recognized Superman, was found dead in his hotel room, the circumstances of which are still shrouded in mystery. In 1963, John F. Kennedy signed a deal with DC for Superman to tout the President’s fitness routine, the two appearing together in the comic. After the assassination, Lyndon Johnson had DC publish a reworked version of the comic.
Screen legend Christopher Reeve, the most famous of all the Superman actors, suffered an accident that left him permanently paralyzed from the neck down. Margot Kidder, the actress who portrayed Lois Lane across from Christopher Reeve’s Superman, suffered a severe mental breakdown and was found days later wandering in a state of delusional paranoia. Marlon Brando, who played Jor-El in the Richard Donner films, suffered a complete and total breakdown of his career and personal life. Lee Quigley who portrayed Superman as a baby died at the age of 14 after a dusting incident. Mark Pillow made his debut as Nuclear Man in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and never worked again. And finally Lane Smith who portrayed Perry White in Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman died of Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Considering this long, long list of misfortune, it’s a wonder why anyone has chosen to persue a Superman project again. And with all the problems Zach Snyder has faced in getting his Man of Steel film off the ground, I don’t think we’ve seen the end of the Curse of Superman.
Are these events and the numerous others surrounding other lesser known films products of overactive imaginations, cosmic coincidence, or the work of more diabolic and supernatural forces? In the game of proving that which cannot be proven it’s all subjective. And while it may seem completely innocuous to the eyes of those looking in, those involved certainly have developed and maintain their own spooky conclusions.