There’s something about horror movies which fascinates the human psyche. As a species, we’re mesmerized by scary scenarios and terrifying encounters, whether it’s a run-in with a killer Great Dane, demon possession, getting lost in the woods, or being hunted by aliens. The horror industry is simply huge, and we turn out in our millions, every year, to see the latest spooky releases.
What you might not know is that there’s an awful lot going on behind the scenes of these productions. Many of your favorite horror flicks have some very strange stories to tell, and they don’t end when the camera gets switched off. In fact, a surprising number of big budget horror movies have encountered creepy, scary, and downright spooky events on set. This has even led to rumors of some productions having been cursed by evil entities.
So, let’s take a closer look at the classic horror fests which turned out to be just as terrifying behind the camera.
The Possession (2012)
This movie is a pretty quirky film about rabbis, Judaism, and a cursed Jewish relic. It somehow attaches itself to the soul of a young girl and all kinds of mayhem ensue. While filming, the cast experienced some really crazy occurrences. For one thing, light bulbs kept exploding for no apparent reason. Then, a prop facility mysteriously caught fire and burned to the ground. The subsequent investigation could not identify the cause of the blaze. It didn’t escape attention, however, that the Dybbuk box relic used in the movie was completely destroyed. The cast and crew actually refused to let the producer replace it for fear the object was cursed.
The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)
This is another film about demonic possession, but it is extremely sad and emotionally affecting as well as being scary enough to keep you up at night. Jennifer Carpenter, the lead actress, saw her radio alarm clock repeatedly turn itself on during her time on the production. That’s not at all though. Every time it did, it only played one song.
It was Alive by Pearl Jam. Soon, other cast members were reporting the exact same thing. They heard the same song too. They eventually got so spooked that they collectively removed the radios from their hotel rooms. The creepy occurrences stopped, but there has never been an explanation for how or why the song kept making an appearance.
The Conjuring (2013)
The Conjuring is based on the true story of the Perron family. In the seventies, they claimed to be tormented by supernatural entities in their home. While a number of family members spent time on the set, the mother staunchly refused to go anywhere near it. She was convinced that several unexplained events were proof that the spirits hadn’t finished with them yet.
For instance, when members of the Perron family were visiting, a furious wind suddenly rose and seemed to surround them. However, the crew couldn’t see movement in any of the trees, as you’d expect from windy conditions. The director also had a dog which began to get very agitated after dark, and the cast hotel (yes, you’ve guessed it) caught fire.
Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)
The story of this film is rather sad. During the production, one of the lead actors (Vic Morrow) was killed. Now, this has happened before, and it isn’t usually a spooky occurrence, though it is a very sobering one. What is creepy is the fact that Morrow appeared to predict his demise just a year earlier. Before joining the film, he took out $5 million of life insurance.
All he told his family and friends were that he was sure something bad was coming, as he had seen it happen in a dream. He also said that the accident would occur on one of his movies. Sure enough, after filming started, a helicopter crashed, and Morrow was decapitated. It was later discovered that the concept artist had unintentionally drawn an almost identical scene.
The Amityville Horror (2005)
The Amityville Horror is a classic movie which was given the reboot treatment in 2005. Hollywood favorite Ryan Reynolds took on the iconic role made famous by James Brolin. Unfortunately, filming was delayed when a dead body washed up on shore, very close to the set. The cast and crew were pretty shaken, but they decided to continue with the project.
A little later, Reynolds and several other people were creeped out when they couldn’t stop waking up at a specific time – 3.15am. It just so happens that this is the exact time the murders depicted in the film (they really did happen) occurred in real life. Needless to say, all involved were relieved when this one wrapped.
The tale of Poltergeist is infamous at this point. It is a fantastic franchise, but it has been overshadowed by a truly tragic series of productions. In a devastating turn of events, the star of the movies (Heather O’Rourke) died at the age of twelve. She suffered a cardiac arrest while working on one of the later installments.
Again, this might not be so creepy if the actress playing her older sister hadn’t also died during the making of the first Poltergeist. Dominique Dunne was murdered by an ex-boyfriend just one day after the movie premiered. There’s more to come. There would be a final death after the second installment wrapped. Like O’Rourke, the producer died during a surgical operation.
The Exorcist (1973)
Many horror fans would argue that The Exorcist is the most famous example of the genre. It is a very unsettling movie, and events which occurred during the production have now become legend. Just a few days after he finished his scenes, actor Jack MacGowran died unexpectedly. His passing was followed by the deaths of a security guard and FX worker.
At one point, the entire set burnt down. Nobody could find out why and it had to be completely rebuilt. The supposed ‘curse’ forced director William Friedkin to bring a priest to the set so that he could bless the area. Unfortunately, this divine intervention didn’t stop a number of audience members from dying of heart attacks when the movie was released.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Rosemary’s Baby is a masterclass in cinematic tension. Even though the film doesn’t contain any gory or particularly horrifying images, it instills a deep sense of dread and unease. This feeling is echoed by the production which started out on a pretty crazy note. The producer received an anonymous letter stating that he was to die from a long and painful sickness.
Shortly after, he would collapse and need emergency surgery. The musical composer was less lucky. He had a nasty fall and died from a hematoma of the brain. Other creepy occurrences include the entire cast contracting severe food poisoning and another producer nearly died after having a stroke at the wheel.
Not a lot of people know about the horrendous incident which happened on the Psycho set. It rivals any of the scary stuff depicted in the movie. During filming, a body double for star Janet Leigh was murdered on set. It was later discovered that a handyman working on the production had killed the woman to impress director Alfred Hitchcock.
After the tragedy, Hitchcock delivered one of his famous speeches. He gathered the cast and crew together and informed that they now had all the motivation they needed to finish the movie. It just goes to show that there are plenty of scary monsters out there in real life too. It’s a wonder we need to watch horror films at all.
The Omen (1976)
The Omen was one of the most celebrated horror movies of the seventies. It tells the story of a young boy who isn’t quite what he seems. Everywhere he goes, bad things happen, and the people around him start to suspect the influence of an evil presence. Unfortunately for the cast and crew, the production was plagued by horrible events.
As filming began, the lead actor found out his son had committed suicide. Then, a crew member was almost killed in a car accident while driving to the set. In a similar twist of fate, the scriptwriter almost crashed his airplane when it was hit by lightning. Later, a third (yes, really) airplane accident killed several members of the crew when it crashed onto a road.
The Crow (1994)
The Crow has become a moody, gothic cult classic. Part of the reason for its strange allure is the tragic accident which occurred on set. Brandon Lee, a promising actor and son of martial arts legend Bruce Lee, was killed after a prop gun malfunctioned during a scene. Somehow, it ended up shooting a real bullet, and the actor later died from his wounds.
Curiously, his father had acted out a very similar scene twenty years earlier in a movie of his own. He played an actor who was killed when gangsters loaded a prop bullet with real bullets. Other extremely creepy occurrences include a crew member being severely burned on the first day of filming. Also, a construction worker accidentally impaled his hand on a screwdriver.
The Passion of the Christ (2004)
You really don’t want your set to be plagued by mysterious accidents when you’re making a film about the death of Christ. Unlucky for the cast and crew behind The Passion of the Christ, that is exactly what happened. It sounds incredible, but individuals at work on the set were struck by lightning no fewer than three times.
On two occasions, it happened to the same guy. Ouch. Lead actor Jim Caviezel was also struck by lightning while on set. The poor guy then suffered hypothermia, a lung infection, pneumonia, terrible headaches, and a dislocated shoulder. Finally, during a whipping scene, a piece of his flesh was accidentally ripped out.
The Innkeepers (2011)
The Innkeepers is a relatively unknown movie, but it is highly respected by avid horror fans. Director Ti West has made a name for himself by putting a modern spin on classic tropes. While he is a pretty skeptical man and refuses to be drawn on the creepy atmosphere which reportedly surrounded the set, the rest of the crew did feel uneasy.
According to West, TVs turned on and off without help. Lights would flicker and extinguish themselves. Doors would open and close unaided. Also, many crew members had extremely vivid and disturbing dreams while filming at the Yankee Pedlar Inn; a real life haunted hotel. The director also claims that the lead actress believed a spirit was sharing her room.
Clearly, director James Wan is a brave soul. After all of those creepy incidents on the set of The Conjuring, he went back for more and filmed a prequel. This was to be Anabelle, a movie about a demonic doll. Interestingly, it is based on a real life doll which is kept locked up at the Occult Museum in Connecticut.
During filming, the crew kept finding eerie marks on windows. For instance, in areas which hadn’t been dusted or cleaned for a long time, they would spot what looked like claw marks. Only, they always had three fingers (or claws), just like the demon in the movie. One of the actors later suffered a serious head injury in the same hallway he would shoot his death scene.
The Lords of Salem (2012)
The Lords of Salem is a Rob Zombie movie, so the first thing to expect is a pretty ridiculous plot. This time, it’s about a female DJ who accidentally gets tangled up with a group of Satan worshipping women. At one point, the crew was filming at the Linda Vista Hospital in Los Angeles. It has long been the subject of ghostly rumors and alleged creepy encounters.
According to a production designer, filming in the basement of the hospital kept making people sick. On several occasions, they had to break a scene to leave the space because almost everybody felt deeply unwell. She also claims that a buzzer to one of the hospital rooms would repeatedly sound, even though there was no patients or hospital staff present.
Return to Babylon (2013)
There are few ‘behind the scenes stories’ as strange as that of Return to Babylon. In fact, even the origins of the movie are enough to make your spine tingle. It all started when two directors found a box of 16mm film just left out on a Hollywood sidewalk. They couldn’t find an owner, so they took the box and decided to build a clever plot around it.
However, once they started to combine this footage with new content, strange things happened. The faces of the actors (Jennifer Tilly was one of the leads) became mysteriously and grotesquely distorted. Also, unidentified figures appeared in the shots. Perhaps most interesting is that a group of film experts could not provide an explanation for any of this.
This isn’t a paranormal encounter, but it is still pretty horrifying nonetheless. The 1913 movie Skippy, about a boy and his dog, was a big hit, but it involved some very real heartache. The lead was played by a child actor, whom the director struggled to work with at times. There was a particular scene which required him to cry hysterically, but the acting just wasn’t right.
That is until Norman Taurog colluded with his grandmother to have the dog dragged off set and shot. The child was hysterical for over an hour, and the director was able to get the footage that he wanted. Fortunately, it was all a clever ruse, and the animal was brought back on set later. We bet child star Jackie Cooper didn’t forget that moment in a hurry.
Ghost of Goodnight Lane (2014)
The next film didn’t get a very wide release, despite starring big time actor Billy Zane. However, it has since become just a little bit legendary, due to rumors about supernatural activities on set. The movie is based on the making of a previous film. Producer Alin Bijan had worked on a production which turned out to be plagued by strange and creepy problems.
The crew repeatedly saw apparitions, with one even being assaulted by a ghostly figure. After a team of paranormal investigators had confirmed the haunting, Bijan started making Ghost of Goodnight Lane. Unsurprisingly, it was interrupted by flickering lights, falling equipment, and disembodied voices. We hope the producer got the message not to play with ghosts.
The chest bursting scene in the original Alien movie has become one of the most iconic pieces of cinema. Once seen, it is hard to forget, in part because the acting is so authentic. Well, there’s a reason for that. Director Ridley Scott deliberately held back details about what would happen in the scene, so that the actors would respond with genuine terror.
Only John Hurt, who plays host to the monster, was aware that a mechanical version of the alien was going to burst right out of his body. Actress Veronica Cartwright reportedly passed out when the big moment occurred. Star of the show, Sigourney Weaver, claimed to forget that they were filming a movie at all and described feeling terrified for the actor on the table.
Apocalypse Now (1979)
When people talk about horrendous film productions, Apocalypse Now almost always makes an appearance. It is still considered to be one of the most difficult shoots in cinema history. Not only did a member of the crew die during filming, lead actor Michael Sheen nearly joined him. He suffered a heart attack on set, which was quickly followed by an epileptic seizure.
As the movie was being made in the jungle, he had to travel a quarter mile to find medical assistance. Director Francis Ford Coppola didn’t have an easier time. The project was so troubled and plagued by bad luck that he contemplated suicide. The constant rain decimated the set and injured crew members were left washing their wounds with vodka. Ouch.
The Endless Allure and Fascination of Horror Movies
Knowing a little about what crew and cast members have to battle to get these films out gives you a greater appreciation for the craft, even if it doesn’t convince you of demonic possession or evil curses. It also adds some major mystery to the stories, because it’s hard to dismiss the wild improbability of so many accidents and tragedies.
It just goes to show that the people who work on movies are very brave and resilient. They have a job to do, and they’re not going to let any marauding ghosts derail that mission. So, the next time that you sit down to watch a truly creepy movie, you might want to think about whether it’s given you permission to do so.
And maybe, just maybe you should keep a bottle of holy water and the number of a local priest on the fridge. You never know who (or what) might be watching.