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Cursed Films: Truth That’s Stranger Than Fiction

Cursed Films: Truth That’s Stranger Than Fiction

Scene from The Conjuring

Some of the events that have taken place in and around the production of some of Hollywood’s biggest horror films prove that often truth can be even stranger than fiction. Whether horrific deaths mirroring those in the movies or alleged supernatural activity taking place that can rival the spookiest of scenes, not everything can be explained away as a slick PR exercise to promote a feature. Here we’ve brought together some strange happenings that have led to these huge movies coming to be placed in the category of cursed films.

The Omen (1976)

Damien from The Omen
20th Century Fox

The Omen, about the Antichrist coming to terrorise the earth in the form of young child Damien, is even scarier once you know some of the events that happened around it.

Two months before filming began leading man Gregory Peck, who plays American Ambassador Robert Thorn, father to Damien, was shell shocked when his son killed himself.

The film’s screenwriter David Seltzer’s plane was struck by lightning as was Gregory Peck’s. Peck later cancelled a reservation for a flight to Israel (a location in the film) only to find out subsequently it had crashed and killed everyone on board.

The animal handler who organised the scene in The Omen when the frenzied baboon was killed by a tiger the day after filming.

It wasn’t a safe environment for director Richard Donner either. A hotel that he was staying at while production was going on got bombed by the IRA. He also got hit by a car during production.

That was far from the only disastrous event involving cars. On the first day of shooting a head-on car collision injured a number of crew members.

But perhaps most disturbing was a tragic real-life incident that mirrored one from the film. Special Effects Supervisor, John Richardson and his assistant, Liz Moore who created one of the nastiest scenes in the movie where a character dies in their from decapitation. Both of them were involved in a head-on crash in which Moore’s body was sliced in half. The accident happened on Friday the 13th (August 1976) by a road sign that read, “Ommen, 66.6 km.”

The Conjuring (2013)

Shot from The Conjuring
Credit: New Line Cinema

The Conjuring is based on the real-life paranormal investigators and demonologists Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) and Ed (Patrick Wilson) Warren. In the film set in 1970, the pair are summoned to a secluded family farmhouse which is playing host to supernatural strangeness. The film has spawned sequels and spinoffs, but we’ll get to them later. First, here are some of the spooky happenings around the movie.

Vera Farmiga saw three digital claw marks appear on her computer screen as she read the script for the film. The marks appeared after she’d finished speaking to James Wan about playing the role of Lorraine Warren, and about wanting to have Patrick Wilson acting opposite her. Also on the day after she completed filming on The Conjuring, she woke up with three claw mark bruises across her thigh. Spooky!

Joey King, who played Christine, ended up covered in strange bruises “all over her body” after just two weeks of shooting. Wilson explained to The Independent that King hadn’t been doing any stunts, and hadn’t had anything hit her over the course of filming.

On the set of The Conjuring 2, Wilson showed director James Wan a video of curtains moving on the set of the first movie.
Wan told South Korea’s Star2, “At the end of the sound stage, there were these huge curtain drapes. They started swaying on their own. They just kept moving. None of the doors was opened, the air-conditioning was switched off. They just moved on their own”.

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Mia Farrow holds a knife in a scene from Rosemary's Baby
Credit: Paramount Pictures

Rosemary’s Baby sees young couple Rosemary (Mia Farrow) & Guy move into an apartment only to be surrounded by peculiar neighbours and occurrences. Rosemary becomes mysteriously pregnant, and paranoia over the safety of her unborn child.

The New York apartments in the film have a long murky history, with numerous ghostly sightings over the years (usually of spectral children) and strange goings-on. John Lennon was shot outside them in 1980, he lived there at the time.

The most famous and darkest story related to Rosemary’s Baby was the infamous murder of Roman Polanski’s wife, Sharon Tate by the Manson Family when she was eight months pregnant. She was killed in a ritualistic manner and stabbed sixteen times.

The film’s composer, Krzysztof Komeda, died of a haematoma of the brain not long after the film was released. It mirrors the death of Rosemary’s friend Hutch who dies the same way in the film.

Producer William Castle received threatening letters following the film’s release. One read: “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.” Just months after the film’s release Castle was hospitalised with severe kidney stones. In hospital he was hallucinating and heard shouting the words “Rosemary, for God’s sake, drop the knife!” He later died of a heart attack.

The Exorcist (1973)

Priest stands in front of house in classic shot from The Exorcist
Credit: Warner Brothers

The Exorcist remains one of the most terrifying horror films of all time and has one of the darkest histories. Loosely based on a true story the film tells the tale of a young girl’s demonic possession and her mother’s desperation to get her back from the clutches of evil via aid from the Catholic church. A number of incidents have left it tarred with the cursed film moniker.

A mysterious fire ripped through the sound stage set while no cast or crew members were around, causing a six-week delay in production. There was only one room that went untouched, the bedroom which belonged to Regan, played by Linda Blair. The cast and crew were so spooked a real pastor was called in to exorcise the set.

Surrounding the film are nine deaths from the cast and crew. A crew member and technician both died during production. The brother of Max Von Sydow (Father Merrin in the film), passed away, as did Linda Blair’s grandfather. Before the film was released, Burke Dennings, played by Jack McGowan, died of flu complications. Father Damien Karras’ mother, played by Vasiliki Maliaros, died after her participation with the film, but before the film was released.

Linda Blair had a mental breakdown during filming and attacked her on-screen mother.

Even audiences weren’t safe with faintings commonplace among early screenings along with cases of vomiting.

The Amityville Horror (1979 / 2005)

Scene from The Amityville Horror
Credit: MGM

The Amityville Horror is based on the paranormal experiences of the Lutz family after moving into a reportedly haunted house whose previous residents were a real-life family that was shot and killed by their eldest boy, Ronald DeFeo. It’s been speculated that he heard voices and was possessed by an evil force that dwelled within the house. The Lutz said the demonic force left them no choice but to leave their home.

The scene was investigated by the couple who inspired The Conjuring movies, Ed and Lorraine Warren, who placed cameras all over the house. In one of the pictures was the sight of a young boy with glowing white eyes, thought to be the spirit of John Matthew DeFeo, the youngest of the children. At the time the Warrens were investigating at the Amityville house, they began to experience strange activity in their home. One night, Ed was in his office when the latch at the end of the passageway snapped open and he heard heavy footsteps approaching.

Star James Brolin, who didn’t give credence to the Lutzes story, experienced a scare when going over the novel for the film. Initially, he was hesitant to take the part but agreed to do it after his trousers fell from their hanger causing him to jump and nearly crash his head through the ceiling.

Just before filming began a dead body washed up on shore by the film set, not the best omen.

In 2005 they remade the film with Ryan Reynolds in the lead as the father George Lutz. He and other crew members reportedly kept waking every morning at the same time of 03:15… the same time Ronald DeFeo murdered his parents and four siblings.

The Nun (2018)

The Nun
Credit: New Line Cinema

The Nun is the most recent prequel spinoff in the series of Conjuring films focussing on demonic nun Valak who terrorises the local clergy as she haunts the cloisters of an abbey.

Director Corin Hardy encountered some strange happenings on the set. An old fortress in Transylvania was the location for the haunted abbey in the movie. While filming from an old cell along one of the corridors Hardy noticed two guys in the shadows, he assumed were crew members. When he turned to ask them what they thought of the takes, there no one was there. he seemed pretty relaxed about the encounter though saying, “This was a particularly surprising and haunting moment, but it also happened in a working day and I didn’t really have time to stop and go, ‘I need to take a break. I just encountered some Romanian ghosts.” 

Poltergeist 1,2 & 3 (1982/86/88)

Shot from Poltergeist
Credit: MGM

The Poltergeist film series follows the Freeling family, who are stalked and terrorized by a group of ghosts that are attracted to the youngest daughter, Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke). The series has been renowned as being cursed.

The young girl who played Carol Anne in the first three Poltergeist films died aged just 12 from complications after an undiagnosed intestinal issue.

In November 1982 Dominick Dunne, who played the older sister, was strangled and killed by her boyfriend in her own driveway.

Actor Will Sampson, who played a Native Americal shaman in Poltergeist II, perhaps best known as Chief in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, performed an exorcism of the set after so much bad luck had befallen the production. He died a year after the film was released.

Julian Beck, who starred as the demented preacher Kane in Poltergeist II: The Other Side, died of stomach cancer at age 60 in September 1985, months before the film was released.

In one of the most famous scenes where the family’s matriarch Diane falls into a pool filled with skeletons. To her horror, these weren’t plastic models, but real human bones as it worked out cheaper to use them. She also reported coming home from filming and all the pictures in her house being tilted, on straightening them she returned the following day to find exactly the same thing had happened.

Annabelle (2014)

Scene from Annabelle
Credit: New Line Cinema

Annabelle is another film from The Conjuring universe. It’s inspired by an actual doll believed to be possessed by evil spirits. The real-life Annabelle lives in Lorraine and Ed Warren’s Occult Museum, stored safely inside a glass case. It gets blessed by a priest twice a month.

Producer Peter Safran described one weird incident on set to the Hollywood Reporter. As the actor who plays the demon in the film was walking to the green room dressed in full makeup, a giant glass lighting fixture abruptly fell and struck a janitor’s head. In the film, the demon kills the janitor in that same hallway.

While filming, director John Leonetti discovered a three-finger marking clawed across a dusty set window. The film’s demon also had just three fingers.

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