As someone who loves a good horror movie during this time of year, I was curious to see if there were any creepy events that occurred on-set while filming some of my favorite flicks.
Turns out, some of these tales are honestly way more horrific than the movies themselves! Here are 11 incredibly spooky stories about some truly eerie things that happened while making horror movies, from cursed sets to tragic deaths:
At the end of Scream, Sidney Prescott (played by Neve Campbell) stabs one of the Ghostface killers (Skeet Ulrich) with an umbrella. To ensure Ulrich’s safety during the scene, he wore a protective vest under his costume, and Campbell’s umbrella prop had a retractable tip. Despite the precautions, one of Campbell’s stab attempts missed the vest and ended up piercing Ulrich’s chest. The stab actually hit a scar from an open heart surgery Ulrich had when he was 10 years old. As a result, Ulrich’s genuine reaction was captured on film and made the movie’s final cut.
Some claim that the 1976 movie, The Omen, was cursed from the beginning, and let me tell you, after learning about all of these terrifying on-set stories, I’ve gotta believe it. It all began when an advertising executive, Bob Munger, approached Harvey Bernhard, a producer, with an idea for a movie about the antichrist. However, Bernhard claimed that Munger warned people that he “thought the devil didn’t want us to make the picture.” Despite his eerie premonition, they decided to proceed with the project.
Soon after filming began, actor Gregory Peck was on a flight that was struck by lightning. A few weeks later, Marc Neufeld, an executive working on the movie, boarded a plane leaving Los Angeles that was also struck by lightning. Neufeld described the flight as “the roughest five minutes I’ve ever had on an airliner.” In case that wasn’t enough plane drama for you, a small aircraft that production hired to film some aerial shots had to be switched to film on a different production at the last minute. When that plane took off, it reportedly crashed, killing everyone on board.
The movie was shot in London, so Neufeld and his wife stayed at the London Hilton. During their stay, the hotel was purportedly bombed by the Irish Republican Army, killing two people and injuring 63 others. Despite the tragedy, filming continued, with even more frightening circumstances arising as the shoot went on. One scene featured a group of baboons that were supposed to become violent while in the presence of Damien, a young child. The scene required an animal trainer on set to handle the animals. The day after the trainer worked on The Omen, he was allegedly brutally killed by a tiger.
Even after the movie was released in June 1976, the alleged curse lived on. In August, John Richardson, who worked on the special effects team for The Omen, was involved in a car accident that allegedly decapitated his passenger. In an eerie twist, Richardson had taken the lead on the special effects for an incredibly gruesome decapitation scene for The Omen. To make things even spookier, locals reported that a sign located near the scene of the crime read, “Ommen, 66.6 km.”
If you’ve seen The Shining, then you likely know that the Overlook Hotel plays a critical role in the movie. Director Stanley Kubrick reportedly hated to fly and did not want to leave England to film on location for the movie. In fact, he refused to travel to the United States to film the aerial shots necessary for the movie. Interior sets were instead built at Elstree Studios in England.
Towards the end of filming, a fire broke out at the studio, ruining multiple Shining sets. “It was a huge fire in there one night, massive fire,” Murray Close, a set photographer, recalled. “We never really discovered what caused that fire. It burned down two sound stages and threatened a third at Elstree Studios. It was an eleven-alarm fire call, it was huge.” To add a creepy twist to the fire, the hotel actually did burn down at the end of the Stephen King novel the movie was based on, but Kubrick allegedly was not a fan of that ending. “The ending was changed almost entirely because Kubrick found it a cliche to just blow everything up,” screenwriter Diane Johnson said. “He thought there might be something else that would be metaphorically and visually more interesting.”
In the 1992 movie Candyman, the movie’s titular antagonist is infamous for the swarm of bees that surrounds him. While actor Tony Todd said he was initially wary of filming with the bees, he ultimately added a stipulation to his contract: an extra $1,000 per bee sting. In the movie’s climax, the Candyman fills his mouth full of bees, then sends them flying to attack a college student. The scene required Todd to have over 500 bees placed in his mouth. Although he wore a protective mouthpiece, Todd said he was still stung several times, and recalled feeling “tranced out” by the time shooting wrapped. Todd claimed that he had been stung 23 times during filming, earning him an extra $23,000.
The Exorcist has been called one of the most cursed movies of all time. Both Linda Blair, who portrayed Regan, the young girl who is possessed, and Ellen Burstyn, who played Regan’s mother, noted that they had long-term back pain from the movie. Blair, who was strapped to a mechanical bed to pull off the back-bending look of the exorcisms, said she had a lower back fracture from the stunts. “I’m crying, I’m screaming, they think I’m acting up a storm,” she said in an episode of Cursed Films. “No, they didn’t send me to the doctor, it is the footage that’s in the movie.” Meanwhile, Burstyn said that a stunt that required her to fall to the floor permanently injured her spine.
In addition to the on-set injuries, filming was delayed for two months after the entire set caught on fire. “One day at four in the morning, I got a call from a production manager and he said, ‘Don’t bother coming to work this morning. The set is burning to the ground right now as we speak,'” director William Friedkin said. The fire ended up destroying most of the film’s interior sets, but curiously didn’t ruin Regan’s bedroom, which is where all of the exorcism scenes were filmed. “That’s the only thing that happened during the entire film that I thought was some kind of bad karma,” Friedkin said. Before filming resumed, a priest came in to pray over the set.
While looking for extras for the film, Friedkin turned to New York University’s radiology lab, where he had been observing angiograms in preparation for the film. After witnessing the resulting blood spatter, Friedkin decided that the angiogram would be perfect to highlight in the movie, and asked the lab workers if they wanted to appear in the film. One of the workers was Paul Bateson, who can be seen portraying a hospital worker in The Exorcist. In 1977, five years after Bateson had filmed his cameo, he was linked to the murder of Addison Verrill. It was later revealed that Bateson was believed to be the serial killer behind the murders of six gay men in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. Bateson’s story inspired Friedkin’s next film, Cruising, and also appeared in an episode of Mindhunter.
Once the movie was released in 1973, it quickly became the highest-grossing film of the time. Although audiences were flocking to the theater, some filmgoers allegedly had physical reactions to the movie, with reports that people were fainting and vomiting in the theater beginning to emerge. According to Screen Rant, one woman claimed that she had a miscarriage while watching the movie. In parts of the United Kingdom, the movie was banned.
While filming Carrie, Sissy Spacek decided to embrace method acting in order to pull off the role of Carrie White, a bullied teen who gets revenge on her classmates using her telekinetic powers. While filming the movie’s iconic scene during which Carrie is doused in pig’s blood after being crowned prom queen, Spacek reportedly slept in the bloody mess for three nights. “She had a trailer pulled behind MGM Studios in Culver City, and she slept in that blood for three days,” actor P.J. Soles told Vulture. “I was like, ‘You’re amazing that you would wanna sleep in that sticky, icky stuff.’ And she was like, ‘No, it’s gotta match, I want it to look great.'”
The cast of The Poltergeist trilogy dealt with everything from real human remains to devastating deaths while filming. JoBeth Williams, who plays a mother dealing with a series of paranormal events that are torturing her family, recalled filming a scene where she falls into a swimming pool full of bones. It turns out that the bones were actually real human bones and not props crafted for the shoot. “In my innocence and naiveté, I assumed that these were not real skeletons,” Williams said. “I assumed that they were prop skeletons made out of plastic or rubber…I found out, as did the crew, that they were using real skeletons because it’s far too expensive to make fake skeletons out of rubber.” The cast was wary of the use of human bones, and an exorcism was performed before filming for the sequel began.
After the first movie in the series was released, tragedy struck when Dominique Dunne, who played the family’s eldest daughter, was strangled by her ex-boyfriend. Dunne was on life support for five days before dying from her injuries. Meanwhile, Heather O’Rourke, who had been just six years old when she starred in the first movie, had been dealing with health issues. In 1987, she was misdiagnosed with Crohn’s disease. A year later, she fell ill and was allegedly told she had the flu, only to go into cardiac arrest the next day. O’Rourke was airlifted to a nearby hospital, where she died while getting surgery. It was believed that she suffered from a congenital intestinal abnormality.
Tippi Hedren, who starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s films, The Birds and Marnie, revealed that the director had a strange obsession with her that turned scary. After casting her in The Birds, Hitchcock allegedly began to sexually harass Hedren. When she turned down his advances, she said that Hitchcock began torturing her. Hedren claimed that Hitchcock promised that they would only use mechanical birds while shooting. The movie’s pivotal “bedroom scene” showed Hedren’s character being viciously pecked and attacked by dozens of birds. On the first day of filming the bedroom scene, Hedren was pulled aside by a crew member who told her the mechanical birds weren’t working, and they would be using real birds instead.
In her memoir, Hedren wrote that she was tortured by the birds for the next five days while filming the scene. Crew members allegedly threw birds directly at her. “It was brutal and ugly and relentless,” she wrote. On the final day of filming the scene, Hedren even had birds tied to her costume. At some point, one of the birds pecked Hedren dangerously close to her eye, which she said was her final straw. She wrote that she told Hitchcock she was done with the live birds. A doctor even told Hitchcock that he needed to give her at least a week to rest from the trauma the birds inflicted on her, a request that Hitchcock allegedly initially denied.
In order to keep things as accurate as possible while shooting The Craft, filmmakers decided to hire an actual witch to consult on the film. Pat Devin, known as High Priestess of Covenant of the Goddess, joined the crew to ensure that the Wiccan spells shown in the film were as authentic as possible. Prior to shooting one of the ritual scenes, which took place on a beach, filmmakers had checked with park rangers to make sure that the tide wouldn’t interfere with the scene. Despite their best efforts, director Andrew Fleming claimed the waves mysteriously emerged. “It was just this odd thing where, when the girls started the incantations, the waves kind of came up,” Fleming said. Other cast members said that a strange white owl followed them around to different locations over the duration of the shoot.
Rosemary’s Baby was dubbed “the most cursed movie ever” by Vanity Fair. The film, which follows a woman who is pregnant with a baby devil, debuted to rave reviews. Following the movie’s initial success, several members of the cast and crew all met tragic fates, some of which eerily mirrored the movie’s events. Komeda, a jazz pianist who scored the movie, fell off of a ledge at a party and went into a four-month coma before dying in 1969. In a creepy twist, this was the way Rosemary’s suspicious friend dies.
In April 1969, William Castle, who was one of the film’s producers, began suffering from intense kidney stones. After being admitted to the hospital, he allegedly began hallucinating, and screamed, “Rosemary, for God’s sake, drop the knife!” While Castle recovered, he was never able to make another Hollywood hit.
Director Roman Polanski, who has since been accused of rape and sexual abuse, was married to actor Sharon Tate while making the film. Tate allegedly asked to be cast as the lead in the movie, but Polanski decided to go with Mia Farrow instead. Tate can be seen in the back of a party scene in the film. While on set with her husband, Tate reportedly began to display signs of interest in the occult. Polanski said that the last time he saw Tate, who was pregnant, was in late July 1969. On August 8, Tate and the couple’s unborn son were murdered by the Manson family.
Vanity Fair reported some jaw-dropping coincidences that have since arisen between Tate’s murder and the movie. Some have connected the Manson murders to The Beatles’ White Album, which was written at a meditation where Farrow was present. In 1980, John Lennon was murdered outside of the Dakota, an apartment building in New York City, which just so happened to be where Rosemary’s Baby was filmed.
And finally, while filming the 2005 remake of The Amityville Horror, Ryan Reynolds and other crew members reported that they were mysteriously waking up every morning at 3:15 a.m. In the movie, Reynolds plays George Lutz, a man who claimed his family was being haunted by Ronald DeFeo Jr., who had killed his entire family in the home just a few years before. DeFeo carried out the murders at 3:15 a.m., and the real-life Lutz claimed that he was mysteriously woken up at that time every day.
Do any other terrifying on-set tales from horror films come to mind? Share them in the comments!