Can life imitate art? Is creating a film named ‘The Omen’ a bad omen in and of itself? The 1976 horror movie left a string of disturbing deaths in its wake, so some people certainly think so.
Hollywood is known for a specific genre of horror movies — the ‘cursed’ ones, which lead to real-life deaths on set and inside cinema halls.
How much of it is true? One thing is for sure — if you’re afraid of any ol’ horror movie, these eight astonishing films, which are surrounded by tragedies that are anything but ordinary, will make you run for the hills.
But, as diehard horror fans gear up for their fearless Halloween rewatch next week, we investigate the true stories behind the deadliest movies ever made — and whether they are truly cursed.
Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made (2020)
It’s a bit cheeky to put ‘deadliest film ever made’ right in the title of a film, but the Canadian horror mockumentary allegedly led to the deaths of nearly 60 audience members. The rumour around this movie, which follows a boy and a girl trying to save the soul of their deceased dog, is that anyone who watches it will die soon after. It was, supposedly, made in 1979, only to be lost and re-released in 2020. The film starts with a nearly 8-minute documentary about the deaths it caused. Most notably, in 1988, 56 viewers allegedly died in a small theatre in Budapest after several fires broke out within the audience.
The Crow (1994)
The tragedy of ‘The Crow’ is almost too sad to believe, as its breakout star, Brandon Lee, Bruce Lee’s only son, died after a freak accident on set.
On March 31, 1993, Lee was filming a scene where his character, Eric, confronts his fiancee’s attackers. Michael Massee, playing the character Funboy, was supposed to fire a .44 Magnum revolver as Lee walked into the room. The revolver was meant to contain dummy cartridges, or blank ammunition. However, it had been accidentally mishandled by the prop department, and actually fired, mortally wounding Lee.
The props team had been strapped for time, so, instead of going out to buy dummy cartridges — that is, rounds that are void of primers, propellants and explosive charge — they created their own dummy cartridges, by taking bullets from live rounds, dumping out the powder charge, and reinserting the bullets. This began an unfortunate series of events, which led to the revolver in question actually firing, and Lee being fatally struck in the abdomen. He died during surgery after being rushed to the hospital. As Lee only had three more days of filming left, the filmmakers decided not to remove him from the film. They partially rewrote the script and used a stunt double and CGI to film the remainder of the scenes.
The Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)
The grisly deaths of two child actors and one adult on the set of ‘The Twilight Zone’ has become its legacy. The sci-fi horror anthology film, directed by John Landis, became notorious for its fatal stunt helicopter crash.
On July 23, 1982, at approximately 2.30am, actor Vic Morrow, and child actors Myca Dinh Le, 7, and Renee Shin-Yi Chen, 6, died in the brutal helicopter accident.
Morrow’s character had travelled back in time and found himself in a deserted Vietnamese village, where he met two Vietnamese kids, and a US Army helicopter began to shoot at them. In the scene, they try to escape.
But, unbeknown to a ground technician, the helicopter pilot was struggling to navigate through the fireballs created by the pyrotechnic effects.
The low-flying helicopter spun out of control and its top rotor blades decapitated Morrow and Le, while one of the struts crushed Chen to death. All three died on the scene.
Both Le and Chen had been hired unlawfully, in opposition of a California rule that prohibits child actors from working at night, or near explosions, and which requires a social worker or teacher to be present. While Landis admitted that they mishandled that aspect of the shoot, he did not take responsibility for the accident itself.
Steven Spielberg, producer and co-director, was disgusted by the way Landis handled the situation, and severed their friendship. He also wanted an end of the ‘New Hollywood’ era, where film directors were the key authority on a film.
Spielberg said: “No movie is worth dying for. I think people are standing up much more now, than ever before, to producers and directors who ask too much. If something isn’t safe, it’s the right and responsibility of every actor or crew member to yell, ‘Cut!’”
Poltergeist I, II and III (1982, 1986 and 1988)
The Poltergeist trilogy has long been plagued with rumours that it’s ‘cursed’. Four deaths in total are linked to the cast of the film.
Actress Dominique Dunne, 22, who played Dana Freeling in the first movie, died in 1982 at a medical centre in Los Angeles, after slipping into a coma from which she never woke up. Having ended an abusive relationship, Dunn’s former boyfriend, John Sweeney, strangled her for between four to six minutes, and left her unconscious in the driveway.
Julien Beck, 60, who played evil spirit Kane in the second installation of the trilogy, ‘Poltergeist II: The Other Side’, died of stomach cancer in 1985. Will Sampson, 53, who played good spirit Taylor in the same film, died in 1987 six weeks after receiving a heart-lung transplant. His death was partially due to kidney failure and fungal infection.
However, the film’s most shocking death was of child actress Heather O’Rourke. O’Rourke was at the start of her career. She began playing the character Carol Anne Freeling at only six years old, and appeared in all three ‘Poltergeist’ films, before she died of septic shock. What seemed to be a regular bout of flu turned into cardiac arrest. Bacterial toxins were released due to a bowel obstruction, and they found a way into her bloodstream. She died during surgery.
The Omen (1976)
The disturbing story of special effects consultant John Richardson resulted in a campaign claiming that ‘The Omen’ had been jinxed. Richardson helped craft the movie’s most memorable death scenes, including that of photographer Keith Jennings, who is beheaded by a plate of glass.
Months later, on June 13, 1976, he and his assistant, Liz Moore, got into a car crash in the Netherlands, in which Moore was beheaded by the wheel of the other vehicle. Many considered this to be eerily alike to Jennings’ on-screen death. An infamous rumour is that, when the crash happened, Richardson saw a sign that read ‘Ommen 6,66’, indicating a nearby town of Ommen.
In addition, ‘The Omen’ producers Mace Neufeld and Harvey Bernhard were both nearly struck by lightning on separate occasions.
Bernhard began to wear a cross on set for protection. “I wasn’t about to take any chances,” he said, three decades later. “The devil was at work and he didn’t want that film made.”
The Exorcist (1973)
Fires, injuries and a total of nine deaths surrounded the release of ‘The Exorcist’, considered one of the scariest — and, possibly deadliest — movies ever made at the time.
The set of the MacNeil home infamously caught fire and pushed back production by more than a month.
Actress Ellen Burstyn injured her tailbone — and subsequently suffered a permanent injury to her spine — when her ‘possessed’ on-screen daughter threw her across the room. Reportedly, her harness malfunctioned.
“It became scary for us, because of the inexplicable things that were happening as we shot,” said Burstyn later. “I had been on a spiritual retreat before I started filming, and in talking to the teacher, he said, ‘You’re playing with some really heavy energy. You should protect yourself.’ … He made some tapes for me to use in my meditation … Those tapes were in my dressing room with my tape recorder, [but] before we started shooting, that was stolen.”
In addition, actors Jack MacGowran and Vasiliki Maliaros, whose characters both die in the film, died in real-life while the movie was in post-production.
The film was reportedly banned in the Middle East, except for Lebanon, due to the belief that it was cursed.
In Rome, where several viewers claimed to hear a demon-like scream from outside the cinema hall, one woman was overcome with fear and passed out, breaking her jaw in the process and suing the filmmakers.
Other incidents include the cameraman’s wife having a stillborn baby and Jason Miller, who played Father Karras, almost losing his son when he was struck by a motorcyclist on an empty beach.