By Patrick Day, Todd Martens and Rebecca Snavely, Los Angeles Times Staff Writers
The wind was responsible for stoking the inferno that killed one stunt man and seriously injured five others on the set of John Woo’s 2008 period action movie “Red Cliff.” But any time death visits a movie set, talk immediately turns to supernatural causes, such as curses. The number of so-called cursed productions in Hollywood history is mercifully low, but once the curse talk begins, it can be serious business for those involved with the production.
This year will also see the release of “Quantum of Solace,” another “cursed” production. But these are just the latest film sets that gained a bad reputation. (Associated Press)
‘Quantum of Solace’ (2008)
While filming the highly anticipated James Bond sequel around Italy’s Lake Garda, a stunt driver accidentally drove one of the Aston Martins used in the film into the lake. Then another stunt man driving an Alfa Romeo in a chase scene crashed the car and was sent to critical care.
Weeks later, a British technician working on the film was found stabbed with a steak knife in the home of a woman he’d just met in Austria.
In early June, Bond himself, Daniel Craig, had two on-set mishaps. The first left him with a cut face, which required eight stitches. The second accident sliced off the tip of his finger. And during this same time, a weekend fire severely damaged one of the outdoor Bond sets at Pinewood Studios in England. (Karen Ballard / Columbia Pictures)
Producer Steven Spielberg’s suburban ghost story has developed a sinister reputation over the years that has become so well-publicized it even earned its own episode of E!'s “True Hollywood Story.”
Major troubles befell the young actors playing the Freeling children. Actress Dominique Dunne, who played the older daughter in the movie, was murdered by a jealous boyfriend the same year the movie was released. Heather O’Rourke, the girl who played Carol Ann in all three “Poltergeist” movies, died during the production of the third movie due to complications from Crohn’s disease. She was only 12 years old at the time.
Additionally, rumors that it was Spielberg himself who directed the movie -- and not the film’s credited director, Tobe Hooper -- have plaugued Hooper throughout his career. (MGM)
The Superman curse
The Superman curse hasnt affected any particular production. It seems to have afflicted an entire brand. In fact, it comes with its own Wikipedia page, serving as a warning to those who don the cape, as well as those who have contact with Superman.
As evidence, tragedies that befell such stars as George Reeves and Christopher Reeve are cited, as well as lesser-known Supermen such as Kirk Alyn. Even those who didnt play Superman dont seem to have escaped the curse unscathed, as financial hardships or illnesses have befallen a number of those close to The Man of Steel.
But Brandon Routh, take heart. Plenty have escaped the curse without a scratch. (Associated Press)
‘The Misfits’ 1961
The troubles on this film began during production, which encountered delays and problems from the excessive heat of its Black Rock Desert locations. But the real problems came from the film’s three major stars: Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe and Montgomery Clift. Monroe was battling a growing substance abuse problem, Clift battled his own personal demons and the 59-year-old Gable, who insisted on performing his own stunts, was quoted at the conclusion of filming as saying, “I’m glad this picture’s finished. [Monroe] damn near gave me a heart attack.” He suffered a major heart attack the next day and died 11 days later.
Clift slid further into his drug habit and died in 1966; Monroe died from a drug overdose in 1962. “The Misfits” was the last major film for all three actors. ()
The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
In what is every production persons nightmare, the documentary Lost in La Mancha chronicles in heartbreaking detail the downfall of director Terry Gilliams visionary project. It took nearly 10 years to secure the funding and find the perfect cast. On location in northern Spain, star Johnny Depp had yet to step in front of the camera when Don Quixote, the 70-year-old Jean Rochefort, was visibly suffering from a prostate infection, and a flash flood not only washed away the entire set, but changed the colors of the landscape as well.
The curse continued as Rochefort had to be airlifted to a hospital in Paris. Depps demanding schedule would not let him wait until Rochefort recovered, and insurers began to back out of the project. Only five days into shooting, the production was forced to shut down, and has yet to recover. (Francois Duhamel / IFC Films)
One of the longest-lived urban legends in Hollywood is the one surrounding the comedy screenplay “Atuk,” based on the novel “The Incomparable Atuk,” about an Eskimo warrior trying to adapt to life in the big city. John Belushi was originally interested in starring in the film when he died of a drug overdose in 1982. Then comedian Sam Kinison took the role and filming had started when financing problems caused the production to shut down. Kinison died years later in a 1992 automobile accident. John Candy was the next person to be considered for the role and was actively considering it when he died of a heart attack in 1994. Then the script came to Chris Farley, who was about to accept the role when he died of a drug overdose in 1997. (Universal)
‘The Conqueror’ (1956)
Howard Hughes’ ill-fated Genghis Khan epic suffered from a host of problems, not the least of which was miscasting of John Wayne as the Mongol warlord. The dialog was terrible and made worse by Wayne’s line-readings. A black panther tried to take a chunk out of female lead Susan Hayward and a flash flood nearly wiped out the entire crew. But it was the film’s location that gave “The Conqueror” it’s most infamous legacy. It was shot in Utah’s Snow Canyon, which had been the destination of huge clouds of fallout from the U.S. Army’s Yucca Flats nuclear weapons tests of the 1950s. Of the 220 crew members working on the film, 91 eventually developed cancer and 46 died -- including Wayne himself.
Though the high levels of radiation were known to the crew, they weren’t taken seriously until the cancer manifested itself. Hughes took on much of the guilt himself, and is reported to have screened the movie over and over again during his later years. (RKO Radio Pictures Inc.)
The Devil curse
Some of the most memorable horror films of our time have developed some tragic myths of their own. Three, in particular, deal with stories involving Satan, including Rosemarys Baby, The Omen and The Exorcist.
Just months after releasing 1968s Rosemarys Baby, director Roman Polanski suffered the loss of his wife, Sharon Tate, who was pregnant at the time, at the hands of the Manson family.
A decade later, a multitude of strange events afflicted production on The Omen, including a crew members fatal car crash and a bolt of lightning that reportedly struck the plane of screenwriters David Seltzer and actor Gregory Peck. The instances have been chronicled in the 2005 TV documentary, The Curse of the Omen.
As for The Exorcist, curse-mongers often cite the travails of young actress Linda Blair. After her role as the possessed child, a 15-year-old Blair dated rocker Rick Springfield, at the time in his mid-20s, and later succumbed to a myriad of drug and legal problems. (unknown, xx)
‘The Passion of the Christ’
They say lightning doesn’t strike twice, unless you’re on the set of Mel Gibson’s controversial film. With rumors of anti-Semitism and lines spoken only in Aramaic and Latin, the movie seemed to carry the curse of bad publicity from the start.
Jim Caviezel admitted the film was his own cross to carry as he suffered hypothermia, a separated shoulder and was accidentally whipped twice, leaving a scar. But these things happen in extreme movie shoots. When production assistant Jan Michelini, bearing an umbrella in the midst of a storm, was first struck by lightning, it seemed bad luck. However, he earned the title “Lightning Boy” and the reputation for a film-set curse when he was struck a second time, sharing the strike with Caviezel, whom he was trying to protect with an umbrella atop a hill. (Philippe Antonello / Newmarket Films)