Since the advent of cinema, writers, directors, and producers have all tried to convey the darker side of the human psyche on the big screen. Taking cues from literature such as 1897’s Dracula, which inspired 1922’s iconic Nosferatu, cinema has always cultivated a relationship with the spine-tingling.
There is something about the human psyche that is attracted to the intrigue of films that are creepy in atmosphere and narrative. One wouldn’t go as far as calling this cerebral phenomenon sadistic, though it isn’t far off.
While the previous statement can be regarded as slanderous towards 90% of the world’s film lovers, it attempts to account for the fact that as humans, we are thrill-seekers and watching a horror or thriller energises us and takes us away from the mundanity of everyday life. After all, the difference could not be starker between sitting at a desk in an office block to watching an unwitting newlywed get dragged out of bed by an unseen, nefarious spirit.
The excitement and fascination horror and suspense films cause have duly made the genre a multi-million cash cow if done correctly. One only has to note the extensive amount of SAW films released or the quite frankly astonishing amount of “found-footage” flicks that The Blair Witch Project inspired after its release in 1999, including the overly cliched Paranormal Activity series.
Suppose we take the essence of the “found-footage” genre, and marry it with humanity’s innate desire always to perceive something larger at work, i.e. wide-spread conspiracies (thanks Dan Brown). In that case, it comes as no surprise that many of our favourite feature-length paranoia inducers have spawned theories over the years.
If the narrative, production or acting is done right, and if all three perfectly converge, we end up with films such as Suspiria, Berbarian Sound Studio, Salo or even The Shining. These films perfectly marry audio-visual elements that leave a chilling, indelible mark on the soul.
More famously, though, there exists a host of films where they are deemed to be cursed. Not strictly tied to the horror or supernatural genres, there have been many cases where characters or movies have been considered by production crew’s or the public as ill-fated, attributed to something supernatural given the death and destruction caused.
Rather than the instances where characters such as Superman have been blighted by ill-fate, the standalone films surrounded by tragedy get that suspicious corner of the human brain ticking. Some of our most beloved movies have been engulfed by mystery, either in production or after release.
Given the oft sinister subject matter, this posits a series of questions, which appeal to the varying mindsets. Was the film cursed? Was it a set of untimely coincidences? Was it the narrative manifesting in the crew’s psyche and influencing events? Were there sinister forces at play? And so on.
What we know for sure, though, is that many of our favourite films were indeed “cursed” intentionally or not. Join us then as we list the ten most cursed films of all time.
The most cursed films of all-time:
The Exorcist (1973)
Viewed as the 2001: A Space Odyssey of the horror genre, The Exorcist, was the horror movie that convinced fans that the genre could be genuinely scary and not just a campy giggle. In terms of production, budget and narrative, it paved the way for so many other films, even a couple of other entries on this list.
However, it has also gone down in history for another reason. Based on William Peter Blatty’s 1971 novel, which details the demonic possession of a young girl, the film seems to have had its own curse. A host of weird happenings marred the film’s production.
The home that they were shooting in burnt down, apart from the room of the possessed teenager Reagan. Crew members claimed that objects would move of their own accord, and actress Ellen Burstyn was seriously injured during a fight with her demonic on-screen daughter. The strangest one of all is that the film is connected to nine deaths. The most famous of these is actor Jack MacGowran, who dies in the movie, and died shortly after filming before the film was even released.
The Crow (1994)
An iconic and brilliant film in its own right, The Crow‘s composition is often overlooked by the central tragedy that comprised filming. Legendary martial artist Bruce Lee’s son, Brandon, was killed on set by accident. This involved a .44 Magnum with live rounds being shot at the film’s main man.
This has been attributed to time constraints and a lackadaisical attitude on behalf of some of the film’s crew. Brandon Lee was fatally shot in the stomach, he was rushed into surgery but was unable to be saved. He died at just 28 in 1993.
Given the dark, lurid feel of the film, it has weirdly been regarded as “art imitating death”. This dark cloud has hung over the film since Lee’s tragic death and its release. It leaves us with many unanswered questions about the accident.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
The plot of Roman Polanski’s 1968 classic revolves around a young couple and devil worship; we will not reveal anymore because of, well, spoilers. The film that catapulted Polanski to fame was released the same year that the director married actress and model Sharon Tate. Along with her friends, a year later, Tate was murdered by the Charles Manson family; one of the assailants said, “I’m the devil, and I’m here to do the devil’s business.”
This terrifying event was not the only one. The film’s composer Krzysztof Komeda, was accidentally pushed off a roof and died just months after the film’s premiere. Given the Satanic theme of the film, this has, of course, led to numerous theories believing the film to be cursed.
The Omen (1976)
Just like the horrifying incidents in the film, life for those connected to the film was also plagued by disasters of biblical proportions. Firstly, star Gregory Peck and writer David Seltzer were both on planes flying from America to the UK, which were hit by lightning. Secondly, the stuntman who stood in for Peck during the rabid dog scene was bitten by the Rottweilers, who managed to chew through his protective gear.
It didn’t end there, though. A set zookeeper was mauled to death by a lion the day after working on the film. The most disastrous of all was that FX director John Richardson and his assistant Liz Moore were involved in a horrific car accident. Moore was decapitated in the incident that closely resembled The Omen’s most unsettling scene. Together these events led the public to believe the film was cursed.
Atuk – Unreleased
A film that has never escaped production limbo. A comedy about an Eskimo moving to New York, the film will probably never see the light of day. The amount of tragedy engulfing its cast is nothing short of baffling. The iconic John Belushi overdosed on a speedball of heroin and cocaine not long after reading the script. His replacement, comedian Sam Kinison, died in a tragic car accident before filming began.
Subsequently, Uncle Buck himself, John Candy, accepted the role but died shortly after of a heart attack. Then the legendary Chris Farley opened talks to play the lead, but died of a drug overdose himself not long after, tragically similar to his hero Belushi.
Understandably, all this death afflicted the film’s allure as the project was halted indefinitely.
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
One of the classic “cursed” films. Although in essence, it is a fairy tale, it proved to be quite the opposite for those involved.
The original actor cast as the Tin Man suffered a severe allergic reaction to his makeup — aluminium dust, which even by the loose standards of the day sounds horrific. Thus, Jack Haley was called in, bringing the iconic character to life, although the new makeup caused him an eye infection.
Furthermore, Margaret Hamilton, the Wicked Witch of the West, was terribly burned in a pyrotechnic accident when filming her first disappearing of the film in the munchkin’s village. This wasn’t all though, the dog Toto was trodden on. There are also stories of the actors playing the winged monkeys falling from the roof and that munchkin who allegedly committed suicide on set.
Apocalypse, Now (1979)
By all accounts, Apocalypse Now profoundly affected everyone involved. Tieing the film together was such an arduous process that it nearly destroyed director Francis Ford Coppola’s marriage to wife Eleanor.
Typhoons ravaged the set for days on end, creating a whole new pile of work. Moreover, actor Martin Sheen suffered a heart attack while filming. He survived, but the cardiac arrest shows how painstaking a job this was. On making the movie, Coppola recalled, “little by little we went insane.”
The curse of making Apocalypse, Now, was revealed to the public in 1991’s Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse.
Following the release of the first instalment in the Poltergeist series, three of its crew members died in suspicious circumstances. Typical of the list, it does not end there.
In 1982, actress Dominique Dunne, who played the older sister Dana in the film’s family, was strangled to death by her ex-boyfriend at only 22. Additionally, Will Sampson, who played Taylor, died in 1987 following surgery complications.
Tragically, a year later, Heather O’Rourke, who played the main character of the series, Carol-Anne, died aged twelve. She suffered a cardiac arrest which is highly rare for a child. This begged the question of what actually caused the deaths. Was it the series’ eponymous spirit? Many have suggested that it was because of the use of real skeletons in one particularly treacherous scene, others that there is no curse at all. You can decide for yourself.
Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)
Possibly the most tragic of them all. Three gruesome and unfortunate deaths marred the Speilberg/John Landis adaptation of the iconic television series. The story goes that Spielberg had fallen out with Landis as the latter had been cutting too many corners during production, something Spielberg attested and felt was unsafe.
Then came everyone’s worst nightmare. Landis continued to film a stunt regardless of the gale-force conditions. The helicopter they were filming flew out of control and crashed into the position where actor Vic Morrow and two child extras Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen were standing. The helicopter blades and falling debris completely obliterated all three.
Landis was eventually acquitted of manslaughter, something he always had vehemently denied. One good thing did come of it though, it led to stricter regulations for on-set health and safety.
The Innkeepers (2011)
This 2011 spine-tingler featured the actual Yankee Pedlar Inn, a famed haunted hotel. Prior to filming director Ti Wesr claimed he didn’t believe in the supernatural. After filming he said “A lot of us generally felt the hotel was creepy. After a few nights, I started talking with the staff here and that’s when I heard about the ghost stories. I don’t believe in ghosts, but weird shit did happen.”
In terms of freakish and unexplained occurrences, the director recalled: “Lights have turned off and on by themselves in my room. My phone rang, and no one was on the line, which the hotel staff says happens all the time. There are nights when I wake up in my room, and it feels like somebody is in there.”
We’ll let you make your own mind up on this one.