Even under the best of circumstances, films are punishingly hard to make. From studio hassles to actors’ egos to bad scripts to bad weather to equipment malfunctions, it’s a wonder any movies get made at all.
But some movies seem snakebit, cursed; their casts and crews at the mercy of some wrathful, vengeant cinema god. With Friday the 13th just a couple of days away, it's an opportune time to consider some films that were born under a bad sign. Don’t let the box office success of some of these films fool you; if these films didn’t have bad luck, they wouldn’t have no luck at all.
Beyond the fact that it stars a pre-“Star Trek” William Shatner, "Incubus" has attained mythic status among horror movie buffs and cult film aficionados. What; you’ve never heard of the first film spoken in Esperanto? That alone should have been a red flag. Several of its stars met with tragic ends. In 1966, Milos Milos, a Yugoslavian actor, murdered Barbara Ann Thompson, Mickey Rooney's estranged fifth wife, and then killed himself. Costar Ann Atmar committed suicide soon after the film’s completion. The daughter of another star was kidnapped and murdered. The film's music editor was sent to prison after scalping Super Bowl tickets. And the director’s independent production company went into bankruptcy.
Talk about tilting at windmills. Terry Gilliam recently announced that he is making a seventh attempt to bring “Don Quixote” to the screen. Check out the documentary “Lost in La Mancha,” which chronicles Gilliam’s first, ill-fated attempt, which would have starred Johnny Depp and famed French actor Jean Rochefort as Quixote. In the first week, a rainstorm destroyed equipment and literally changed the color of the landscape. And then Rochefort was injured and had to drop out of the film.
“Atuk” has been the kiss of death for any actor who considered portraying an Eskimo who comes to New York. First up, John Belushi. After he died of a drug overdose, the role went to Sam Kinison. Catastrophic car crash. The role passed to John Candy, who died of a heart attack. The last person (thus far) who was in talks for the role was Chris Farley. Warning to Kevin James: If you’re offered this film, RUN FOR THE HILLS!
So bedeviled was the production of “The Exorcist” that director William Friedkin was compelled to call in an actual priest to give his blessing. As many as nine deaths to cast and crew members are allegedly associated with the film, and star Ellen Burstyn herself suffered a spinal injury.
“The Conqueror” was doomed the minute John Wayne was cast as Genghis Khan. But that’s not all, folks: A flash flood killed the crew. Then a panther almost devoured costar Susan Hayward. More devastatingly, the film was shot on ground where the Army had previously tested atomic bombs. The cast and crew were all exposed to nuclear fallout and 91 of the 220 crew members contracted cancer.
Did producer Steven Spielberg’s decision to use actual skeletons in a pivotal scene in “Poltegeist” doom several of its cast members? Within six years that the first film was released, Dominique Dunne was murdered by an ex-boyfriend. Child star Heather “They’re Back” O’Rourke died at the age of 12. Julian Beck, the frightening preacher in the second film, died of stomach cancer. Will Sampson, the medicine man in the sequel, also perished.
The stars of “Rebel Without a Cause” met tragic, untimely ends. James Dean infamously died at 23 in a car crash. Sal Mineo was stabbed to death in a robbery gone awry. Natalie Wood drowned under still mysterious circumstances. In a twisted coda, a Beverly Hills surgeon who fitted his car with the motor from Dean’s crashed vehicle was similarly killed in a car crash.
“The Omen” should have been. Enroute to filming, the planes of star Gregory Peck, the film’s screenwriter and the executive producer were hit by lightning. During shooting, the IRA bombed the hotel where the producers were staying and an animal handler was killed by a tiger. But get this: special effects consultant John Richardson was involved in a car crash that killed his assistant. The road sign near the crash read 'Ommen, 66.6km'. The date was Friday the 13th!