They say that if you’re having trouble going to sleep after watching a horror movie, you should just think about the film’s producers drinking coffee while discussing the script. For many, remembering the fact that they’re just movies created by a team of specialists makes things a lot better. But are the behind-the-scenes stories from horror sets really as light-hearted as those that come from normal movie sets, or can they be just as frightening as the movies themselves?
As it turns out, more than one major horror film is connected to some kind of dark truth. Curses, eerie coincidences, real-life inspirations, and on-set tragedies have all plagued the following 15 scary flicks, and those who worked on them.
Read on to find out which horror movie featured a real criminal on screen, which one was filmed with real corpses on the set, and which of the “fictional” stories that have been scaring you for years are actually based on fact.
15 The Poltergeist Curse
Several iconic horror movies have been attached to reports of curses, or prolonged instances of bad luck, that seem to follow their cast and crew members around, during and after filming. One of the most popular cases is the Poltergeist Curse. Several of those who appeared in the 1982 film Poltergeist, about a family who experience malicious supernatural occurrences in their home, battled misfortune directly after. Dominique Dunne, who played the eldest daughter in the family, lost her life after her ex-boyfriend attacked her during an argument the year the film was released. Heather O’Rourke, who played Carol Anne, became extremely ill and passed away on the operating table in 1988, after suffering complications with Crohn’s. Actor Julian Beck also passed away shortly after making the film, as did co-star Will Sampson, though some believe that the series of deaths simply came down to coincidence. Hopefully, the stars of the reboot don’t have any trouble…
14 The Truth Behind The Conjuring
Finding out that a horror movie was based on a true story pretty much guarantees that you won’t be able to sleep for a few nights. The Conjuring, which many people found to be particularly creepy, is one of them. The main characters Ed and Lorraine Warren are real-life paranormal investigators, and the film is based on their experience with a family who moved into a haunted farmhouse in Rhode Island in 1971. The director James Wan told Entertainment Weekly in 2013 that he was inspired to make a movie about the Warrens after seeing Insidious, and wanted to make sure he stuck to the facts and portrayed real people and real events. “…I didn’t just want to make another ghost story or another supernatural film,” he said. “One thing I had never explored was the chance to tell a story that’s based on real-life characters, real-life people. So those were the things that led me to The Conjuring.”
13 The Exorcist Demons
The Exorcist is often thought to be one of the most iconic horror films of all time—even today it gives us the creeps, despite the pea soup tube! The story follows twelve-year-old Regan MacNeil who ends up possessed by a demon called Pazuzu. Though Linda Blair, who played Regan, made a convincing possessed child, Mercedes McCambridge was brought in to provide the voice for the demon inside her. And aligning with the theory that occult films tend to be attached to misfortune and curses, McCambridge had her own demons to face more than ten years later. In 1987, her son John took the life of his wife and two daughters in Little Rock, Arkansas, before taking his own life. It was discovered later that he was fired from the investment firm he worked at after being accused of fraud. Later, McCambridge referred to the incident as a “Greek tragedy” with “a cast of four beautiful people.”
12 The Real Scream
Inspiration struck screenwriter Kevin Williamson during a news report about a series of crimes that had recently taken place. The Gainesville Ripper terrorized Gainesville in Florida, taking the lives of five students in the town and an additional three people in Louisiana. During his active years, the Ripper, real name Danny Rolling, targeted students from the University of Florida and one from Santa Fe College. This caused great hysteria amongst the local student population, and since the crimes were taking place in late August, many even delayed their enrolment. The concept of someone attacking students on campus led Williamson to write the opening scene for Scream, a movie about a student named Sidney Prescott who is targeted by a killer called Ghostface. While the Gainesville case provided inspiration, Rolling never wore a mask like the one shown in the film. Sadly, Scream is also thought to have inspired a series of copycat attacks and crimes committed by teens who had watched the movie.
11 The Omen Curse
Like other occult films, The Omen carries its own legacy of grave misfortune for its cast and crew members. The movie is about a couple who adopt a boy named Damien, later realizing that he’s actually the Antichrist. There were a number of incidences that occurred during and after filming, which many believe can’t just be pinned down to coincidence. The most notable was that actor Gregory Peck and writer David Seltzer were on a plane during filming that was struck by lightning. Executive producer Mace Neufeld also boarded a plane during filming, and it was also struck by lightning. That’s right: two planes struck by lightning before filming was complete. The London hotel that Neufeld was staying in was also bombed by the IRA. In 1976, after filming, the visual effects consultant John Richardson, and his assistant Liz Moore were in a car accident in Holland. Moore tragically lost her life in a similar manner to David Warner’s character in the film.
10 Life Imitating Art
Bruce Lee’s son, Brandon Lee, famously starred in The Crow in 1994, which was more of a dark fantasy than a straight horror flick. The film is about a young man who finds gang members attacking his fiancée and is shot while trying to protect her. Later, he returns from the dead to chase the attackers and get revenge. That’s not too creepy, right? The creepiness came later when tragedy struck during filming. A bullet was stuck in the barrel of a prop gun which had just been used in a previous scene, and actor Michael Massee shot it at Lee, thinking there was no bullet inside. The bullet pierced his heart, and though he was given several hours in the hospital, he was pronounced dead at the age of 28. There were a number of small avoidable mistakes that led to this accident, and the filmmakers ended up dedicating the film to its late star.
9 A Haunted DVD
The film Paranormal Activity was distributed under DreamWorks Studios, and Steven Spielberg was reportedly one of the first to take the DVD home to watch it. But after watching the movie in his own house, he claimed that he saw evidence that the DVD itself was haunted. The story goes that the door to Spielberg’s bedroom locked by itself, causing him to freak out a little. After that, Spielberg reportedly put the DVD in a trash bag and brought it straight back to the studio, because he believed it was haunted. Some believe that this all comes from the imaginations of the clever people in the marketing department, but others claim that the DVD really had a ghost or two following it around. And although the experience scared him, Spielberg still loved the film and used his expertise to suggest a new ending, which was then included.
8 Real Criminal On Screen
You probably missed the scene in The Exorcist where Regan is taken to have a carotid angiography to assess whether she has brain damage to explain her change of behavior. Sure, the scene was a little frightening, but nothing compared to the notorious crucifix scene, the spider walk down the stairs or of course, the 360-degree head spin. But in hindsight, the scene at the hospital was the scariest one of all. Why? A real criminal was cast as the x-ray technician. Paul Bateson was training for that job in real life at the time the movie was made, which is how he landed the part. During the early 1970s, Bateson had made a habit out of picking men up at bars and later ending their lives. Nobody had any idea until his photo turned up in the newspaper a few years later. The director William Friedkin scheduled a meeting with him after, because he couldn’t believe he was guilty.
7 An Awful Set
Acting in a horror movie would be traumatizing enough on its own, but those on the set of Texas Chainsaw Massacre were in for a truly horrifying experience. 500 pounds of animal corpses were originally brought in, but when director Tobe Hooper saw them, he decided to have them taken away as seeing them was too upsetting. The only problem was you can’t just get rid of that many animal corpses immediately, so they had to keep filming with the corpses on set. The stench from that alone would have been unbearable, but of course, the lights made everything worse. Hooper admitted that by the end of it, everyone was losing their lunch. “The lights were so damn strong that the bones started cooking. So every time I’d say cut everyone would run to the window and puke, throw up. A doctor had to come out and administer dramamine to help settle people’s stomachs.”
6 Is Freddy Krueger Real?
Freddy Krueger is probably the one horror movie villain that you were totally sure was purely fictional and you didn’t have to worry about. Criminals and evil spirits, yes. But a man who attacks you in your dreams? No way! Freddy himself might not be real person, but he was inspired by something just as sinister. Writer and director Wes Craven was reading the LA Times when he came across a number of articles about SUNDS, or Sudden Unexpected Nocturnal Death Syndrome—a disorder that was killing men. Obviously, there was no monster or murderer who was attacking the men in their sleep; one cardiology professor explained that during sleep, those with the syndrome experience a much slower heart rate, which makes it more likely for other issues to occur. We’re not scared of a medical condition like we’re scared of Freddy Krueger, but when it has the same result, should we be?
5 The Real Annabelle
The unnerving doll from The Conjuring and Annabelle definitely gives Chuckie a run for his money. What’s even creepier is the fact that she is real. The green-skinned version in the movie might be a prop (wouldn’t like to be in charge of handling that prop!), but in real life, Ed and Lorraine Warren dealt with a possessed Raggedy Ann doll. She doesn’t look nearly as menacing as the one made for the movie, but you won’t catch us going near her! According to the Warrens, a student nurse and her roommate were given the doll, but contacted a psychic when it seemed to be linked to a number of strange occurrences. The psychic told them it was possessed by a spirit named “Annabelle Higgins” and after more malicious behavior that seemed to be coming from the doll, the student contacted the Warrens. Annabelle is currently on display in the Warrens’ occult museum.
4 The Man Who Inspired Saw
The talking puppet from the Saw movies still haunts all of our dreams. Sadly for anybody who was majorly freaked out by these films about a deranged person putting people in impossible traps to teach them a lesson, director James Wan first got the idea for his film after watching the news. The report told of a man who was breaking into people’s houses and tickling the feet of sleeping children. Apparently, the story scared Wan so much that he slept with a hammer beside his bed to protect himself. When the man was caught, he confessed that he didn’t want to commit the crimes, but was forced into it by a third party. This gave Wan the idea of a killer entangling his victims in traps and then giving them instructions on how to get out, which they would have to obey if they wanted to live. Pretty grim stuff!
3 The Blob from Outer Space
On September 26, 1950, policemen John Collins and Joe Keenen are said to have witnessed an unidentifiable object falling from the sky. When they arrived at the spot where the object had landed, they came across a jelly-like substance that was purple in color. Naturally, they called two of their colleagues over to help them, and the men arrived to see the blubber disappear into thin air. Though the FBI became involved, the whole thing ended up being dismissed and mocked by the media, since there was no proof. Nothing more was ever heard about the mysterious incident, but in the late 1950s, The Blob was released. This film, about an alien blob who destroys everything in its path and grows bigger, was inspired by the alleged UFO and blob sighting of 1950. We’ll never know whether there really was a real-life blob from space that came to earth, but judging by the film, we hope there never will be one!
2 Not-So-Fake Syringes
One of the most notable traps set up by Jigsaw in the second Saw movie was the pit of syringes that Amanda needs to negotiate. An important key is buried at the bottom of the pit, and after being thrown into the mass of needles, Amanda digs around until she finds it. Unfortunately for actress Shawnee Smith, the needles were actually real. The props department originally brought in 60,000 of them, and then replaced their very tips with soft fiber optic versions that wouldn’t pierce the actress. They also weren’t really used like they’re made out to be in the film—to get that dirty color, they were painted by the props department. For the ones that can be seen sticking into Amanda, the needles were attached to foam which was placed beneath Smith’s shirt. So she didn’t really have to face disease-ridden syringes, but she did have to work with real, child-friendly needles!
1 Pool Party
If you want a good scare, put a night aside (maybe this Halloween!) to watch the movie Sinister. It’s about writer Ellison Oswalt, who moves into a new house and discovers an old box of films in the attic that show the demise of everyone who lived in the house. One of the films is labelled “Pool Party ‘66”. And according to writer C. Robert Cargill, this scene was one of the most difficult to film because there were no special effects involved; all the stunts were completely natural. This means that to simulate the crimes, the actors were really tied to their pool chairs, and really dragged under water. Nick King, who played the movie’s villainous demon, Mr. Boogie, is seen standing at the bottom of the pool in the scene. Since he’s not actually a physics-defying creature in real life, he had to be strapped down with weights for filming. We hope these people got decent pay checks!
Sources: http://mentalfloss.com, https://screenrant.com, https://www.huffingtonpost.com