In 1932, despondent actress Peg Entwistle climbed to the top of the 50-foot-high Hollywood sign, said goodbye to the town where dreams are made, and leapt to her death. On a Friday the 13th in 1976, special-effects designer John Richardson — fresh off masterminding a brutal decapitation scene in “The Omen” — skidded into a collision that left his assistant, who was in the passenger seat, sliced in half. In 2005, the actress playing the possessed lead in “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” was woken up at night when her apparently possessed stereo kept turning itself on.
Freaked out yet? If so, you’re exactly where the movie industry wants you to be: In the mood to scream, attach yourself to the arm of a date and — most importantly — spend $10 on a horror movie. It seems that ever since Hollywood has existed, it’s been blessed with curses.
“There were a couple things that happened on the set of ’Final Destination 3′ that could have been moments you could have used in the film,” actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead said earlier this year. “I remember during the firework scene, a firework shot off and almost hit somebody in the eye; it kind of shot right in front of him. That was a really scary moment … it was like something right out of the movie!”
Some purported curses go hand-in-hand with painfully real moments of horror. Each of the three “Poltergeist” movies was met with the tragedy of a principal actor, from 22-year-old Dominique Dunn’s 1982 murder to Julian Beck’s death at the beginning of 1986’s sequel to 12-year-old Heather O’Rourke’s demise from cardiopulmonary arrest soon after the release of the final film. Just before filming began on the 2005 remake of “The Amityville Horror,” the body of a dead fisherman washed up on the shore of the set — four weeks before the film’s premiere, the real-life inspiration for Ryan Reynolds’ tormented patriarch dropped dead.
When real tragedies occur, the surviving stars do their best to keep their comments respectful. But when the creepiness stops just short of ending someone’s life, Hollywood’s PR machine acts like it’s hit the jackpot.
“When we were putting together the press tour for ’Amityville,’ Ryan Reynolds and the other stars kept bringing up everything from the real-life deaths that surrounded the shoot to the fact that Ryan kept waking up in the middle of the night around the same time that his character did,” said one of the film’s publicists. “It’s some creepy stuff, but to those of us behind-the-scenes on horror movies, it helps us to help fans believe that such supernatural things can occur.”
When actors like Winstead or Reynolds bring up such examples of a “curse,” maybe they’re just playing along with a morbid Hollywood horror tradition. Or maybe — just maybe — the devil’s greatest weapon is his own invisibility, and he doesn’t like it when millions of moviegoers are about to be reminded of his presence.
“Any time that you so much as pretend to call upon a demon, there is a chance a demon is going to come up and make its presence known,” insisted Father Jason Spadafore, a Roman Catholic bishop who has performed three real-life exorcisms. He said he would offer the following advice to any actor signing up for a horror movie: “I would tell them to be very careful … if he were Catholic, I would tell him to pray a rosary or wear a cross on you, cross yourself with holy water every day, do something to protect yourself because you are going into potentially dangerous territory.
“For somebody who is non-Catholic, [I’d tell them to] go to whomever their cleric is,” continued Spadafore, who claims that the film on which he recently served as an adviser, “Blackwater Valley Exorcism,” was filmed on a haunted ranch. “Whether it be their minister, their rabbi, their Lama, whomever.
“They need to find out whatever spiritual protections are available,” he added. “And use them.”
And if people like Bishop Spadafore aren’t creeping the stars out, sometimes they’ll just do it themselves. “When I was a child I was very afraid of shower rooms, because kids would always tell me there were ghosts in there,” admitted Tobin Bell, revealing the one thing that spooked out the scary actor who brings Jigsaw to life in the “Saw” movies. “In front of Jigsaw’s sickroom, there are these pieces of plastic hanging down, and every time I would go there … it would remind me of the shower room when I was at camp and how terrifying that was. … That sickroom, because of its coldness, was a pretty scary place to be on set.”
“I don’t know that [sets] are cursed, but they’re a great setting for horror,” remarked Terence Jay, who has spent the last seven months filming the upcoming scary movies “Buried Alive” and “The Living Hell.” He says such movies can’t help but creep out those on set. “All of a sudden the sound guy disappears, and it’s like, ’Where did Carl go? Carl!’
“Certain places where you shoot, I think the spirits can get really angry,” Jay added. “There has got to be ghosts walking around, and they definitely get picked up on the video equipment, the sound gear, the microphones, stuff like that. [Shooting scary movies] probably pisses [spirits] off sometimes.”
Earlier this year, “Omen” remake director John Moore attributed two days of ruined footage to such supernatural occurrences, telling reporters that a malfunctioning remote-control camera kept registering “Error 666,” a message that repairmen insisted did not exist.
“I think all film sets are cursed, from the haunted coffee guy on down,” Tim Burton grinned. “You have a lot of free time on sets sometimes, and people have imaginations. I think it’s hard to find a set that doesn’t have something like that, but with horror movies it gets slightly easier to say it.”
“When we were shooting ’The Exorcism of Emily Rose,’ my stereo kept turning itself on in the middle of the night,” remembered Jennifer Carpenter, who played the possessed titular teenager in the flick. “It freaked me out, because it started playing Pearl Jam’s ’Alive’ — just the ’I’m still alive’ part. It stayed with me for a while.”
No conversation about movie curses would be complete, however, without discussing two of the most successful — and most haunted — horror movies of all time. After 1973’s “The Exorcist,” an onslaught of real-life horror hit that included rumors of problematic births for impregnated viewers, star Linda Blair’s drug problems and obsessed fan/serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer — who had “Exorcist III” playing on his VCR when he was arrested. “Rosemary’s Baby,” a devil-child thriller that arrived in theaters five years earlier, was soon followed by the real-life Manson Family murders of director Roman Polanski’s wife and unborn child.
“There are two courses of action I can think of,” Bishop Spadafore said, offering advice for those who sense a demon on their set. “The first one, obviously, would be to call a priest. The second option is go ahead and do it yourself. This is what the church doesn’t tell you — even a lay person can do exorcisms and blessings. [The ceremony] is just as the book says it. People should just do it in their own name, instead of in the name of the church.”
Perhaps Terrence Evans, who plays psychotic Uncle Monty in “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning,” should have performed such an exorcism on the film’s spooky Texan set. “Uncle Monty, the film shows how he gets his legs removed,” remembered Diora Baird, who plays Bailey in the movie. “Andrew [Bryniarski, who plays Leatherface] had to hit a certain mark and he didn’t; he missed it and cut [Evans’] leg with the chainsaw. Luckily it didn’t have the chain, so he just cut him a little bit, but I think that’s the reason so many accidents happen on horror sets: There are usually weapons around, and God knows what kind of spirits you are summoning up.”
From a movie star suicide to a chainsaw boo-boo, Hollywood and horror have always been linked. But in the eyes of one of the most prolific stars of all time, any connection between movies and mortality is purely coincidental.
“No, there’s no such thing as curses,” slyly grinned Michael Caine, who has starred in “The Swarm,” a “Jaws” movie and more than a hundred others. “But I have seen plenty of movie sets that I wanted to curse.”
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