Spooky things happen in movies all the time, but normally a look behind the scenes is enough to explain whatever is happening while the cameras roll. Occasionally though, things happen while filming that just cannot be understood – whether they happen on film or not.
Today we’re counting down 20 unexplainable things that have happened on the sets of famous movies.
20. Vic Morrow took out a huge life insurance policy before he was killed on Twilight Zone: The Movie
An actor dying while filming a movie is a tragic and unusual occurrence, but it isn’t necessarily a spooky one. In the case of the Twilight Zone movie, however, it was both, as the circumstances surrounding lead actor Vic Morrow’s death were anything but ordinary. A year before his death, after signing on to do the movie, Morrow took out a life insurance policy worth $5 million, even though he had no health concerns at the time.
The actor told his friends and family that he had been having dreams which made him sure he was going to die soon. Later, during the filming of one of Morrow’s final Twilight Zone scenes, a helicopter crashed onto the set, killing Morrow and two child extras. This left some believing Morrow’s premonitions had come true, a notion strengthened when they realised Morrow’s death was identical to one the Twilight Zone storyboard artist had conceptualised for the movie.
19. Unexplained claw marks appeared on the Annabelle set
Annabelle is based on a true story about one of the most famous and notorious haunted dolls of all time. If any story had the power to make unexplainable things happen on set, it would be this one. The cast made the mistake of visiting the real-life ‘Annabelle’ doll before filming, after which they started to notice claw marks all over the set.
Marks would appear as though something had been moving around in the dust, while cast and crew members claimed that they’d been nowhere near those areas of the set. Surprisingly, the Annabelle dolls littered around the set were far less terrifying than this alleged unknown energy on set, which eventually caused one actor to fall and hit their head in the exact place where their character would die in the movie.
18. Jim Caviezel got struck by lightning for real while on the cross filming The Passion of the Christ
The production of The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson’s controversial film about the final days of Jesus, had strange occurrences of biblical proportions. For a start, the same crew member was inexplicably struck by lightning on two separate occasions, and Jesus actor Jim Caviezel himself was also struck by lightning – while filming a scene on the cross.
Not only that, but while reenacting the suffering of Christ, the actor dislocated his shoulder, contracted pneumonia and was accidentally whipped for real. Caviezel has said that the suffering he went through on set helped him relate to the suffering of Jesus on a more visceral and personal level, and he didn’t shy away from any of the uncomfortable or even painful scenes necessary to shoot the film.
17. There were multiple brushes with death for those who worked on Rosemary’s Baby
Things got creepy on horror classic Rosemary’s Baby long before the film made it to screens. Shortly after filming began, the film’s producer William Castle, received a series of anonymous letters accusing him of being a real-life devil worshipper and promising him an unpleasant death for working on the adaptation of Ira Levin’s demonic horror novel.
Castle got sick not long later after receiving these letters, and had to go emergency surgery. He survived, but that wasn’t the only brush with death the movie had. The film’s composer Krzysztof Komeda died of a head injury after a fall while on set. Most infamously, Sharon Tate – director Roman Polanski’s partner – hung around set and appeared in the film as an extra, not long before her murder.
16. The cast’s hotel radios kept playing the words “I’m alive” during the filming of The Exorcism of Emily Rose
Some creepy things happened during production on director Scott Derrickson’s 2005 supernatural drama The Exorcism of Emily Rose. For one, the radios in the cast and crew’s hotel rooms kept turning on in the night, and playing just one song: Alive by Pearl Jam. In particular, the song kept sticking and repeating the words “I’m alive” until people started throwing out their radios in alarm.
This could be ruled out as some kind of collective fault with the hotel radios, or at the very least just the cast scaring themselves into believing something supernatural was happening. However, it gets even creepier once you realise that the movie was based on a true story, and the ‘possessed’ girl who the movie was based on, Anneliese Michel, actually died following her attempted exorcism.
15. Brandon Lee was killed by a prop gun on the set of The Crow – in a scene his father had played out years before
Comic book movie The Crow is best known for one of the most infamous on-set tragedies in movie history. The film casts Brandon Lee as an anti-hero avenging his fiancée’s murder from beyond the grave, but Lee tragically died for real whilst shooting his own death scene. Debris from a spent blank round was mistakenly left in a prop gun, and when fired this hit Lee with the force of a real bullet.
Lee was shot in the abdomen, and died just hours later on the operating table. Eerily, Brandon’s father Bruce Lee had acted out a similar scene years earlier in his film Game of Death, with his character shot and seemingly killed whilst shooting a movie. Like his son, Bruce Lee tragically died before completing work on the film, leading to speculation of a curse on the Lee family.
14. Everybody got ill making Apocalypse Now
War movies are always a pain to shoot, but Apocalypse Now – which shot on location in the Philippines – quite literally brought agony for cast and crew. As filming dragged on for months, many of the cast found themselves unwell the majority of the time, dealing with everything from extreme cold and damp, to wounds that they were forced to wash with vodka due to the remoteness of medical assistance.
Things got worse a crew member died in an accident due to perilous on-set conditions, a tragic occurrence that led the director himself to battle suicidal thoughts during filming. Then, inexplicably, starring actor Martin Sheen suffered a major heart attack followed by an epileptic seizure out on set, the majority of which he had to suffer through alone with only the barest medical assistance.
13. The family of the real Ed and Lorraine Warren brought ‘spirits’ to the set of The Conjuring
2013’s The Conjuring and its sequels are based on the stories of Ed and Lorraine Warren, real-life paranormal investigators. While Ed passed away in 2006, Lorraine was still alive when the movies began. Their grandchildren were sceptical of their grandparents’ stories, so they were happy to appear on set for The Conjuring.
By contrast, Lorraine Warren herself refused to go near the set, believing that spirits would not take kindly to being copied and that they probably would appear in person. Some say these fears were well-founded, as when the Warrens’ descendants appeared on set, strange things began to happen almost immediately, including furious winds and spontaneous fires.
12. The Exorcist was so ‘cursed’ the director hired a priest to bless the set
Like Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist famously features the Devil in a prominent role, which doubtless fuels stories of diabolical forces at work on set. No matter what you think of this idea, real tragedies did indeed occur during The Exorcist’s shoot, most famously when actor Jack MacGowran died unexpectedly shortly after completing his role as Burke Dennings – who dies in the film.
MacGowran’s death was followed by those of two others working on the movie, a security guard and a special effects artist. These deaths had no easy explanation, nor did a fire which broke out on set. All these occurrences within just a few days led director William Friedkin to conclude that the set was haunted, so he chose to have it exorcised for real.
11. Janet Leigh’s Psycho stand-in was killed for real
Pyscho is Alfred Hitchock’s terrifying story of a man who is able to (initially at least) kill without repercussions, due to him seeming so normal and unassuming as to avoid suspicion entirely. Tragically, someone else utilised this quality on a member of the cast, with lethal consequences. Some years after filming was concluded, lead actor Janet Leigh’s stand-in, Myra Davis, was killed.
According to Robert Graysmith, author of The Girl in Alfred Hitchcock’s Shower, murderer Kenneth Dean Hunt was an obsessive fan of Psycho who became fixated on killing someone involved in the film. The author speculates that Hunt had perhaps meant to kill Marli Renfro, Janet Leigh’s body double in the infamous shower scene, but confused her with Davis.
10. Working on Poltergeist came with a strangely high risk of death
Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg’s 1982 horror classic Poltergeist has long been notorious for the many tragedies surrounding its production. More than perhaps any other horror movie in modern memory, Poltergeist has numerous superstitions, injuries and deaths connected to it, most infamously with two of its youngest cast members meeting an early death.
After Poltergeist came out, Dana actress Dominique Dunne died tragically at the hands of her ex-boyfriend. Carol-Anne actress Heather O’Rourke continued to work on the film’s two sequels until she also met a terrible fate, dying of cardiac arrest aged just 12 during production on Poltergeist III. Poltergeist II actors Julian Beck and Will Sampson also died shortly after making that sequel.
9. A ‘demonically-possessed relic’ prop may have caused a huge fire on the set of The Possession
If you make a movie called ‘The Possession’, don’t be surprised when weirdly supernatural things keep happening around you. Whatever demon cursed the set of The Possession started off with small things, like constantly burning out or exploding lightbulbs. Things got much worse, however, when the entire prop storage department one day inexplicably burned to the ground.
The site was examined for any kind of arson or even electrical fire, but no cause for the incident was found. Only one thing seemed in any way unusual: the prop for the movie’s demonically-possessed relic, in the movie the source of all evil, was completely blackened and destroyed as though it had been in the centre of the fire – when in reality it had been nowhere near it.
8. Death followed the cast and crew of The Omen everywhere
Yes, it’s another devil-related movie that suffered real-life weirdness and tragedy. The film casts Gregory Peck as a diplomat who unwittingly adopts the anti-Christ. Shooting began with Peck being told that his son, Jonathan, had committed suicide. Then, in the first month of shooting, some crew members on their way to the set were almost killed in a head-on car crash.
Rottweilers hired to work on the film began to attack their trainers. Screenwriter David Seltzer and Peck flew over to the UK in separate planes, both of which were struck by lightning. Later, Peck cancelled a flight to Israel at the last minute, and the plane he missed wound up crashing. Also, the hotel director Richard Donner stayed in throughout the shoot was bombed by the IRA. He also got hit by a car.
7. The cast and crew of The Amityville Horror kept waking up at the exact time the murders actually took place
Like the Conjuring series, The Amityville Horror movies are based on the story of an alleged real-life haunted house. Though the set of the original 1975 movie was reportedly a quiet one, the 2005 remake set wasn’t quite so lucky. Things started off with pretty horrifically, when a dead body washed up on the shore of the beach right next to the hotel in which cast and crew were staying.
As if that wasn’t traumatic enough, when the cast and crew went back to their hotel after the incident, many of them began to observe a strange pattern. For a few of the cast and crew, waking up at exactly 3:15am every night became a regular occurrence during the shoot. This was the exact same time of night that Ronald DeFeo Jr., whose murders the film was based on, killed his entire family.
6. Matt Damon and Michael Douglas sensed a (well-perfumed) presence on the set of Behind the Candelabra
Starring Matt Damon and Michael Douglas, Steven Soderbergh’s Behind the Candelabra Liberace biopic told the story of the famed pianist and Scott Thorson, Liberace’s live-in bodyguard who was also his lover. Though both Damon and Douglas are sceptics regarding the supernatural, both came away from filming the bio convinced that the whole production was haunted.
The actors have claimed to have felt a male spirit watching them work during the shoot, particularly when sat at the piano for their scenes as Thorson and Liberace. They felt cold air constantly moving around them, saw lights flicker, felt a touch on their shoulders, and even swore they could smell a man’s cologne in the air.
5. The cancer ‘epidemic’ among the cast and crew of The Conqueror may have been a result of nearby nuclear testing
The Conqueror isn’t John Wayne’s finest hour. In fact, if the film is remembered at all, it’s for the fact that it may be the film that finally killed the Duke. Filmed in 1955, the Genghis Khan biopic saw its first post-shoot casualties as early as 1963, when director Dick Powell and supporting actor Pedro Armendáriz killed themselves after terminal cancer diagnoses.
By the 70s and 80s, most of the rest of the principal cast, including Wayne and Susan Hayward (only 57 when she passed in 1975), were dead from cancer or heart-related diseases. In total, of the 220 people involved in the film’s production, 91 later developed some form of cancer. This may be because the film was shot 137 miles downwind of a Nevada nuclear test site.
4. The Lords of Salem’s demonic hospital may have been legitimately haunted
Rocker-turned-filmmaker Rob Zombie’s 2012 horror movie The Lords of Salem features a coven of Devil-worshipping witches working out of a haunted hospital. Zombie and his location scouts found a creepy disused hospital to film in, and shot several scenes in and around the hospital’s basement over the course of a few days.
The issue was that nobody could shoot in there for more than a few takes without feeling severely sick and dizzy. There was also the problem of the constant buzzing of the hospital communication system, even though it should have been completely unable to function. This, some have concluded, is persuasive evidence of real supernatural powers at play in the location.
3. The cast of The Innkeepers had shared nightmares
The Innkeepers features young ghost hunters looking for proof of ghosts, and the film’s cast and crew found themselves wondering if they’d encountered this for real. The 2011 film was shot in the allegedly haunted Yankee Pedlar Inn in Torrington, Connecticut. While writer-director Ti West resisted the urge to cry ghost at the things that were happening around him, the cast were less sceptical.
Lights and TV sets would turn on and off seemingly at random, while doors would slam shut and blow open without anyone so much as going near them. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the cast and crew were also all staying together in the inn, and found themselves having vivid nightmares, the worst elements of which were allegedly shared between the whole group.
2. The director of The Ghost of Goodnight Lane made a film about a haunted film set – and got haunted
2012’s The Ghost of Goodnight Lane centres around a cursed movie set filled with confusing and terrifying accidents, based in part on director Ali Bijan’s own life. Bijan had previously worked on the set of a horror movie where the crew consistently saw figures of a ghostly apparition, ending with one of the crew members being assaulted by the violent spirit (allegedly).
When paranormal investigators ‘confirmed’ the activity, the director set about making a movie based on his experiences, only he didn’t expect history to repeat itself. Unfortunately, trouble followed Bijan over to the new production, with the set suffering many strange accidents, while the cast were constantly disturbed from their trailers by disembodied voices and whispers.
1. Apparitions appeared in Return to Babylon only once the film got to the editing stage
Return to Babylon’s director, Alex Monty Canawati, got the idea for his haunted silent film when he found a roll of film lying abandoned on a Hollywood street. Thinking he’d struck gold, Canawati took the weird contextless scenes and built a new movie around them, adding new footage with contemporary actors such as Jennifer Tilly.
When the director checked the new footage, the faces of the actors were muddled and distorted – stretching and pulling into horrifying demonic figures on film. Not only that, but people seemed to jump from the old footage into the new, with extras appearing in scenes that had never been cast. A film expert confirmed these weird defects, but couldn’t give a reason for why they were happening.