Unexplainable Things That Happened On Movie Sets

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 that doesn’t happen very often, 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 five million dollars – even though he was dealing with no prior health concerns at the time.

The actor told his friends and family that he had been having dreams of his demise, and was sure he was going to die soon, he just didn’t know when. Later, during the filming of one of Morrow’s final Twilight Zone scenes, a helicopter used in the scene crashed onto the set, killing two child extras and decapitating Morrow. This only made his family believe that the curse had come true, but the superstition was cemented when they realised that 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.

Particularly in places that hadn’t been disturbed or dusted in a while, marks would appear as though something had been moving around in the dust, while members of the cast and crew all claimed that they’d been nowhere near those areas of the set. Surprisingly, the prop dolls of the real Annabelle littered around the set were the least terrifying part of the whole experience. The worst part was the alleged unknown energy on set, which eventually caused one member of the cast 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

Stories of things going wrong on horror movie sets might be the most common, but a movie doesn’t have to be about ghosts and demons in order to have spooky things happen on filming. One example is Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, which 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 even had his flesh stripped off for real during a whipping scene. The actor has since said that the suffering he went through on set did help 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. However, the set did seem unusually plagued with dangerous or extreme situations, leading to protests from religious groups claiming it was blasphemous when it finally got released.

17. There were multiple brushes with death for those who worked on Rosemary’s Baby

Rosemary’s Baby might be a horror movie, but it’s more about tension and unease than it is about gore and jump scares. Tragically, in this case, the on-set horrors didn’t match the tone of the film, since things happened during filming that were actually pretty grisly. Shortly after filming began, the producer working on the project, William Castle, received a series of anonymous letters stating that he was a “Believer in Witchcraft, Worshiper at the Shrine of Satanism” and would soon “slowly rot during a long and painful illness” as a result.

Castle got sick not long later after receiving these letters, and had to go emergency surgery to return his organs to working order. Unfortunately, even though Castle survived, that wasn’t the only brush with death the movie had. Not only did the producer get sick, but the main composer of the movie died of a head injury after a long fall while on set. There is also the fact that Sharon Tate – director Roman Polanski’s partner – hung around set and appeared in the film as an extra, just before being killed during the infamous Manson murders.

16. The cast’s hotel radios kept playing the words “I’m alive” during the filming of The Exorcism of Emily Rose

The Exorcism of Emily Rose may be a horror movie, but it’s one that relies more on tragedy and emotional horror than it does straight-up jump scares. Similarly, the unexplained things that happened while filming director Scott Derrickson’s picture were not out-and-out terrifying, but they did take an emotional toll on the cast and crew. 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 I’m alive I’m alive”, until people started throwing out their radios in frustration. This could all be ruled out as some kind of collective fault with all 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, did actually die as a result of her attempted exorcism – or did she?

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

A cult classic today, comic book movie The Crow might be best known today as being the product of one of the most infamous on-set tragedies in movie history. While the movie’s plot centres on an anti-hero avenging the death of his wife from beyond the grave, the actor playing the hero of the story tragically died in real life too. Brandon Lee, son of martial arts legend Bruce Lee, was killed when the crew of The Crow attempted to make their own prop bullets, and loaded and fired them out of a real gun.

No-one knows exactly how it happened, whether the prop bullets were accidentally swapped out with real ones or if the ‘prop’ bullets were simply loaded incorrectly, but somehow Lee was shot for real in the abdomen. He died just hours later on the operating table. Oddly, Brandon’s father, Bruce Lee, had acted out a scene years earlier, in the film Game of Death, where his character was shot and killed with a prop gun. There was another similarity between father and son: both died well before their time, halfway through filming a movie, just as they were on the cusp of making names for themselves.

14. Everybody got ill making Apocalypse Now

Most of the entries on this list centre around movie sets being menaced by ghosts and demons, with some vague sense of evil making the cast sick or even killing them off. There were no restless spirits or cunning witches on Apocalypse Now, however – just a way more mundane set of inexplicable circumstances. 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 Michael 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

The Conjuring movie, as well as the subsequent franchise, are all based around the real stories of a couple, Ed and Lorraine Warren, who really did spend their days as genuine supernatural investigators. The couple went on to have children and grandchildren, most of whom grew up to be sceptical of the experiences the two of them claimed to have had. The fact that these grandchildren didn’t believe in haunted dolls or evil nuns meant that they were happy to appear on set for The Conjuring.

By contrast, the couple themselves completely refused to go near the set, believing that spirits would not take kindly to being copied and that they probably would appear in person. According to people on set, the couple’s fears were actually well-founded, as when the Warrens’ descendants appeared on set, strange things began to happen almost immediately. Not only did the hotel the cast and crew were staying in spontaneously catch fire, but they were constantly surrounded by furious winds, which shook only them and not the surrounding trees or buildings.

12. The Exorcist was so ‘cursed’ the director hired a priest to bless the set

Though tragic things can happen on almost any movie set, on-set accidents and seemingly random fatalities do seem to gravitate towards the horror genre. Not only that, but movies dealing with demons and possession, such as the Exorcist and the Poltergeist, do seem especially to collect the worst stories. The most famous of the Exorcist tragedies is that just a few days after shooting all of his scenes, actor Jack MacGowran, who plays Burke Dennings in the film, died unexpectedly at his home.

His death was followed swiftly by two others working on the movie – a security guard on set and a special effects artist – whose deaths didn’t have an easy cause or explanation. All these occurrences within just a few days led director William Friedkin to conclude that the set was haunted. His solution? Hiring a priest to bless the set of course. This attempt was made more urgent by the fact that the set at one point caught fire, seemingly with no known cause.

11. A real-life murderer killed Janet Leigh’s Psycho stand-in

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 brutally murdered.

The culprit, handyman Kenneth Dean Hunt, was – not unlike Norman Bates – a troubled young man, whose mother-in-law had convinced Davis to hire him to fix some faulty lights. What was most spooky about the incident was Hunt’s possible motivation: according to Robert Graysmith, author of the book The Girl in Alfred Hitchcock’s Shower, Hunt had meant to kill somebody else involved in the making of Psycho. Through his research, Graysmith discovered that Hunt had been obsessed with Hitchcock’s classic. The author speculates that Hunt had perhaps meant to kill Marli Renfro, Janet Leigh’s body double in the infamous shower scene, having 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 become notorious in the decades since its release, partly because it’s a classic of horror, partly because of the many, many tragedies surrounding its production. More than perhaps any other horror movie in modern memory, Poltergeist has numerous superstitions, injuries and even deaths connected to it. The most famous incident connected to the franchise came just one day after the original movie premiered, when the actress who played the older sister of the family, Dominique Dunne, was brutally murdered by her ex-boyfriend.

Dunne was re-cast for subsequent instalments of the franchise, but the main child actress, Heather O’Rourke, continued to work on the series until she also met a terrible fate. During the shooting of sequel Poltergeist III, O’Rourke died of a cardiac arrest, after complications from an elective medical procedure led to an entirely avoidable death. As if the deaths of a teenager and a 12-year-old weren’t enough tragedy to tie to one franchise, the producer of the movie also died during a surgical procedure shortly after the first movie’s release, while supporting actor Lou Perryman, a horror regular, was murdered in a random attack several years later.

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. After the fire had been extinguished, only one thing seemed in any way unusual – and it made the damage seem even more sinister. 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

The plot of The Omen centres around a boy who, despite seeming outwardly normal, has a string of evil incidents follow in his wake. Eventually, it is revealed that the boy is more than he seems, and the evil springing up around him is anything but accidental. In short, The Omen is exactly the kind of horror movie that you would expect to be plagued by all sorts of minor catastrophes – which it absolutely was.

First of all, shooting began with lead actor Gregory Peck being told that his son, Jonathan, had committed suicide. Then, in the first month of shooting, crew members on their way to the set were almost killed in a head-on car crash, while Rottweilers hired to work on the film began to attack their trainers. The crazy didn’t end there, with the scriptwriter, David Seltzer, and Peck flying over to the UK in separate planes, both of which were struck by lightning. (That wasn’t the end of Peck’s transport troubles: a flight for Israel that the actor was due to board during filming crashed, killing everyone on board. Thankfully for Peck he had cancelled at the last minute.)

Meanwhile, 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 a real-life haunted house that, allegedly, tormented a real-life family. Though the set of the original 1975 movie was reportedly a quiet one (at least where spirits or demons are concerned), the remake set wasn’t quite so lucky. Things started off with pretty horrifyingly, 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 traumatising 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 just happened to be 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. Damon and Douglas, both award-winning, intelligent actors mind you, came away from filming the bio convinced that the whole production was haunted. Despite being spirit world sceptics, both Damon and Douglas have since claimed to have felt a male spirit watching them work during the Candelabra shoot.

Whenever Damon and Douglas sat at the piano for their scenes as Thorson and Liberace, they felt cold air constantly moving around them – and even swore they could smell a man’s cologne in the air. The actors also said they often felt the phantom sensation of somebody touching their shoulders and clothes, as all while the lighting rigs flickered uncontrollably.

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 (in which Wayne plays the Mongolian emperor, naturally) saw its first post-shoot casualties as early as 1963, when both the film’s 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.

These were just the people involved in the production who died – many others, including relatives of Wayne and Hayward who had also been on the set, later developed cancer and survived thanks to treatment. In total, of the 220 people involved in the film’s production, 91 later developed some form of cancer, something that the University of Utah’s Dr Robert Pendleton called an “epidemic”. Some have attributed the high cancer and heart disease rate to typical life habits of the era, while others have suggested a more likely explanation: that the film was shot 137 miles downwind of a Nevada military site where 11 nuclear weapons had been detonated just two years before cameras started rolling.

4. The Lords of Salem’s demonic hospital may have been legitimately haunted

In between stints of touring with his horror show-themed metal band, Rob Zombie has made a lot of horror movies throughout his time as a director, many of them over-the-top and ridiculous. Because of that, Rob Zombie horror movies don’t feel like the kind that could include a legitimate haunting phenomenon going on behind the scenes – even if that allegedly did happen on the set of The Lords of Salem. To sum up, in The Lords of Salem, a coven of Devil-worshipping witches work out of a haunted hospital.

Zombie and his location scouts did find 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.

3. The cast of The Innkeepers had shared nightmares

The Innkeepers is a much smaller scale horror movie compared to the kinds that usually make the headlines for being menaced by unexplainable supernatural events. Despite that, and despite the fact it had a veteran horror director at the helm, the rest of the cast found themselves getting more nervous every day they spent on set. Director Ti West resisted the urge to cry ghost at the things that were happening around him, but the cast were less sceptical.

Apparently, lights and television sets around the set 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 a bonafide haunted hotel, where they all found themselves having vivid dreams. Not only that, but the dreams were unusually violent and terrifying, and the worst elements of them were actually 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

If any movie set was going to be plagued by unexplainable occurrences and horrifying mysteries, it would be The Ghost of Goodnight Lane, if only because of its premise. The whole movie is actually centred around a cursed movie set filled with confusing and terrifying accidents, based in part on director Ali Bijan’s own life. The director 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 constantly being disturbed by flickering lights and and faulty equipment. When that didn’t work, the equipment started to fall from great heights, and 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 decided to take the weird contextless scenes and build a movie around them. Casting contemporary actors such as Jennifer Tilly in the new scenes, Canawati tried to cut the whole thing together in a way that made some sort of spooky sense.

Nothing strange happened on set, but when the director checked the new footage something weird happened. The faces of the actors were muddled and distorted – stretching and pulling into horrifying demonic figure 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. Worst of all, a film expert confirmed these weird faults and defects, but also couldn’t give a reason for why they were happening.