Film Lore: Are These Films Cursed?

Cursed films are always fun to discuss on Halloween. Below are urban legends that surround some of Hollywood’s most interesting titles. Are they real, or a product of someone’s imagination? You decide.

1. A Confederacy of Dunces: Based on the book by John Kennedy Toole (which wasn’t published until 11 years after the author’s suicide, aged 32), A Confederacy of Dunces has been making the Hollywood rounds since the early-80’s. The first actor to be cast in the role of Ignatius was John Belushi, who died before filming. Then, the role was passed to John Candy, who died before filming. Then, the role was given to Chris Farley, who died before filming. After that, John Waters decided to give the film a shot and cast Harris “Divine” Milstead as Ignatius, who then died before filming. Paramount subsequently lost total interest in the film, and to top things off, the head of the Film Commission of Louisiana was murdered, and just a short time later, Hurricane Katrina obliterated New Orleans.

1 1/2. Atuk: Who would have thought a fish-out-of-water comedy about an Eskimo who comes to New York would have made this kind of splash in the annals of film lore? Firstly, it must be pointed out that Atuk has never made it passed the “spec script” phase, but, like A Confederacy of Dunces, Atuk has a body count. There’s even some overlap. At the same time John Belushi was cast in A Confederacy of Dunces, he had expressed interest in playing the titular role, then, as we know, died. After Belushi’s death, the role went to Sam Kinison, who demanded parts of the movie be re-written, and subsequently, production was halted. Kinison would die in a car crash and the role of Atuk would be the object of interest by John Candy, who around the same time, had been cast in A Confederacy of Dunces. Candy died, and as you probably expected, the next name attached to Atuk was Chris Farley, who died while in talks for the role at the same time he was slated to be Ignatius in A Confederacy of Dunces.

2. The Poltergeist Trilogy: One of the more famously “cursed” films, Poltergeist and it’s sequels have a body count. Despite what the urban legend says, not EVERYONE who worked on the movie as main cast members has died, but there are four deaths hanging on the hooks of one of the creepiest movie franchises ever. On October 30, 1982, Dominique Dunne, who played older sister Dana Freeling in the first film got into a fight with boyfriend John Sweeney that ended her life. Julian Beck, who played the humanized version of Reverend Kane in Poltergeist II died due to complications with stomach cancer. Granted, that may not be that big of a deal, but Will Sampson, who played the shaman Taylor in Poltergeist II, also died suddenly due to post-op complications after a medical procedure. In an interesting side note, Will Sampson performed an exorcism on the set of Poltergeist II to combat a lot of the weird things going on But, the most tragic death associated with the franchise is that of Heather O’Rourke, who played the constantly-haunted Carol Anne Freeling in all three films. She died on February 1, 1988, at the age of 12, due to cardiac arrest and septic shock, stemming from misdiagnosed intestinal stenosis. Need I say that during the filming of the pool scene in Poltergiest, the bodies that popped up alongside JoBeth Williams were actual human skeletons?

3. Superman: Superman is, without a shadow of a doubt, and American icon, lore upon itself. But, as I’m about to point out, Superman even carries its fair share of darkness. Beginning with the creation of the character, Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joel Shuster were involved in a nasty legal dispute with DC Comics, who they felt hadn’t adequately paid them. Later, the Fleischer Brothers, pioneers of early animation figures like Popeye and Betty Boop, introduced Superman to their animation block — and lost everything. Kirk Alyn, who portrayed Superman in 1940’s serials, never found work again. Then, there’s George Reeves, who became the first nationally-recognized man to don the cape. He died of an apparent suicide in 1959… yet his fingerprints were never found on the weapon. In an alleged connection to the curse, President John F. Kennedy signed a deal with DC Comics for Superman to tout the President’s fitness routine, with JFK starring in the upcoming comic, scheduled for an April 1964 release. As we all know, Dallas, TX is gearing up for the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination this year. Of course, then there’s Christopher Reeve (with an eerily-similar surname to the guy who magically offed himself), who fell off a horse and spent the remaining years of his life paralyzed from the neck down. His Lois Lane, played by Margot Kidder, suffered a mental breakdown in 1996, and was found days afterward wandering around in a delusional state, Marlon Brando (Jor-El in the Richard Donner films) suffered greatly in his career and personal life, Richard Pryor (Gus Gorman in Superman III) was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, Lee Quigley (who played Baby Kal-El in the 1978 film) died at the age of 14 due to solvent abuse, Mark Pillow (Nuclear Man in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace) never worked again, and Lane Smith (Perry White in Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman) died of Lou Gehrig’s Disease, while his co-star Dean Cain (who played the titular role), hasn’t found anything substantial in the acting world since the show. Is Superman cursed? Ask Zach Snyder, the director of Man of Steel, who faced a mountain of problems getting the film off the ground.

4. The Exorcist: While some cite The Exorcist as the scariest film of all time (and the most cursed), to me, #5 on this list has a creepier premise and a worse string of bad luck. However, that isn’t to say that The Exorcist isn’t a ridiculously cursed film. Varying reports from the cast and crew of the film cite there were as little a four (yeah, as little as) to as many as nine deaths during the process of making the film, most notably the death of Jack MacGowran, who played Burke Dennings, just before the films release. Other events occurred, especially with Jason Miller, who played Father Damien Karras. His son, Jordan, was seriously injured in a motorbike accident during filming. Also during filming, Miller, who would study his lines in a restaurant within the Jesuit Quarters, was visited by a strange priest and given a medallion of the Blessed Virgin. The Priest told Miller that the medallion would protect him and that he needed to be careful as to not “… reveal the Devil for the trickster that he is…” and that if anyone attached to the movie did, in fact, reveal the Devil, “… [the Devil] will seek retribution against [the cast and crew] and will even try to stop what [the cast and crew] are doing to reveal him.” No one attached to the movie knew of this Priest and he was never seen again. Ellen Burstyn (Chris MacNeil) received a permanent spinal injury during filming, sets caught fire without any explanation (assistant director Thomas Donnelly reported that in his 32 years in the business, a set of his had never caught fire), and even William Peter Blatty (who wrote the book) and his wife had eerie occurrences happen to them. Both experienced a telephone raise off the hook unassisted while alone, several days apart. Perhaps the creepiest aspects of then curse surrounding The Exorcist is contained within it’s release. Many people who saw the movie left in terror, many vomited, and many fainted. Reports even indicate a man who fainted hit his face on the seat in front of him and broke his jaw. But, the most disturbing account of The Exorcist’s theatrical run comes from a theater in Rome, where moviegoers were not only treated to the film, but the pounding storm outside, in which a bolt of lightning knocked an eight-foot, 400 year old cross off the top of one of the 16th Century churches close to the theater onto the plaza below.

5. The Omen: The granddaddy of cursed films, The Omen’s story from pre-production to aftermath is truly fascinating… and horrifying. I don’t even have to build this one up. It stands on it’s own merits. Two months before filming what would ultimately revitalize his career, Gregory Peck’s son committed suicide. Animal handlers were attacked by impeccably trained rottweilers without any explanation. A professional tiger handler who worked on the film was killed two weeks after filming when he was pulled headfirst into a lion’s cage and eaten alive. During filming, scriptwriter David Seltzer’s plane was struck by lightning. So was Gregory Peck’s. So was executive producer Mace Neufeld’s. All on separate occasions. A plane that was scheduled to be used in the film for a few scenes, which was rescheduled and used for a commercial flight instead, crashed onto a road and slammed into another car, which in turn, slammed into another car that contained the pilot’s wife and child. Everyone involved in the crash died. The principle actors were involved in a terrible head-on collision the day filming commenced. Director Richard Donner’s hotel was bombed by the IRA, as was a restaurant the cast and crew were scheduled to eat at. Thankfully, the IRA bombings produced no casualties. But, most the most eerie occurrances attached to the curse of The Omen involve a stuntman from the film and the film’s Visual Effects Supervisor, John Richardson. While both were in Holland filming A Bridge Too Far, the stuntman deliberately threw himself off the roof of a building and was hospitalized and Richardson, who’s story is the most disturbing of all, was involved in a horrific car accident that threw him from the vehicle and caused the death of his girlfriend, who was decapitated by the wheel of the vehicle in an eerie similarity to the death of David Warner in The Omen. If that wasn’t fucked up enough, when Richardson came to a few moments later, the first thing he saw was a road sign that read ‘Ommen – 66.6 KM’.

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About Robert L. Franklin

Ah, the About Me section - social networking's excuse for you sounding like an elitist prick. Hmm... what to say? What to say?
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