What’s your favorite horror movie? The Shining? Poltergeist? Perhaps The Exorcist? Even if you’ve never seen them, chances are you know something about the horrors contained within these infamous pictures. But you might struggle to imagine some of the strange and sinister events that have taken place behind the scenes of some of cinema’s best-known horror flicks. Here are 20 of the best tales.
20. The Conjuring
Sometimes simply the act of researching for a movie is enough to throw up strange events. In the case of Vera Farmiga, star of The Conjuring, gathering online information resulted in a sinister discovery. The star recalled to regional newspaper Pittsburgh Post-Gazette how “digital claw marks” had inexplicably appeared on her computer screen.
But for Farmiga, things were to get a little more twisted. For one morning, after production had been wrapped, the actor woke up and noticed that a bruise had appeared on her thigh – accompanied with three mysterious scratches. Director James Wan also recalled how his dog had seemed to growl at an unexplained presence. And then there was the incident of a strange breeze surrounding members of the Perron family – the protagonists of the real-life haunting the movie is based on – when they visited the set. Weird.
Special effects take care of most of the gory stuff you see in horror movies these days. But back in 1992, that wasn’t so much the case. Take the infamous “bee scene” from Candyman, for example. Actor Tony Todd literally had a mouthful of bees while shooting the scene in which a swarm buzzes out. Todd was smart enough to negotiate a $1,000 payout for each sting in his contract, however.
Director Bernard Rose later spoke about the guts Todd had shown to literally have live bees in his mouth. “All Tony had was a dental dam to prevent them going down his throat. He was very courageous – it’s such an unsettling and stunning image when the bees emerge from his mouth,” Rose told the U.K.’s The Guardian newspaper. Oh, and in case you’re interested, the actor felt the sting of an angry bee on 23 occasions, equating to quite a nice little bonus.
You have to admire the lengths that actors will go to successfully portray their character, no matter the demands. Often those demands are physical, but in the case of Jennifer Lawrence in Mother!, it was the psychological exertions that were the most intense. So much so that the actor retreated to the Kardashians for help. Not literally, though.
Lawrence spoke about filming Mother! on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. “I had to do this one scene, I had never gone that dark before, so I started getting scared of myself a couple days beforehand and I was like… I need a tent, away from the extras, just because I didn’t know what I would do,” Lawrence revealed. “So in there I just had a computer playing the Kardashians,” the star added. Whatever it takes, Jen.
17. The Conjuring 2
Audiences were certainly used to feeling terrorized watching 2016’s The Conjuring 2. Yet the crew of the movie were reportedly equally terrorized by an inanimate object that behaved in a rather spooky way during filming. “It was a huge curtain that went from the floor to the ceiling, which was just sort of waving violently, and there was no door open or no fan on; no nothing,” star Patrick Wilson later told entertainment wire WENN.
Clearly Wilson was pretty spooked out by the whole moving-curtain incident, as he had more to say about it. “That was a very, very odd occurrence because nothing else was moving around it and nothing else was blowing,” Wilson added. “It was pretty trippy,” the actor told WENN. Trippy enough to get a priest in to rid the set of negative energy, by all accounts.
16. The Exorcism of Emily Rose
If there are such things as ghosts, then some clearly have a sense of humor. During filming of The Exorcism of Emily Rose, star Jennifer Carpenter reported her radio switching itself on. One particular incident stayed with the actor as, not only was the music cranked up loud, but the song playing was Pearl Jam’s “Alive.” A nice touch.
According to Carpenter, her co-star Laura Linney also reported having a TV that acted up during filming. The star said her set would just inexplicably turn itself on and off, a fact that no doubt gave her the chills. By all accounts, Emily Rose was not the only one in need of an exorcism as these troublesome appliances reveal. Although at least any spirits involved had a good taste in music.
Psycho contains one of the most iconic horror scenes of all time in the shape of the knife attack in the shower. But little do most people know that the set of the movie was the scene of an equally upsetting real-life murder. The victim was star actor Janet Leigh’s body double, Myra Jones. And the perpetrator was a handyman – Kenneth Dean Hunt – who was also employed on the set.
What was Dean’s motive for the killing of Jones? Apparently, the murderer was obsessed with Psycho’s director – the legendary moviemaker Alfred Hitchcock. Dean claimed to the police to have been trying to impress Hitchcock with his actions. Hitchcock himself is said to have uttered the words “It appears we now have all the motivation we need to complete this film,” in response.
14. The Innkeepers
Ti West recalled to local newspaper The Litchfield County Times that he had found inspiration to write the movie The Innkeepers after the real-life experience of residing at an inn in Connecticut. West was filming The House of the Devil at the time and had his interest piqued by employees of The Yankee Pedlar Inn, who regaled the director with some of the happenings at the very same inn. “I don’t believe in ghosts, but weird sh–– did happen,” West would later tell Interview magazine.
West returned to The Yankee Pedlar Inn to film The Innkeepers. And now it was the movie director himself who would start to experience weird goings-on. “Lights have turned off and on by themselves in my room. My phone rang and no one was on the line, which the hotel staff says happens all the time,” West told Interview. “There are nights when I wake up in my room, and it feels like somebody is in there,” he added.
13. The Possession
The Possession is a spine-tinglingly spooky horror movie directed by Ole Bornedal. It tells the story of a young girl who purchases an old antique box. Shockingly, she is then possessed by an evil spirit who inhabits that very same box. The story is based around the Jewish folk tale of the dybbuk: a similarly malicious spirit who inhabits living people. The legend was strong enough to leave many of the cast and crew uncertain.
Two of the movie’s actors – Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Natasha Calis – told website Gizmodo that they would stay well clear of the dybbuk box that is said to have been the inspiration behind The Possession. “There were some weird goings-on on set,” Morgan reported. “Lots of lightbulbs exploding. Just overall kind of creepiness… ‘Don’t mock the box,’ was sort of the mantra that we lived by while we were filming this,” the actor added.
Annabelle was made as a spinoff to The Conjuring, which itself was a movie that experienced its fair share of unexplained events behind the camera. And just like the movie that inspired it, Annabelle suffered from behind-the-scenes goings-on. As well as an incident involving a light fixture that exactly mimicked a death scene in the movie, director John Leonetti admitted that he believed the set to be haunted.
Leonetti recounted to entertainment magazine The Hollywood Reporter a freaky discovery made on location of Annabelle. “We went into the apartment where we were shooting, and in the transient window above the living room window. It was a full moon, and there were three fingers drawn through the dust along the window, and our demon has three fingers and three talons,” Leonetti recalled. “[The markings] were being backlit by the moon. I have a picture! It was sick,” the director also said.
11. Ghost of Goodnight Lane
Every now again you get a case of art imitating life. And that certainly seemed to be true in the making of Ghost of Goodnight Lane. The premise of the story is that an individual discovers a murdered co-worker in a film studio. The story was loosely based on events surrounding film sets that were supposedly haunted in real life. No one was quite sure if it was a good idea or not when director Alin Bijan made the decision to film his production on one of those very sets.
Bijan settled on a location that had seen no fewer than five deaths throughout its history. Unsurprisingly, that fact created a negative vibe among cast and crew, who were probably freaked out of their minds when there were unexplained electrical problems and falling fixtures. Star Billy Zane was also not the only set member who claimed to have heard their name being called by unidentified voices, either.
The atmosphere of a well-made horror movie should be as unsettling as events themselves. Yet unfortunately, sometimes that very ambience can unnerve the cast and crew themselves. Such was the case during the making of Insidious. The 2010 movie was based in a hospital, making the fact that set workers often felt unwell during filming seem even more eerily coincidental.
In fact, crew workers on Insidious were struck down in unison in one particular incident that occurred in the basement of the Linda Vista Hospital, where the film was made. Staff were moving old patient records when all involved began to feel sick and heavy, needing to take a break as a result. Then there was the case of a buzzer inexplicably going off on occasion. After that, crew members formed groups to go into certain parts of the hospital. Chilling.
Part of being a great actor is being able to fully immerse yourself in the role you are playing. One performer who certainly took this to heart was Lupita Nyong’o, who played the character of Adelaide Wilson/Red in the 2019 horror flick Us. “She really kind of spooked me out a little bit,” co-star Shahadi Wright Joseph told entertainment website Buzzfeed News after filming wrapped.
Nyong’o decided not to drop her character between scenes so she could keep up the intensity and feeling of the role. “She would really get into character and wouldn’t talk. It was kind of creepy,” added her co-star Wright Joseph. It certainly worked as Nyong’o successfully scared the pants off audiences in most scenes that she starred in. Sounds like she freaked out the other stars too.
The plot of 1982’s Poltergeist is pretty straightforward. A family find that their home is plagued by a bunch of ghosts, and not the good kind either. Events off camera wouldn’t have helped the cast and crew’s state of mind. Nor would they have been enamored with producer Steven Spielberg’s decision to use real skeletons in one infamous scene.
Some of the actors involved in Poltergeist had a pretty rough time of it. Actor JoBeth Williams claimed that her house was haunted, suggesting that a picture on the wall of her rented property kept moving while she was out filming. But worst of all, child actor Oliver Robins was almost strangled by the toy clown that haunts him in the movie. Serious injury was only avoided when Spielberg spotted what was happening and intervened.
7. Poltergeist II: The Other Side
Due to the success of the original movie, Poltergiest II: The Other Side was commissioned and brought to the screen in 1986. And determined not to be outdone by its predecessor, Brian Gibson’s film had off-screen events fit to rival anything that went on behind the scenes of the first movie. It certainly wasn’t a good sign when actor Will Sampson, who played Taylor the Medicine Man in the film, decided to perform an on-set exorcism to rid the vicinity of “alien spirits.” Far from just immersing himself in his character, Sampson was a real-life shaman.
Another actor on Poltergeist II: The Other Side was Zelda Rubinstein, who played the part of Tangina Barrons. Yet Rubinstein was troubled during filming by a smear of light blur caused by a photograph being taken. She was later led to believe that that blur had occurred simultaneously with her own mother dying.
6. The Amityville Horror
The Amityville Horror is a story based on real-life events. Those events have twice been made into films, and both versions have experienced behind-the-scenes quirks to say the least. Actor James Brolin is said to have accepted a part in the 1979 version only after a pair of his pants inexplicably dropped from a hanger just as he reached a scary section of the script. But if that can be classified as “strange,” then it is nothing compared to what went on in the 2005 remake.
Not long before the start of filming there was the small fact of a dead body washing up on the shore right on set. Then star Ryan Reynolds as well as other actors and crew members found themselves regularly awaking at 3:15 a.m. That, in itself, would be strange, but it just so turned out that 3:15 a.m. was a special time. The movie is based on a series of murders – and they happened at exactly that time.
5. Rosemary’s Baby
Most of the events that happened behind the scenes of 1968’s Rosemary’s Baby can be put down to bad luck. Apparently, the entire cast were at one time struck down by food poisoning, for example, which no doubt led to some accusatory fingers being pointed at the on-site caterers. Meanwhile, a producer suffered a stroke and the film’s composer died as a result of a fall.
But if the catalogue of misdemeanors that occurred during and after shooting of the movie could be classified as “unlucky,” then events surrounding producer William Castle are just downright eerie. As legend has it, Castle received an anonymous note just days after production started, which claimed that he would “slowly rot during a long and painful illness.” And soon after, Castle indeed fell ill and required surgery on a medical complaint that troubled him for quite a while afterwards. Now that’s just weird.
4. The Shining
Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaption of Stephen King’s The Shining is a tour de force of the horror genre. But there were plenty of scary goings on behind the camera too. Viewers might well remember the maze that features heavily in events toward the end of the movie. But what is less well known is that Kubrick himself got stuck in that very same maze. In the end, he had to be led out by crew members.
Attempting to film the maze sequences was hellish for all concerned too. The cold mist seen on screen was created by burning oil, resulting in a polluted atmosphere that was only worsened by the use of salt and Styrofoam to create the fake snow. With crew members also repeatedly getting lost in the maze, you can only imagine the collective sigh of relief that must have been heard when filming was wrapped.
3. The Omen
The Omen was a terrifying piece of cinema, but events surrounding production of the film proved to be equally as frightening. In fact, The Omen must lay claim to having one of the eventful production periods of any movie ever made, starting with the tragic loss of star Gregory Peck’s son in a shooting accident before filming had even begun. Unfortunately, that was just a precursor to the things to come.
Things went from bad to worse for most of those involved in making The Omen. Peck’s plane was struck by lightning, as was that of Mace Neufeld, the executive producer. But most terrifying of all was a car accident involving John Richardson, the movie’s special effects designer. As a result, passenger Liz Moore was decapitated in an event chillingly reminiscent of a scene from the movie itself. Plus, the accident happened on Friday, August 13, 1976. That’s Friday the 13th.
2. The Exorcist
William Friedkin’s 1973 work The Exorcist is one of the best-known horror movies of all time, causing many viewers a sleepless night or two. Yet it is interesting to know that events behind the scenes were often as spooky as those on it. Much of what happened was inspired by Friedkin himself, who wished to create a chilling atmosphere for the cast and crew members through actions such as making the set cold, playing scary music and even firing guns a random.
But some events behind the scenes of The Exorcist were less choreographed, leading to mentions of a “curse.” The main house featured in the film burnt down due to a kamikaze bird. Then star Ellen Burstyn acquired a back injury during filming. There were also a couple of cast and crew deaths in and around the release of the movie, which further perpetuated talk of the curse.
1. Twilight Zone: The Movie
Some events behind movie productions are so notorious that they fundamentally change the industry. And so it was with Twilight Zone: The Movie, the 1983 big-screen version of the popular TV series. It was during the filming of director John Landis’s segment that a terrible helicopter crash occurred, killing three cast members, two of whom were child actors who had allegedly been given jobs outside the law.
The accident on the set of Twilight Zone: The Movie led to litigation. Ultimately, the defendants, including the director Landis and the pilot, Dorcey Wingo, were cleared on involuntary manslaughter charges. Yet the consequences were profound. “The Twilight Zone accident created my job,” said Chris Palmer, a risk-management consultant, to Slate website. “It was a sea change in the movie industry. No one in risk management was ever on set before then,” Palmer added.