When you’re on set of a horror flick, it’s easy to get carried away with eerie occurrences that happen. More often than not, cast and crew fall victim to unsettling events that are immediately blamed on the occult — an easy assumption to make when you’re already swarmed with made-up tales of the macabre.
While scientists just love debunking ghost stories, such as blaming cold spots on less-than-thrilling excuses such as an open window or a draft, sometimes there are situations that happen that genuinely cannot be chalked up to logic. Take 2012’s The Possession, for example, where actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan (of The Walking Dead fame) reported several freak accidents that couldn’t be explained, such as light bulbs exploding “five to six times during the course of the film,” and “cool [breezes] coming from nowhere,” — especially “in a closed studio [with] no fans [or] windows” (via Newsday).
When the unexplained simply cannot be explained, it’s time to dig a little deeper and accept the fact that some ghoulish foul play may be to blame. Here are some of the creepiest tales of movie set ghosts.
Burning down the house… except for this ghost’s favorite room
William Friedkin’s 1973 film adaptation of the best-selling novel, The Exorcist, has gone on to be an iconic piece of pop culture. Besides being the first horror flick to be nominated at the Academy Awards for Best Picture, it’s also heralded by many as being one of the scariest, to boot (via Strange Magazine). What many people may not know, however, are the unsettling amount of freak accidents that happened before, during, and after the production of the film.
Along with the nine deaths associated with the movie, actress Ellen Burstyn “wrenched her back […] and Jason Miller’s youngest son, Jordan, was struck and nearly killed by a man on a motorbike” (via Entertainment Weekly). If you think that’s bizarre, just wait. As Friedkin told Entertainment Weekly, “One day at 4 in the morning, I got a call from a production manager and he said ‘Don’t bother coming to work this morning. The set is burning to the ground right now as we speak.'”
Sure enough, the entire set burned to the ground after a pigeon flew into a lightbox and caused a short circuit — except for one particular area: the bedroom used for the exorcism scenes. While all of this is enough to make one give up on the project entirely, Friedkin isn’t wholly convinced of any otherworldly influences, and as Entertainment Weekly summarizes, he “dismisses any notion the set was actually haunted.”
How many omens do you need to give up on a project?
If a story goes by the name “The Omen,” you better believe it’ll have some ominous tales attached to it. The 1976 supernatural flick revolves around Damien (played by Harvey Spencer Stephens), the son of the devil. While this may sound like spooky mumbo jumbo, many believe that the movie set itself was cursed — with tragic events occurring even after production.
According to Bloody Disgusting, two months before filming, Gregory Peck (who plays Damien’s father), suffered his own loss: his son committed suicide. As the outlet notes, “The subject matter [in the movie] even deals with Peck’s character struggling to kill his son.” Carrying on nonetheless, once production finally started, two separate planes that flew Peck and the movie’s screenwriter, David Seltzer, were both struck by lightning. “Not long after, executive producer Mace Neufeld’s plane was also struck by lightning.” In a final, spooky, pièce de résistance of airplane fiascoes, “Gregory Peck canceled a flight reservation of his, only to later learn that his plane had crashed and killed everyone that was aboard!”
Somehow, everyone still decided it was a good idea to film a flick that quite literally gave them infinite bad omens, and on the first day of shooting, “a head-on car collision would injure a lot of crew members,” while two weeks after filming completed, the zookeeper in charge of “the baboon scene at the zoo was eaten alive by a lion.”
Claw marks, everywhere!
Ed and Lorraine Warren may very well be two of the best known real-life paranormal investigators around. They have been involved in some of the most famous haunts, and their experience with the Perron family in the ’70s served as the basis for 2013’s spookfest, The Conjuring.
Who knows what sort of ghouls the Warrens may have angered throughout their adventures, but considering the unsettling occurrences that revolved around the flick’s production, it’s safe to assume that the investigative couple brought along some real-life spirits with them. As revealed by Cinema Blend, Vera Farmiga, who played Lorraine, told the story of a phone call with the movie’s director, James Wan. “I had just been researching Lorraine […] I was on the computer, and I had closed it. We had our conversation […] and I opened the computer screen and there were three digital claw marks, from the upper right diagonal to the lower left.” That’s not all, once shooting was completed, Farmiga went home and woke up the next morning with “three claw mark bruises across [her] thigh.”
The set itself also had tales of creepy haunts. As producer Rob Cowen told Coming Soon, the Warrens had an artifact room filled with allegedly possessed items — which were recreated on-set. “There’s a wooden pig that we had in there […] everyone attests [it] would move around the room. It would be there and they’d come back and it would have moved over to there.”
The exorcism of Coronation Street
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Longtime British soap opera, Coronation Street, doesn’t seem like the type of set that would be haunted, but lo and behold, it was home to so many freak occurrences, an exorcist actually had to be called in to intervene.
As revealed by British tabloid The Daily Star in 2017 (via Pressreader), “exploding sound equipment and weird banging noises have been blamed on poltergeist attacks,” which left its main stars feeling “freaked out.” Granadaland chief Christopher Wandsworth explained, “We know there have been numerous rumors over the years about paranormal happenings.” So, is there any inkling of information as to who may be the ominous ghost in question? As it turns out, some people believe that it’s the spirit of late Coronation Street actress Pat Phoenix (above, left), who died in 1986 (yeah, the show’s been on air for that long).
“An exorcism was our last resort,” declared Wandsworth, who eventually called in a real Roman Catholic priest to help out (a video of the priest conducting an exorcism is even available for viewing online). Thankfully, the set isn’t in use anymore, with the crew moving the filming location to Media City, in Salford, that same year.
The tragedy of The Crow
The creation of The Crow is a bleak story: writer James O’Barr conceived the cult comic book after his fiancée’s death when he was just 18 — a way to cope after suffering such a tragedy. Per SyFy Wire, “the narrative follows a murdered man who has come back from the dead to avenge his and his fiancée’s brutal murders.” Pretty bleak, right? Well, the movie adaptation was just as macabre.
In early 1993, filming began, with Bruce Lee’s son, Brandon Lee, cast as the lead. “There’s plenty of material if you want to find a curse in the making of the movie The Crow,” explained author Bridget Baiss to Cursed Films. “When they set up pre-production offices, they had a voicemail that said, ‘Don’t make this movie, bad things will happen.'”
However, it wasn’t the “serious burns” that carpenter Jim Martishius suffered on the first day of filming that had people talking, or the countless other freak accidents. No, it was the death of Brandon Lee himself that left a mark on the acting world. Per SyFy Wire, on the day Lee was to be shot by a prop gun, “a slug had become lodged in the barrel […] shooting the blank propelled the slug.” Tragically, Lee fell to the ground, and within hours, had passed away. As the outlet goes on to note, “In another unsettling parallel to the story […] Lee had been set to marry his own real-life fiancée later that month.”
The Twilight Zone curse… or just plain neglect?
The tragedy that surrounded the set of 1983’s The Twilight Zone is baffling. Was the set cursed? Many seem to think so, because the only other option blames director John Landis of extreme negligence. “The incident […] always stuck with me,” mused VP of Development at Blumhouse Pictures, Ryan Turek, to Cursed Films. “Film sets are controlled chaos […] many precautions are made.” Editor-In-Chief of Fangoria, Phil Nobile Jr., echoed a similar sentiment, adding, “To give life to these cursed legends, The Twilight Zone accident […] lays it all bare.”
Per Meaww, Landis, as talented as he was, “wasn’t the most responsible filmmaker,” known for “his carefree attitude towards safety.” Aside from firing real bullets during a scene that took place during the Vietnam war, he also illegally hired two child actors for the flick, demanding they work late night for a helicopter explosion scene (at the time, it was “prohibited to make children work after a certain hour.”) The explosion would see lead Vic Morrow “run across the street to save the Vietnamese children from the explosion.”
According to Slate, “pyrotechnic fireballs engulfed” the chopper, causing it to fall and crush one of the children, “then toppled over, and its main blade sliced through Morrow” and the other child. While “civil suits against the studio and Landis were settled,” and the director was miraculously “acquitted of serious charges,” there’s no denying this tragedy left a mark on everyone involved.
When the innkeepers are otherworldly
The creepiest thing surrounding 2011’s horror flick, The Innkeepers, is that the hotel that inspired the haunted tale is actually in the movie. As director Ti West revealed to IndieWire, he came across the Yankee Pedlar Inn after placing his crew there during production of his previous film, The House of the Devil. “It was the best option,” he explained, adding, “It was the cheapest and nicest place we could find and about 25 minutes from our location.”
Sure enough, whenever they’d retire back to the inn after shooting the satanic flick, “weirder stuff would happen back at the hotel.” After speaking with the staff, West found out that “the whole town believes it’s haunted.” It suddenly hit the director: “Why not make a movie we lived?”
Along with doors closing on their own, TVs that would turn off and on, and lights burning out, “Everyone on crew has very vivid dreams every night, which is really strange.” Along with actress Sarah Paxton waking up “in the middle of the night thinking someone was in the room with her,” allegedly everyone had stories. As for West? The director was too preoccupied with completing the flick but admits that shooting there must have been “a method actor’s dream.”
The Amityville Horror curse that’s lasted decades
In 1977, writer Jay Anson shocked the public with the release of his book, The Amityville Horror, which depicted real-life hauntings at the house of 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, a suburb of Long Island, N.Y. By 1979, the eponymous movie came out. Strangely enough, the film sets of both the original flick and its remake in 2005 were home to some paranormal occurrences.
According to Bloody Disgusting, director Stuart Rosenberg tried getting approval to shoot the original film in the house itself, but the city denied entrance, “wanting distance from any possible negative press.” The movie’s lead, James Brolin, initially didn’t want to sign onto the project, worried that the flick “would be too hokey.” Nevertheless, Rosenberg persisted, giving Brolin the book to read at home. During a particularly scary climax, Brolin recalls a pair of his pants — which he had hung up — suddenly dropping to the ground. “He took that as a sign to accept the part.”
While the trouser scenario could be chalked up to just one freak event, details of the remake’s production take the spook-factor even further. As actor Ryan Reynolds told Movie Web, “A lot of the crew were waking up at 3:15 in the morning which was when all these atrocities in the house took place each time.” If that’s not all, Kathy Lutz, the woman who originally moved into the real-life nightmare, died during the filming of the remake. Coincidence? Or just plain eerie?
The set of Ghost wasn’t just romance and pottery
During the making of 1982’s Poltergeist, producer Steven Spielberg famously used real skeletons for one particular scene. As actress JoBeth Williams confirmed during a Reddit AMA, “I thought the skeletons were fake, I thought the prop department made them. But later I found out they were REAL skeletons bought very cheaply. That really grossed me out.”
So, did they invite some paranormal creatures onto the set? Some seem to think so, especially due to the numerous deaths surrounding the cast, and a freaky accident during filming. As actor Oliver Robins revealed to Icons of Fright, he almost got choked to death by an animatronic clown during one scene. “What happened was that contraption got caught around my neck. I was in a tight confined space under the bed and […] It’s almost like a car accident.”
Along with actress Dominique Dunne tragically passing away after her boyfriend strangled her shortly after filming, it’s the death of lead child star Heather O’Rourke in 1988 that raises the most eyebrows. Per AP News, she died at the age of 12 from cardiac arrest, after experiencing septic shock from a congenital bowel obstruction — without any prior symptoms. According to Celebrity Ghosts and Notorious Hauntings, it is believed that she haunts Stage 19 of Paramount Studios, the same set where she filmed the famous flick — one that was also home to 1990’s Ghost, starring Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore.
The ‘real’ Phantom of the Opera
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What’s better than one specific movie being haunted? An entire set that housed countless flicks, of course. According to Haunted Hollywood, Stage 28 of Universal Studios in Los Angeles has a long-running horror history attached to it, home to various classics “including Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy, and The Wolfman.” Most important (for our purposes, at least), is that 1925’s The Phantom of the Opera starring Lon Chaney was also shot there, with the stage itself being specifically built two years prior to “realistically depict the interior of the grandiose opera house and its labyrinthine underground lair.”
Considering the sound stage was still in use all the way up to 2014, when Universal Studios decided to demolish it, “dozens of employees and guests, from set designers to security guards […] have spotted the ghost of a man wearing a black cape scurrying high overhead on the catwalks.” Naturally, it is believed that the presence is that “of the original Phantom,” Chaney himself.
Per Inside Universal, while the sound stage was destroyed, “Phantom’s set pieces are rumored to be removed and preserved.” Allegedly, “the site is likely to be used for future theme park development,” meaning guests may get a chance to experience a real paranormal encounter, on top of the already anxiety-inducing roller coasters that make amusement parks so popular. Fun, huh?
‘Alright, Lucy. Start ‘splaining’
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Much like Studio 28 at Universal, there’s another famous Hollywood location that’s allegedly home to the supernatural: the Sunset Las Palmas Studios. According to Hollywoodland, the set was founded in 1919 and was home to iconic films and shows such as the first two seasons of I Love Lucy, Hell’s Angels, and The Beverly Hillbillies. If that’s not all, Shirley Temple also “made her film debut here.”
So, where does any sort of grim tale come into play at this Hollywood haunt? The story goes that in 1946, studio electrician Edward W. Gray was found dead at Sunset Las Palmas after “[suffering] a fractured pelvis, numerous internal injuries, a skull fracture and facial lacerations.” It’s believed that Gray had fallen from a 65-foot catwalk above, plummeting to his death.
Since his untimely passing, rumors began circulating “about phenomenon on that particular lot, including ‘cold spots, unexplained noises, unusual shadows on sound stages, lights going on and off, things being moved, etc. all reported by guards, workers, maintenance workers and film workers on the lot.'” In the famous words of Desi Arnaz, Lucille Ball’s onscreen (and real-life husband), “Alright. Start ‘splaining.”
Rosemary’s Baby continued to kill… even after production wrapped
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In 2017, Vanity Fair dubbed Roman Polanski’s 1968 flick, Rosemary’s Baby, “The Most Cursed Hit Movie Ever Made” — with good reason. As the mag reveals, the film “only [brought] woe to nearly everyone who made it.”
The first unlucky victim was the movie’s composer, Krzysztof Komeda, who in 1968, after “roughhousing at a party […] fell off a rocky escarpment and into a four-month coma — the very same affliction Levin’s witches used to kill Rosemary’s suspicious friend in the book.” Never regaining consciousness, he passed away the following year. The flick’s next victim was producer William Castle, who in 1969 fell sick with kidney stones. Hauntingly enough, “While delirious in the hospital, he hallucinated scenes from the film and was said to have yelled, ‘Rosemary, for God’s sake, drop the knife!'”
However, the most publicized incident was the fate of Sharon Tate — Roman Polanski’s pregnant girlfriend. Per Vanity Fair, the Valley of the Dolls starlet originally had her eyes on the lead role of Rosemary — but Paramount went with Mia Farrow. “Tate instead loitered around the set […] and, say some, becoming increasingly obsessed with the occult.” As the legendary (albeit tragic) tale now goes, the starlet was “brutally murdered” at the hands of the Manson Family in 1969 — “while Rosemary’s Baby still lingered in theaters.”