From ‘Wizard of Oz’ to ‘Troy’: Ten Cursed Films
Photo: Everett Collection
Scary movies are orchestrated to pluck at our nerve endings. But what might be scarier are movies that have been cursed themselves.
What does cursed exactly mean? Did a black specter really hover over "Rebel Without a Cause" (1955), "Superman" (1978), or "The Dark Knight" (2008) because of actors' premature deaths or life-altering injuries? Or aren't on-set accidents — such as the heartrendingly shocking decapitations in "Twilight Zone: The Movie" (1983) or the shooting in "The Crow" (1994) — be exactly that: accidents? And isn't it more than a coincidence that horror movies get the most (publicized) hexes?
Maybe. Sure, you can be skeptical. But be they mysterious forces, publicity stunts, or just life (and gruesome death) getting in the way, sometimes there are just some bad vibes you'd rather avoid — except on the big screen. Here is a list of some famously plagued films (in chronological order) — so decide for yourself. (Don't forget to share, below, your intel on afflicted movies.)
"The Wizard of Oz" (1939). What, America's favorite classic — doomed? We're not even going to go into Judy Garland's later drug addiction —- there was plenty enough chaos on this set. Directors were playing a game of musical chairs, as a quick succession of big names (Richard Thorpe, George Cukor, Victor Fleming, King Vidor) helmed the pic. The original Tin Man, Buddy Epsen, bowed out after aluminum powder makeup infected his lungs. The makeup was changed, but it still gave the sub, Jack Haley, an eye infection. The Wicked Witch, aka Margaret Hamilton, had to take two weeks off after a special effect involving flames backfired (and her stand-in didn't fare well either). No wonder she preferred being melted by a bucket of water. Then there were the underpaid munchkins who got stinking drunk every night, the winged monkeys falling from wire, and even Toto, aka Terry, got her paw broke and had to take a doggie break. The film itself wouldn't gain its storied place in pop culture until decades later, thanks to television reruns — a sign perhaps that some curses do have an expiration date.
"The Conqueror" (1956).The misbegotten notion of John Wayne playing a Mongol leader is enough to make you shout "Stop! Jinx!" So bad that it makes your insides squirm, this picture would be a forgettable blip in the Cowboy's canon except for its sobering true-life lesson on the dangers of radiation. More than any 1950s sci-fi movie, "The Conqueror" validated a generation's anxiety over the bomb when 91 out of the 220 people who worked on location in Utah were diagnosed with cancer. Forty-six died of the disease, among them its stars John Wayne, Susan Haywood, and Agnes Moorehead, as well as director Howard Hughes.
Experts say under ordinary circumstances only 30 people out of a group of that size should have gotten cancer. The cause? No one can say for sure, but many attribute the cancers to radioactive fallout from U.S. atom bomb tests in nearby Nevada. The whole ghastly story is told in The Hollywood Hall of Shame by Harry and Michael Medved. (Oct. 26, 1984, The Straight Dope)
The Straight Dope also chronicles a black panther attack, a flash flood, and devastating 120-degree heat, but 13 weeks sucking in the radiation clouds drifting from nearby Yucca Flats, Nevada, (where 11 atomic bombs had been tested) make this indeed an unnerving curse. This might also account for Hughes' mental downfall: He yanked "The Conqueror" from the public view and reportedly watched it over and over in his last days.