Even with all the meticulous planning that goes into development and the thousands (or millions) of dollars that are invested, film production can go unexpectedly wrong. Most of the time, the mistakes are small oversights that wind up buried in IMDB trivia. However, occasionally there are onset disasters that are cringe-inducing to even read about. The following are horrific film production stories that somehow defied the odds and led to incredible final products.
The Evil Dead is considered to be a horror classic, featuring five friends who venture to a cabin in the woods and release evil demonic forces. Not exactly an innovative idea, and yet the film’s charisma and reckless gore struck a chord with horror buffs and brought novice director Sam Raimi into the spotlight. The production, however, was about as horrifying as the film itself. Actors wore cheap contact lenses that covered half of their eyeballs and needed to be taken out every fifteen minutes. For the location, Raimi selected a cabin that was shittier than expected; it even had cow manure caked along the sides. Since no actual demon guts were available, artificial ones were crafted from oatmeal, snakes, marshmallow strings, and Madagascar cockroaches.
The six-week projected schedule stretched out into the full winter season, and the crew became accustomed to working in 15° weather. Eventually, the team ran out of their $300,000 budget and crew members began dropping like flies (maybe it was the manure). Every cameraman bailed and Raimi had no choice but to operate the cameras and change the lenses himself. He even dabbled in make-up, bloodying up the actors and then washing his hands with the hot water that was used for coffee. Eventually, there were only five crew members remaining and a single actor: Bruce Campbell. The remaining hour of the film was shot with the resilient and/or insane Campbell and for the other characters, stand-ins wearing wigs. Despite all of this, the film’s success led to a franchise and several remakes.
American Graffiti, the story of four teenagers taking on the town one last time, was one of George Lucas’ first creative endeavors. He wrote the treatment himself and struggled to find a studio that would support his farfetched idea: a film that would require the rights for nearly wall-to-wall mainstream rock music. When Universal finally agreed to back him for $700,000, the production was a mess from the start. Lucas’ team had their license for shooting revoked after just one night due to excessive noise, and they had to completely relocate.
Some highlights from set include Harrison Ford being arrested for his role in a bar fight, a crew member being arrested for growing marijuana, and someone accidentally setting Lucas’ motel room on fire. The famous drag race crash scene required numerous takes because Lucas wanted it to mirror his own harrowing car accident from when he was eighteen. During one of these takes, the ’55 Chevy’s axle broke off and failed to veer off the road as planned, nearly running over two cameramen. Fortunately, everyone made it out alive, but not everyone was paid. With the budget they received, Lucas couldn’t afford to pay every crew member and thus offered many of them screen credit instead, which at the time was only typical for department heads. And thus, the practice of credits that are almost as long as the movie itself was born.
Stephen King has not made any sort of effort to hide his distaste for Kubrick’s adaptation of his novel, calling it “like this big gorgeous car with no engine“. The film was a critical success, and yet making it was not exactly a positive experience for those involved. The film took an exhausting 13-months to shoot due to Kubrick’s unusual directorial tactics. For instance, Kubrick demanded script changes so often that Jack Nicholson stopped bothering to learn his lines before coming to set.
It seems clear, however, that nobody had a worse experience filming The Shining than lead actress Shelley Duvall. Kubrick wanted Duvall to be anxious and visibly distraught, so he would regularly berate her and instruct the crew not to show her any compassion. The famous baseball bat scene allegedly took a world-record 127 takes, at what point she was on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Duvall has since called the experience “excruciating, almost unbearable.” By the time production wrapped, her hair was falling out and she had to keep water bottles nearby to hydrate herself from crying so often. All work and no play makes anyone miserable.
It’s the movie that is responsible for a major bump in shark phobias… no, not Sharkboy and Lavagirl. Jaws is one of the most famous movies ever made, but the production itself was not so seaworthy. Director Steven Spielberg, who was only 29 years old at the time, demanded that the film be shot out on the open ocean, rather than in a studio tank. This resulted in a slew of issues: the budget doubled and the days of shooting increased from 55 to 150. The mechanical shark, which was actually a trio of mechanical sharks that were used for three distinct angles, was nicknamed Bruce by Spielberg. Bruce had a nasty habit of deteriorating in the water, and occasionally sinking. At one point, a crew ship carrying all the equipment followed suit, taking the expensive gear down with it. Furthermore, a short stuntman was requested in order to make the mechanical sharks seem bigger, but the guy sent by Hollywood couldn’t dive and was afraid to get back in the water after just one take.
To make things even more complicated, the script was unfinished at the start of shooting because Spielberg wanted to change parts of the novel it was adapted from. In fact, the iconic line “We’re gonna need a bigger boat,” was made up on the spot by Robert Shaw. And who said improv classes don’t pay off?
James Cameron already had a reputation for being a demanding and harsh director even before he decided to make a movie underwater. Actors for this epic film had to work an average of eleven hours a day 80 feet down, and near a nuclear reactor. Because of the film’s shooting conditions, every single cast and crew member had to become a certified diver (at least he learned from Spielberg’s mistake). Cameron also ensured they use a water tank rather than open water, but in this case his planning backfire. On the very first day of shooting, the giant 150,000 tank sprang a leak, and continued to leak nearly every Sunday, their one day off.
via The Dissolve
Conditions onset were not exactly safe. Actor Ed Harris almost drowned, as did Cameron himself while trying to block a scene in a flooding room. Meanwhile, to avoid having to get in and out of the water and save time between takes, Cameron instructed everyone to simply relieve themselves in their wet suits. Clearly crew members were pissed (pun intended) because once production ended, t-shirts were made saying “Cast member on the “Abuse” and “Hey you can’t scare me, I’ve worked for James Cameron“.
Rosemary’s Baby is another prominent horror classic, about a pregnant woman who discovers that she is going to give birth to Satan. Amidst the chilling premise, many of those involved in the film were certain that the production itself was cursed. The film’s lead, Mia Farrow, received divorce papers from her then-husband, Frank Sinatra while onset. But the real trouble occurred once production wrapped.
via The Red List
One year after the film was finished the composer died of a blood clot, which happened to be the exact same way Rosemary’s friend passed away in the script. Later, director Polanski’s wife was killed (along with four other women) by Charles Manson; to make things especially creepy, she was eight months pregnant. Still not convinced of the curse? Beatles member John Lennon (you may have heard of him) was killed in the same apartment where the movie was shot. When demon babies want to lay down a curse, clearly they don’t slack off.
That’s right, James Cameron made it onto this list twice (which could either be considered a good or bad thing, depending on how you look at it). There were a few specifics about the Titanic set that made it a tough experience. For one thing, the crew had to grow accustomed to Cameron’s demanding schedule of 15-day shifts and 80-hour work weeks. Furthermore, the water that Rose walks through while the ship is sinking was actually from the Atlantic Ocean and was freezing cold. Kate Winslet wasn’t wearing a wetsuit and got pneumonia a few days later.
However, the strangest onset occurrence didn’t affect James Cameron nor the show’s leads. The ship became a drug-infested frenzy when it was discovered that someone had laced PCP into the crew’s meal– lobster chowder to be exact. Once people started complaining of hallucinations they started being rushed to the hospital. The chowder culprit was never officially discovered, but apparently there were two chefs who had recently been laid off by Cameron with access to the kitchen. I’m sure there’s no relation though…
The Wizard of Oz is one of the most beloved films of all time, but it’s relatively unknown how much turmoil occurred behind the scenes. The entire process involved a total of five directors and seventeen writers, because so many kept either quitting or being fired. The role of the Tin Man originally belonged to Buddy Ebsen, but the aluminum powder they used to coat his body made him incredibly sick. After being rushed to the hospital, he was quietly replaced by Jack Haley, who was made-up in aluminum paste instead. The makeup used for the Wicked Witch was not so practical either… during one “hot” take where she was to disappear in a puff of smoke, she was temporarily lit on fire.
A popular rumor that has circulated about The Wizard Of Oz stated that a Munchkin hung himself during filming. While this is only that– a rumor (it was actually just a live bird used to make the woods feel more realistic), the Munchkins brought plenty of real scandal to set. Apparently they were exploding with sexual energy, as one producer recalls, “They had orgies in the hotel and we had to have police on about every floor.” I guess it’s true that size doesn’t matter, after all.
The Revenant put its cast and crew through the coldest imaginable form of hell. The selected location was Alberta, Canada, where there was no cell signal and the production had to rely on snowmobiles for communication. Eventually, even the headstrong director, Alejandro González Iñárritu, had to admit that -30° was a little too chilly. They relocated to Argentina, where the weather was only slightly warmer. Because Iñárritu insisted on shooting in sequence and only using natural light, the crew had a very small window of time each day to get any actual footage.
Although one background character had to be dragged along the ground in the freezing cold, it’s DiCaprio who suffered through the most brutal conditions. He had to wear forty-seven prosthetic pieces that took 4-5 hours to apply every day. Despite being a vegetarian, DiCaprio insisted on eating raw liver to obtain the realistic bloody effect that Iñárritu was looking for. Finally, he had to dive into a numbing river multiple times, and his bearskin coat would completely freeze over. It’s okay, though; these days, I’m sure Leo’s Oscar is keeping him warm.
“My film is not about Vietnam, it is Vietnam.” said Francis Ford Coppola about the making of Apocalypse Now. When he decided to adapt the novel Heart Of Darkness, the anti-war project immediately started off on a sour note. First, all of Coppola’s top picks for the lead role turned him down and he reacted by hurling his five Oscars out a window. Shooting took place in the Philippines and lasted for 68 weeks despite the projected timeframe of 14 weeks. Coppola wound up investing $30 million of his own money to finish the film, and even signed over his house and winery to the bank as collateral. The stakes couldn’t be much higher and yet luck was not on Coppola’s side, as he would soon learn.
The set was plagued by monsoons, tropical diseases, and crazed drug binges. Coppola got in trouble for filming ritual killings of water buffalos and several of the film’s helicopters were stolen by the Philippine dictator; unbeknownst to Coppola, his props masters were dressing the set with real dead bodies from a local gravedigger instead of artificial corpses. The lead actors only contributed to the chaos. Marlon Brando showed up to set obese and refusing to learn his lines, Dennis Hopper was on a cocaine binge, and Martin Sheen was so stressed that he suffered a heart attack. Coppola himself lost one hundred pounds over the course of production, and threatened to commit suicide three times. The film wound up being a major hit, but those involved were left with lasting emotional scars. As Dennis Hopper proclaimed, “I felt like I had fought in the war.”
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