Back by popular demand, I give you the stories behind some of your favorite horror classics - Part Two!
I'm watching The Omen as I type this - how great is Gregory Peck? And he almost wasn't cast in the part - the first pick was Charlton Heston, but he turned it down to make Midway. And thank God for that - just about a year earlier, Peck was contemplating retirement because he had been in a nasty string of box office bombs. But then The Omen came along and revived his career. He took a huge pay cut, but did option to get a cut of the film's gross. The movie made more than $60 million in the U.S. alone, so it quickly became Gregory Peck's highest-paying movie ever. On to the trivia!
- The little boy who played Damien, Harvey Stephens, dyed his hair dark just to play Damien - he was actually blond. It's the only major film role he ever had, although he did have a brief cameo in the 2006 remake as "Tabloid Reporter #3."
- I was delighted to find out that the actress who played Mrs. Baylock was in Hot Fuzz (I adore Simon Pegg). She was Joyce Cooper, the lady who ran the inn that Sgt. Angel stayed at - the one he had the "Fascist" and "Hag" verbal spat with.
- Equally interesting - the girl who played the nanny who offs herself in Damien's honor is Jack Palance's daughter, Holly.
- The scene where the baboons attack the car at the safari park really scared Harvey Stephens and Lee Remick. At first the scene wasn't working - they tried putting a baby baboon in the backseat of the car to make the baboons angry, but much to everyone's dismay, the baboons didn't really care. Instead, they took the head baboon, causing the herd to go insane, rushing and pounding on the car. That terror you see on Lee Remick's face is real. She wasn't expecting such a violent reaction.
- When the goldfish bowl falls to the floor and smashes, they're not really goldfish. They're just already-dead sardines painted orange, because director Richard Donner refused to kill goldfish just for the sake of the movie.
- Just like the 2006 remake, marketing made a huge deal out of 666 being the sign of Satan. If you remember, the 2006 version came out on 6-6-06. The '76 version was sneak-previewed on June 6, 1976, and you'd better believe that date was picked on purpose. While movie patrons were in the theater watching the preview, theater employees were busy putting up posters to be seen as soon as the customers exited the theater. They read, "Today is the SIXTH day of the SIXTH month of nineteen-seventy-SIX!" THe trick worked - many customers were seriously spooked.
- Maybe The Omen is cursed. Much has been made of the bizarre accidents that befell members of the cast and crew. For instance: Scriptwriter and novel writer David Seltzer's plan was struck by lightning. Gregory Peck's plane was struck by lightning too, on a separate occasion, and he was almost killed in a plane crash - he canceled his reservation on a flight that ended up plummeting to the ground, killing everyone on board. Director Richard Donner's hotel was bombed. The Rottweiler trainers were attacked by the dogs they were training. Eerily, the girlfriend of the special effects coordinator who rigged up the famous decapitation scene was decapitated a couple of years later. And even people barely involved were at risk: a warden where the safari park scene was filmed was killed by a lion just a day after the scene was shot.
- The scene where Lee Remick falls from the second floor of the house was done not by having her actually fall, strapped into a harness or anything. She "fell" standing upright and was pushed backward by a dolly onto a "floor" built onto a wall.
- How did the unknown Harvey Stephens get the prime role of Damien? Well, during casting, director Richard Donner told all of the little boys who were auditioning to attack him like they would attack Kathy during the church scene. I mean, that's probably fun for any little boy - but Stephens really played it to the hilt, scratching and clawing at Donner's face and kicking him in the groin. The groin kick must have really won Donner over.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre
I must admit, Texas Chainsaw isn't one of my favorites. I have to agree with the commenter who said they aren't really into the torture movies - Saw, Hostel and Turistas are so not up my alley. But, that doesn't mean I don't appreciate it for what it is - a groundbreaking movie for the genre. It was so terrifying that people actually walked out during a mere sneak preview of the movie. Like a lot of the other movies we've discussed, it had a tiny little budget - $60,000, although some accounts say it eventually ballooned up to as much as twice that. Doesn't really matter, though, since it ended up making $30.8 million in the U.S.
- Director Tobe Hooper says he was standing in the hardware section of a store, getting angry because the crowd was so huge. Then he saw the chainsaws and a lightbulb went off in his head.
- Edwin Neal, who played the hitchhiker, said that filming his scenes with John Dugan (he played the grandfather) was the worst experience of his entire life. It took 36 hours to film his scenes in temperatures that were consistently over 100 degrees. The room was filled with rotting animal carcasses and food. Neal has emphasized just how horrible it was by saying, "I had been in Vietnam, with people trying to kill me, so I guess that shows how bad it was."
- There's no way the film is a true story. The opening says that the events took place on August 18, 1973, but the movie was actually shot from July 15, 1973, thought August 14, 1973. However, urban legends still persist that the horrifying events actually did happen near Poth, Texas, a town about 50 miles south of San Antonio.
- The dude who played Leatherface, Gunnar Hansen, could easily run faster than Marilyn Burns (Sally). He employed lots of little tricks to slow himself up - if you watch when he is chasing her through the woods, at one point in the background, he starts to randomly slice up branches.
- Gunnar Hansen had to wear the same shirt for the entire month of filming. It couldn't be washed, because the color might change and provide an inconsistency. So he wore it for four weeks in the same conditions noted above - Texas heatwave, lots of fake blood and gore, etc. By the end of the shoot, no one would eat lunch with Hansen when he was in costume because he smelled so bad.
- Supposedly, the film never would have been made if it wasn't for the porn Deep Throat. The financing for Texas Chainsaw came from the profits of the Linda Lovelace flick.
Let's just keep the Tobe Hooper train rolling - he directed Poltergeist, which is maybe the best ghost movie of all time. And unlike our others, this was a Spielberg flick – it had a budget and a crack marketing crew. But like Texas Chainsaw, being involved with the movie comes with its downfalls. I’m talking about the Curse, of course.
Both actresses who played the daughters in the movie died at very young ages – Dominique Dunne, who played the older daughter, was murdered by her abusive ex-boyfriend in 1982, the same year Poltergeist was released. She was only 22. The actress who played little Carol Anne in the entire series died in 1988 at the age of 12 – the cause is a little murky. First it was called an extreme case of the flu, then changed to septic shock, and is now thought to be attributed to acute bowel obstruction. Two of the actors from Poltergeist II also died, one from stomach cancer and one from post-operative kidney failure.
But it’s not just deaths – lots of other odd things happened as well. The house that served as the exterior of the Freeling home was damaged in a 1994 earthquake; JoBeth Williams (she played the mom) would come home after filming every day to find that all of the pictures on the wall in her house were crooked; and in the scene where the son, Robbie, is choked by the clown, something went wrong with the mechanical prop and the actor was actually being choked. These are just a few – a quick Google for “Poltergeist curse” will lead you to all sorts of interesting stories. Some of them are a stretch, to be sure, but it definitely makes for some creepy reading. Snopes has a good article about it, too. A few more tidbits:
• According to both Craig T. Nelson (the Freeling dad) and JoBeth Williams, the skeletons used in the swimming pool scene near the end were the real thing due to a mistake by the prop company. I feel like there are probably some bio-hazard issues there – I wonder if the cast was just told that he props were the real thing to elicit real terror during filming the scene.
• Like Texas Chainsaw, director Tobe Hooper had some real-life inspiration: a previous encounter with a poltergeist. When he was a teen, his father passed away. For weeks afterward Hooper says random dishes would fly of their own accord around the house.
• You know the scene where the researcher is looking in the bathroom mirror and starts hallucinating that he’s tearing the skin off of his own face? The hands actually ripping the flesh off belong to Steven Spielberg.
• Look close at the kids’ rooms – they’re packed with Star Wars toys.
• Drew Barrymore audtioned for the Carol Anne part.
• Steven Spielberg and I have something in common: a fear of clowns. In the movie, both of Robbie’s fears – the clown and the tree outside of his room – are things Steven was scared of as a child.
• Apparently the MGM lion roar is the same roaring noise the Beast makes when it attacks the house at the end of the movie. I’m going to have to go pull out my copy of Poltergeist and check that one out.
• When JoBeth Williams is in the kitchen cleaning, turns to get some more supplies, and then turns back around to find the chairs stacked up on the table – that was all done in one smooth shot. While the camera is following her over to her cleaning supplies, crew members quickly removed the single chairs and set an already-constructed stack on top of the table. IMDB says if you watch the toaster on the counter while JoBeth is assembling her cleaning stuff, you can see the crew members stacking the chairs in the reflection. Another thing I’m definitely going to check out.
So, that’s it for one more round of horror movie facts. Would a third round be overkill? So many wonderful, terrifying movies… so little time.
Previously: The Stories Behind Three Classic Halloween Movies.