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Antrum and 12 Other Cursed Movies That Will Make Your Skin Crawl

Part urban legend and part real-world tragedy, the stories behind these films are equally audacious, unbelievable, and creepy as hell.

by | April 17, 2020 | Comments

Goat effigy in Antrum
(Photo by Else Films)

Horror films thrive on their aura of danger, and whether you’re in a darkened theater surrounded by strangers or in your basement rec room with all the lights turned off, the experience can be heightened by the mere suggestion that something might be “off” about the movie you’re watching. It’s a concept that’s so compelling that Shudder recently premiered an entire docuseries dedicated to it; it’s called, rather appropriately, Cursed Films.

In honor of the most recent addition to the canon — the faux documentary Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made — we’re going to pay a little tribute to the “found footage” horror movies that tricked people into believing their authenticity, as well as those urban legend-like “cursed” films that earned sinister reputations because of the unfortunate, disturbing, and sometimes tragic events that were allegedly attributed to them.

But they’re only movies, right?


Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made (2019) 73%

Antrum (2019)
(Photo by Else Films)

What better way to kick things off than with a movie that is a perfect Venn diagram of both concepts – “found footage” faux-real horror and supposedly cursed films. Antrum purports to be a documentary about a lost 1970s film that was only screened twice, because everyone who watches it dies. The movie opens with an 8-minute documentary detailing the curse around the film, then shows you the “film” itself, which is about two young kids who attempt to dig a hole to Hell to save their recently deceased dog. The filmmakers do their best to make the movie-within-a-movie look authentically ’70s to help sell the whole façade. The fact that Antrum’s release was preceded by rumors and word of mouth among hardcore horror fans (much like the way the controversial 2011 A Serbian Film grew a reputation well before it was ever screened publicly) lent the movie an air of real mystery. Some eager horror buffs even tried to track the “original” Antrum down, believing it to be real.

Plausibility Score: 2 out of 5
Antrum is a nice try, but in the age of advanced search engines, it’s hard to fully convince people that a film with a supposed body count of 60 could truly have been “lost.”


Snuff (American Cannibale) (1976)

Poster for Snuff (1976)

The concept of a “snuff” film – a movie depicting an actual murder – basically started in 1971 when Ed Sanders, the author of a book about the Manson Family, asserted that Charles Manson and his followers had filmed their killing spree (no footage was ever found). Then, just a few years later in 1976, husband-and-wife directors Michael and Roberta Findlay made a cheap exploitation film called Slaughter about an actress and her director who are murdered by a Manson Family-esque clan in South America. Grindhouse film distributor Allan Shackleton bought the film, changed the title to Snuff, and released it under the pretense that it depicted the real murder of the main actress (the tagline was “Filmed in South America…Where Life is Cheap!”). This kickstarted an obsession with snuff films, although none have ever been conclusively unearthed.

Plausibility Score: 4 out of 5
The Manson Family connection and the fact that people still believe in the existence of snuff films even today and really sell this one.


Poltergeist (1982) 85%

Perhaps the most famous “cursed” movie of all time, the original 1982 Poltergeist, about a suburban family terrorized by a supernatural presence, climaxed with a scene in which the mom (JoBeth Williams) is dragged into a partially dug-out pool and is surrounded by skeletons – the reveal being that the housing development in which they live was unscrupulously built on top of a graveyard. The rumor was that the film crew had not only used real skeletons, but had desecrated graves themselves to get them. Mysterious and untimely deaths of some of the actors in the trilogy, including young Heather O’Rourke (who played the abducted little girl Carol Anne), who died at the age of 12 due to a congenital intestinal issue, and Dominique Dunne (who played oldest sibling Dana), who was murdered by a jealous boyfriend at the age of 22, led to the urban legend that the ghosts of the unwitting skeletal “co-stars” had cursed the films and everyone who worked on them. It’s flimsy, because clearly major players like Williams, Craig T. Nelson, director Tobe Hooper, and producer Steven Spielberg walked away unscathed.

Plausibility Score: 1 out of 5
Although it’s the movie everyone cites when talking about curses, a lot of the supposed connections are pretty thin. Plus, more of the actors and crew survived unhurt than didn’t, and a lot of the “deaths” beyond the two young leads were simply age and explainable illness.


The Blair Witch Project (1999) 87%

Horror is a great way for young talents to break into the business because, often, what you don’t see is scarier than what you do, so it’s a godsend for indie filmmakers with more creativity than budget. The Blair Witch Project came about at exactly the right time – exploiting the still nascent “world wide web,” it managed to cultivate its own urban legend of supposedly lost cam footage that was recovered after a group of young filmmakers went missing. The conceit of it being filmed on the fly covered over the fact that you don’t really see much of anything, and the clever use of sound effects and the overall naturalistic performances by the lead actors made you think, just for a second, that maybe this was the real deal. Of course, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 came out around a year later to confirm that, yes, this was indeed just a cheesy horror franchise at its core.

Plausibility Score: 3 out of 5
It may have lost some luster since, but at the time? It really had people convinced. And the execution – from the early websites to the film itself – was nearly perfect.


The Omen (1976) 86%

Strap in for this one: Producer Harvey Bernhard claims that the initial idea for the seminal horror classic The Omen came from an advertising exec named Bob Munger. Munger suggested that a movie about the Antichrist would be cool, but that no one should actually make it because “the devil was at work and he didn’t want that film made.” He may have been right. Just a month before filming was to start, lead actor Gregory Peck’s son committed suicide. As he flew to the set, Peck’s plane was struck by lightning, and then executive producer Marc Neufeld’s plane was also struck by lightning on his way to the location. The hotel Neufeld and his wife were staying in then got bombed by the Irish Republican Army. The crew hired a small plane to do some aerial photography, but it was given to another client at the last minute; that plane crashed on takeoff and killed everyone on board. Filming a zoo sequence, the young boy playing the demonic Damien apparently upset the baboons so much they started freaking out, so an animal wrangler was called in to help; the next day, he was mauled by a tiger and killed. But perhaps the most chilling result of this “curse” was what happened to special effects supervisor John Richardson. One of his big FX sequences in The Omen was one in which a character is decapitated by a sheet of glass. While working on his next movie in the Netherlands, Richardson and his assistant were involved in a car accident, and his assistant was — you guessed it — decapitated. Legend has it the accident occurred near a street sign that read “Ommen, 66.6 km.” But it’s all coincidence, right?

Plausibility Score: 4 out of 5
It’s hard to write all of this off as coincidence. Even when people discount some of it – like the existence of the Dutch street sign – there’s a lot more that’s been verified.


Cannibal Holocaust (1980) 65%

Poster for Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
(Photo by ©F.D. Cinematografica courtesy Everett Collection)

Not long after Snuff, another film came under fire for allegedly depicting actual murders – and it was an early example of “found footage” horror, to boot. This Italian cult movie was built around the idea that it was footage discovered after an American film crew disappeared in the Amazon rainforest and were killed and eaten by indigenous cannibals. The gore was so intense and realistic that a few days after the movie’s premiere, Italian authorities confiscated the film, director Ruggero Deodato was charged with obscenity, and he was eventually slapped with a murder charge when it was suggested Cannibal Holocaust was, in fact, a snuff film. Although it was later proven that none of the actors were killed or harmed, the film does depict scenes of intense animal cruelty that were real. Fun fact: the fake documentary the crew was working on was called The Green Inferno, which would be the title adopted by director Eli Roth for his 2013 homage to Cannibal Holocaust.

Plausibility Score: 3 out of 5
The rough, grimy cheapness of the film and the addition of actual animal butchery make this feel almost like the real deal.


The Crow (1994) 82%

What’s unique about the “curse” of The Crow is that it isn’t so much about the film as it is an extension of a curse that is believed to have haunted martial arts icon Bruce Lee and his family for generations. Of course, the 1994 horror-tinged comic book adaptation is infamous due to the tragic death of star Brandon Lee, Bruce’s son, who died after a prop gun misfired and a projectile struck him. The film was hampered by setbacks and accidents – the set was destroyed numerous times, most notably by a hurricane that struck its North Carolina filming location – but in general, the problems seem to have been caused mostly by the fact that it was low budget and behind schedule, and corners were cut a little too recklessly. Some even claim that the Chinese mafia assassinated Bruce and Brandon, which is eerie when you think about the fact that Bruce Lee’s last film, Game of Death, seems to predict this. In that movie, Bruce’s character is a martial arts actor who is shot by an assassin posing as one of the stunt crew. Also, the biopic Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story anthropomorphizes the supposed family curse as a physical demon that haunts Lee his whole life, and at one point in the film, the demon goes after a young Brandon. Dragon was released in 1993 – a year before The Crow.

Plausibility Score: 2 out of 5
The idea of a Lee Family Curse is compelling, and it fits in with the whole mystical aura surrounding Bruce. But dig deeper into the on-set events of The Crow, and it all appears to be more a case of negligence and unprofessionalism than a sinister hex.


The Exorcist (1973) 83%

If the Devil really does exist, he seems to spend an awful lot of time on film sets. Before The Omen tempted fate with each shooting day, William Friedkin’s The Exorcist experienced its own unnerving incidents. Telling the story of two priests battling a demonic presence that has taken hold of a young girl named Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair), the film is an undisputed classic of the horror genre, and some of that may have to do with the notion that the film itself was actually possessed. Things got off to a rocky start when the MacNeil family home set – where much of the action takes place – was destroyed by fire. The only room that was untouched by the blaze…was Regan’s. In addition, almost all of the actors suffered injuries during the filming, and televangelist Billy Graham even claimed that “there is a power of evil in that film, in the fabric of the film itself” and suggested that simply projecting it was like opening a door for demons. The movie held its premiere in Rome, during a violent thunderstorm. One attendee even passed out and broke her jaw, later attempting to sue the production because she blamed subliminal messages for her tumble.

Plausibility Score: 3 out of 5
Some of the spookiness experienced on set and at early screenings was likely psychosomatic, but the movie still carries a heavy creep factor regardless.


Rosemary's Baby (1968) 96%

Why not complete Satan’s own personal trilogy with a supposedly cursed movie that pre-dates both The Omen and The Exorcist? Rosemary’s Baby is rightly credited with redefining the horror genre by taking it away from the campy cobwebs and castles of the old Vincent Price days and legitimizing it as a “real” grown-up art form. Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes star in the story of a young mother-to-be who moves into a New York apartment building that also happens to house a Satanic cult. Producer William Castle – who was infamous in the 1950s and 1960s for promoting all sorts of gimmicks like floating skeletons and rumbling theater seats in an effort to sell the “reality” of his horror movies – believed that real witches had cursed the set. The film’s composer suffered a nasty fall shortly after the movie wrapped and died after being comatose for several days. Castle himself fell ill with painful gallstones that required surgery. And, of course, director Roman Polanski’s wife at the time, actress Sharon Tate, and their unborn child would fall victim to the Manson Family a year after the film’s release.

Plausibility Score: 1 out of 5
It’s easy to think of anything Satan-related as tempting fate when it comes to curses or bad mojo, but most of these incidents seem loosely connected at best.


Faces of Death (1978) 25%

Faces of Death

Just as The Blair Witch Project came along at the perfect time to take advantage of early internet, the legend of Faces of Death is largely a product of the early 1980s VHS boom. Before Blockbuster, video stores were small (often seedy) mom-and-pop stores, and Faces of Death was one of those creepy little oddities you’d find on one of the dust-covered shelves. Allegedly depicting “real” deaths, it served as a badge of honor for anyone who was actually able to get ahold of a copy and watch it. Although the film does contain some real footage – like newsreel clips from an accident where you can see paramedics cleaning up the remains of a cyclist who had been struck and killed by a truck – it was almost entirely faked by writer and director John Alan Schwartz. Yes, even the infamous scene where a table full of diners appear to kill a trapped monkey and then eat its brains.

Plausibility Score: 1 out of 5
If you don’t catch on immediately when you’re introduced to the movie’s “medical professional” host, “Francis B. Gross,” you’ll catch on during sequences like the “real” shark attack that somehow has footage from the shark’s POV as it eats a diver. Did it get a cinematography credit?


Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983) 56%

Vic Morrow in Twilight Zone: The Movie
(Photo by Courtesy Everett Collection)

The film version of the classic horror and sci-fi television series let four different directors adapt a classic episode: “Kick the Can” by Steven Spielberg (Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark), “It’s a Good Life” by Joe Dante (Gremlins, Innerspace), “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” by George Miller (The Road Warrior, Mad Max: Fury Road), and “Time Out” by John Landis (Trading Places, Animal House). Although some claim the movie is cursed, it’s really just that there’s a sense of morbidity around it because veteran actor Vic Morrow (father of Jennifer Jason Leigh) and two young actors playing Vietnamese children were killed in an on-set accident during Landis’ segment when a helicopter that was part of a sequence recreating the Vietnam War crash-landed on them. None of the other directors experienced any bizarre or unexplained incidents, and all continued to have successful careers. But the tragedy hung a dark shadow over Landis and lends the movie a creepy, all-too-real feel.

Plausibility Score: 1 out of 5
Again, this was one horrible, tragic accident caused by director negligence. The rest of the film (and filmmakers) got on fine with no curse-related incidents.


GUINEA PIG: FLOWER OF FLESH AND BLOOD (1985)

A guinea pig pushing a tiny shopping cart
None of the images from this film are acceptable to show you, so here is a guinea pig pushing a tiny shopping cart. (Photo by Newspix/Getty Images)

Created by artist Hideshi Hino based on his own manga series, the Guinea Pig movies feature the same kind of faux documentary feel as something like Faces of Death or Cannibal Holocaust, and they’re legendary among hardcore horror fans. Without any real plot to speak of beyond “psycho kidnaps women and dismembers them in gruesome fashion while dressed as a samurai,” the movies do feel less like a story and more like some forbidden home video. That said, two incidents lend it a particular air of menace. One is that a copy of Flower of Flesh and Blood was sent to the FBI by Charlie Sheen – yes, Charlie Sheen – because he was convinced it was an actual snuff film (it was not, and all of the deaths and butchery were faked). The other is that a copy of the film was found in the home of a man named Tsutomu Miyazaki, a cannibalistic serial killer known as the Otaku Murderer who was behind the kidnapping and murder of four young girls between 1988 and 1989 in Japan. The film was believed to have inspired him.

Plausibility Score: 3 out of 5
All Hino had to do was not put a title card over the opening “stalking” sequence and it might have worked. The scene really looks and feels like something a creep would record as he follows women down the street. But no real serial killer goes into AfterEffects and adds cool titles and music cues to their murder footage. At least, not that we know of.


ATUK

John Belushi, Sam Kinison, John Candy, and Chris Farley
(Photo by Universal Pictures, 20th Century Fox Film Corp., Universal Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment)

Rounding out or list of horror is… not a horror film, but a movie that is believed to be so cursed it will never be made. A comedy based on a 1963 satirical novel called The Incomparable Atuk by Canadian author Mordecai Richler, the story is about an Inuit poet who travels to Toronto and has a series of fish-out-of-water experiences in the big city (the film version Americanized it by making Atuk a native of Alaska who travels to New York). Sounds pretty basic, right? It might well be, if the movie didn’t seem to kill every actor associated with the lead role. The curse of Atuk is particularly weird because the novel itself isn’t about anything sinister or paranormal. The first man up for the role was comedy legend John Belushi; after his untimely death from a drug overdose, the producers approached comedian Sam Kinison… who then died in a drunk driving accident. So they decided to offer the part to John Candy, who would die from a heart attack a few months after getting the script. Undaunted, the part was then dangled in front of another SNL vet – Chris Farley. He, too, would succumb to a drug overdose. Even stranger, Farley allegedly gave a copy of the script to a friend who he thought might also be interested in the role, namely fellow SNL alum Phil Hartman. Five months after Farley’s death, Hartman was shot and killed by his wife, who committed suicide hours later.

Plausibility Score: 5 out of 5
If this movie doesn’t scream “cursed,” we don’t know what does.


Thumbnail image by Else Films

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