Sometimes terrifying the audience requires terrifying the actors. Directing a horror film by torturing the talent takes a special kind of sadistic bastard. Unfortunately for the people on this list, Hollywood is full of those.
Here are five horror films we never would have survived being a part of (and sometimes, people didn’t):
The Exorcist (1973)
A Real Life Nightmare For: Linda Blair.
A hit novel is written, then a screenplay is made. One of the potential directors turns it down for being “cruel towards children.” For the lead role, producers first considered Denise Nickerson, known then as Violet from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (the kids’ film, not the interracial gay porno). However, Nickerson’s parents took a look at the material and yanked her from consideration. Upon being asked to star as the mother, Jane Fonda is rumored to have called it a “capitalist piece of shit.”
Fortunately for viewers, and unfortunately for the young actress, Linda Blair’s mom ignored all of these warnings and championed her then-unknown daughter for the part. Linda Blair was put in the hands of director William Friedkin, which is about as responsible as asking Ryan Dunn to carsit.
Friedkin liked getting real reactions from actors. That’s really just a nice way of saying, “if he needed a chick to scream, he would make her scream.” That’s really just a nice way of saying, “he liked to abuse little girls and record their anguished cries.” Many of the visceral wails from thirteen-year-old Blair were due to actual pain. If you’re thinking, “wow, he tortured that poor little girl, that’s awful,” then we envy your PollyAnna world. Friedkin had the principle set built in a freezer. Crew members bundled up in parkas while Blair lay there in just a nightie, shivering.
The physical aspects of this role were beyond demanding. Being flung around the room on an unreliable harness was a daily activity. Both Blair and co-actress Ellen Burstyn suffered permanent spine damage from these wicked machinations. Then again, this was no more abusive towards females than the average Catholic household in 1971.
Twilight Zone: the Movie (1983)
A Real Life Nightmare For: Myca Dinh Lee and Renee Shin-Yi Chen.
Twilight Zone: The Movie was an interesting concept, if you find rehashing four separate TTZ episodes interesting. Or rather, we should say three episodes. Three classic Twilight Zone episodes were chosen by Steven Spielberg, each to be given big-screen treatment with its own director. For the fourth story, Spielberg allowed director John Landis to write and direct his own TTZ-style story. Ironically, Landis chose to write about a bigotous tyrant who finally sees the error of his ways. We say ironically because Landis himself has never admitted any fault for any of the ridiculousness that went down on set.
Most of Landis’ recklessness fell into one of two categories: Making dangerous scenes way too dangerous, and exploiting child labor. Numerous crew members testified that Landis repeatedly ignored warnings that he was having kids work too late and without the proper safety supervision.
The whole thing culminated in one enormous evening shot involving explosions and a helicopter. Landis, who wasn’t in direct communication with the helicopter pilot, ordered an explosion. The explosion came moments too soon, and clipped the helicopter. Although everyone in the downed helicopter survived, star Vic Morrow and two young child actors lost their lives in the wreckage (now known as the Twilight Zone incident). Rumor has it Steven Spielberg never hung out with Landis again.
Fortunately, the director got what was coming to him. Wait, no he didn’t. He blamed the whole thing on someone he should have been supervising more closely. Within two years he was asked to direct the music video for Thriller. You know what? We’re going to go ahead and blame Michael Jackson’s death on this guy, too.
The Birds (1963)
A Real Life Nightmare For: Tippi Hendren.
The ASPCA was on hand to make sure the birds in this film were treated kindly. Too bad their protection didn’t extend to the human actors. Actually, it’s not too bad because the ASPCA did a shitty job of protecting the birds, as well.
The duress which Hitchcock made lead actress Tippi Hendren endure is the stuff of legends. After promising her that only mechanical birds would be used for the climactic “birds attack the house” scene, Hitchcock went and did the opposite. For five days, stagehands threw live birds at her face, pecking and clawing her to the point of exhaustion.
But, sadly, finishing this horrific film was only the start of her nightmare. Hitchcock’s contract for her was very strict, even dictating the style of dress she could wear. Then after she could no longer take the director’s sexual advances, she refused to work with him. To stifle her career, Hitchcock refused to let her out of her contract, instead paying her for years to do absolutely nothing. For most of us, that sounds like a dream come true, leave it to Hitchcock to find a way to twist it into a nightmare.
The Shining (1980)
A Real Life Nightmare For: Shelly Duvall.
Stanley Kubrick is a methodical and exacting director who’s mind we can never fully get inside of. Because of this, it’s hard to tell if the 100th take of a guy walking to a door has artistic merit, or if Kubrick is just being a dick.
On the set of the classic terror flick, “The Shining,” production was so arduous that it often nearly ground work to a halt. Star Jack Nicholson became so fed up with the constant stream of rewrites, he stopped looking at scripts entirely. But no one came out of filming more traumatized than lead actress Shelly Duvall.
Kubrick was really into the concept of method acting, which to him apparently meant “terrorize everyone.” Throw in the fact that Kubrick was attempting to use the brand-new steadycam technology, and there was a recipe for repetition. It’s no wonder Shelley Duvall claims her hair started falling out, she was once forced to do 127 takes of a single scene. Recently, she has been wandering around her yard ranting about aliens. Which makes us wonder, does everyone go nuts after doing a Kubrick movie? Is this why Tom Cruise went nutso shortly after making Eyes Wide Shut?
Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
A Real Life Nightmare For: The actors. All of them.
What seems to be even worse than giving a horror director power over children, is giving a horror director complete power over an isolated cast. Cannibal Holocaust was filmed partially in the rainforests of Colombia. Most of the filming took place at a location that was only accessible by plane, then by boat. With the cast adequately stranded, director Ruggero Deodato began to see exactly how much he could screw with them.
Actors described Deodato as cold and ruthless, his set a cauldron of cruelty. One of the most striking examples is in the multiple animal mutilation scenes. These were real, actors were filmed catching and butchering local animals. Several cast members objected to being ordered to abuse these creatures, but there always seemed to be an actor available to do it if Deodato screamed at enough people.
Deodato’s disregard for life extended to the locals as well. Uncredited Colombians were forced to crowd into a blazing hut, at extreme risk to their own lives. In addition, Deodato tried to pay the lead actor in pesos, at a ridiculously unfair exchange rate. Who would have expected such brazenness from a guy directing a film called “Cannibal Holocaust”?
All of the films listed here were made between 1963 and 1983, with three of them made in the early 1980s. It is our genuine hope that this kind of sick directorial behavior ceased being necessary with the revolutions in technology and special effects. Although, just to be safe, avoid the catering truck if you’re an extra in “Human Centipede 3.”