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Horror Movie Special Effects Gone Wrong

by Piper St. James

Special effects in horror movies are extremely common, but they don’t always go off without a hitch.  The cost of an ill functioning practical effect can be costly to the film’s production, result in injury of cast or crew, push back the release date, and even cancel the entire production.  Here are five horror movies that had disastrous special effects, one which even ended in death.


The classic killer shark movie that has scared generations of swimmers not to go into the water almost didn’t happen.  The mechanical shark in Jaws was actually three mechanical sharks, and none of them worked well.  The sharks, dubbed ‘Bruce’ by director Stephen Spielberg after his own lawyer, almost sunk the entire film production as soon as it began.  In fact, the shark did not swim most of the time!  Instead it would sink to the bottom of the ocean and have to be retrieved only to have it happen all over again.

In a way the shark’s inability to swim made the film a success.  Spielberg had to think on his feet how to keep moving forward with a film about a killer shark using a shark that you couldn’t see.  That is when he changed tactics and decided to suggest the shark’s presence instead of showing him on screen.  The implied presence built suspense and kept audiences riveted on the edge of their seat until the third act when you actually see the great white, effectively sending moviegoers into a frenzy!


The Exorcist

The Exorcist, Warner Bros.

Director William Friedkin of The Exorcist is well known for his questionable methods when motivating his actors.  He is the type of director to go to any lengths to obtain the shot.  One of the more damaging special effects that went wrong involved Ellen Burstyn, the actress who played Chris MacNeil, Regan’s mother.

After the actress receives a slap across he face from her possessed daughter, Burstyn is supposed to be tugged backwards on her body harness beneath her clothes.  The result would look like an exaggerated fall backwards from her daughter’s inhuman strength.  Burstyn expressed her concern to Friedkin she was afraid of being injured if tugged backwards too hard.

At the last moment Friedkin whispered to the special effect crew member “Let her have it.”  Following the director’s order the grip gave the rope a hard yank, sending Burstyn sprawling backwards onto her back and injuring her spine.  Her scream in pain you see on the film is authentic, as was the agony on her face when Friedkin zoomed for a close up on the actress’s face.


Candyman, TriStar Pictures

Believe it or not, in Candyman they used real bees!  In fact, the bees supplied for this movie were bred specially for this film.  Newborn bees who are only 12 hours old look fully matured like adult bees, but their stingers aren’t nearly as damaging yet.  However, this doesn’t mean Tony Todd escaped their wrath.  During the filming of all three Candyman movies the actor was stung a total of 23 times!  That sounds like a love for his craft!  Later he told TMZ camera man for every bee sting he received on the set of the trilogy he was paid an additional $1,000!  Not too shabby.


A Nightmare on Elm Street, New Line Cinema

Special effects weren’t always a smooth ride in the making of A Nightmare on Elm Street.  When Johnny Depp’s character Glen gets sucked into his bed and then regurgitated up into a blood smoothie all over his room the crew used a rotating room to get the shot.

Rigging the room so the ceiling was really the floor the crew shot 500 gallons of blood colored water out of the bed straight down.  With the camera locked upside down it appeared blood was being sprayed all over the ceiling.  What the special effects crew didn’t anticipate was for the blood to weigh the room down in one direction, and when the grips began to pivot the rotating room the wrong way the weight of the fake blood continued to flow in that direction and spin the room uncontrollably!

When the room began to spin the blood went down the walls.  If you look closely in the movie you can see the blood shift to one side of the ceiling.  The crew also forgot to insulate the lights and wires and sparks began to fly as the fuses popped.  For thirty minutes director Wes Craven and cinematographer Jacques Haitkin were left hanging upside down in their harnessed seats on the darkened set.  Fortunately when all was said and done no one was hurt and they got the shot they wanted.

The Crow, Dimension Films

Arguably the most notorious special effect gone wrong in horror movie history occurred in The Crow.  Brandon Lee was only 28 years old when he filmed the movie, but his life was tragically cut short when a special effects gag went horribly wrong.  In the script it is called for his character, Eric Draven, to be shot by actor Michael Massee.  However, unbeknownst to the actors at the time, the gun was improperly loaded and Lee was shot in the stomach from twenty feet away.  Tragically the young actor died later that night in the hospital as doctors tried to repair the damage.