The Production Curse YKTTW Discussion

The Production Curse
Is something telling us not to do this thing? When bad luck and misfortune beset a Work.
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(permanent link) added: 2013-05-20 06:08:03 sponsor: AgProv edited by: randomsurfer (last reply: 2015-02-25 16:07:07)

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A work of imaginative fiction which is beset with a cluster of inexplicable problems almost from the start. The production could be in any medium, but, especially if it has a supernatural dimension, its production difficulties lead observers to speculate that it has somehow attracted a curse. In its most extreme form, a series of tragedies and disasters start afflicting the cast and production crew, up to and including serious injury and death. Even though the tragedies, viewed objectively, are randomly clustered and coincidental, it doesn't take much for them to become "evidence" of a curse or supernatural activity.

A classic example might be the Exorcist franchise of horror movies: news coverage and popular legend (possibly assisted by shrewd press releases) points to inexplicable deaths, tragedies, and ill-fortune coming to people associated with the production. Then there is the Superman movie series - think Christopher Reeve's personal tragedy, of falling off his horse and becoming paraplegic; or Margot Kidder lapsing into extreme mental distress and requiring confinement to a secure facility for treatment.

Tragedies happen, and no causal link or actual curse is presumed. But popular imagination, aided by sensational news reporting, can be relied upon to attribute a "curse", and to make it a trope. And in Real Life, businesses or individuals who associate to a "cursed" production, or to a celebrity who died a tragic premature death, can also suffer inexplicable ill fortune.

Such incidences are often seen as having a Fortean dimension, belonging in the twilight zone between the completely explicable and the putative area of the supernatural.

This would appear to be largely a Real Life trope; a seperate section has been opened for In-Universe examples occuring in works of fiction.

It has been suggested that this is a Trivia trope: please append any instances (if this makes it out of YKTTW)to a work's Trivia tab.

Examples

Comics
  • Scatological satirical adult comic Viz subverted this concept by inventing a completely spurious curse on long-running TV comedy Dad's Army. It excitedly reported that twenty years on from the final episode, all but one of the core cast had died in unexplained circumstances that the BBC was concealing from the public. It even listed them: Clive Dunn, died age 82; John leMesurier, died age 71; Arthur Lowe, died age 77; Arnold Ridley (died age 98); John Laurie (died age 83). Viz observed that the last surviving cast member, Ian Lavender (then around 45)must be quaking in his boots waiting for the inevitable moment the curse claimed him.
    • A really tenuous link, but worth noting: The Other Wiki says "In 1963 John F. Kennedy's staff approved of a Superman story in which the hero touts the president's physical fitness initiatives, scheduled to be published with an April 1964 cover date. On November 22, Kennedy was shot and killed." Yes, Superman has been implied to be the other gunman in Dallas.

Film
  • Blade Runner provides something of a variation on the theme: it suffered a similar curse, but instead of cast and crew members, it was the sponsors that got hit:
    • Atari would go on to cause The Great Video Game Crash of 1983 with an ill-advised video game adaptation of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial;
    • Bell would be broken up as a monopoly;
    • Cuisinart would go bankrupt in 1989 and be acquired by Conair Corporation;
    • Pan American Airlines was already undergoing problems since the Oil Embargo of '73. Then the Tragedy of Flight 103 happened, and everything went to hell in three years, the final straw being the price hikes caused by the Persian Gulf War;
    • Coca-Cola would go on to create the infamous New Coke, which, though it wasn't enough to bring down the company (which is still going strong today), helped its chief rival Pepsi take the lead in the Cola Wars.
  • Terry Gilliam's film of Don Quixote was plagued with problems such that production was shut down permanently after six days of filming.
  • The movie of A Confederacy of Dunces has been in Development Hell for years, initially since every fat comedian announced to be playing the lead died (John Belushi, John Candy, Chris Farley), and then when Will Farrell and a supporting cast was announced, the head of the Louisiana State Film Commission was murdered. Then Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. And that seems to be the end of the attempts to make the film for now.
  • The Exorcist
    • Actress Ellen Burstyn suffered a lifelong, crippling, spinal injury when a special effects stunt went inexplicably wrong - the wire she was on to simulate her possessed daughter throwing her across a room pulled with ten times the expected force, badly injuring her back.
    • the child star Linda Blair later on developed mental illness that some excited people thought was demonic possession.
    • This film employed a Roman Catholic priest to act as on-set chaplain and counsellor, not to act a technical adviser but to allay some very real fears among cast and crew, generated by the subject matter and what was acknowledged to be a genuinely creepy atmosphere. After one set (of the possessed girl's bedroom) caught fire and after the injury to Ms Burstyn, the Rev. Thomas Bermingham S.J. obligingly perfomed blessings in each new set in a way stopping short of actual exorcism note .
    • Jason Miller, who played exorcist Father Karras, lived in a Jesuit seminary for a while to totally immerse himself in the manners and mind-set of a Catholic priest. A senior Jesuit who felt the film's subject matter was just asking for trouble gifted Miller a protective amulet of the Virgin Mary and explicitly warned him that there would be trouble ahead. A day or two later, Miller's eldest son was critically injured in a road accident.
    • Ellen Burstyn herself is a convinced believer that this film was cursed. She lists nine people close to the production who she feels died in suspicious circumstances. Some can be discounted, like the ninety year old mother of a supporting actress with a very small part who died some years later. Others, like the carpenter who died in an on-stage accident building the set, or another carpenter who lost all the fingers on one hand in a freak accident with a power saw, seem more plausible "curse victims".
  • Editing and post-production on the film was done in a studio whose address was... 666 Fifth Avenue, New York. given the pre-publicity for the film that was already circulating, this cannot have been accidental?

  • Poltergeist. This movie is popularly thought to have attracted a curse. It has been pointed out that real corpses were used as props in some scenes.
    • Dominique Dunne, who played Dana in the first movie, died in November 1982 at age 22, after being strangled by her abusive former boyfriend John Thomas Sweeney.
    • Julian Beck, 60,who played Henry Kane in Poltergeist II: The Other Side, died in September 14, 1985 of stomach cancer (diagnosed before he had accepted the role).
    • Will Sampson, 53, who played Taylor the medicine man in Poltergeist II, died as a result of post-operative kidney failure and pre-operative malnutrition problems in June 1987.
    • Heather O'Rourke, who played Carol Anne in all three Poltergeist movies, died in February 1988 at the age of 12 after a hospital misdiagnosis led her to be treated for the wrong ailment.
    • Actress Jo-Beth Williams claimed that during the filming, a poltergeist was active in her own home: she would return home from set to discover things askew and out of place from the way they had been when she left earlier.
  • Superman
    • Christopher Reeves' famously became paralyzed due to a riding accident.
    • Margot Kidder was said to suffer real life Sanity Slippage following the movies.
    • There was serious bad feeling concerning Superman's creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who were screwed by a contract that granted them no share of film royalties on their comic creation. A lawsuit was rumbling on during the first movie's production.
  • Rosemarys Baby (1968)
    • Roman Polanski's career and personal life nosedived after making this creepy movie about the conception of Satan's child. He only escaped the massacre of his wife, the film's star Sharon Tate and five others, by being in London at the time. (The Charles Manson gang were alleged to be Satanists themselves)
    • The film's composer died of a brain clot one year after making the film, the same way a character in the film dies.
    • Producer William Castle nearly died of kidney failure shortly after the film was completed; he was heard reciting lines from the movie while in a near-death coma, such as
    For God's sake, Rosemary, drop that knife!
  • The Return Of The Musketeers (1988)
    • British character actor Roy Kinnear died on set when a horse he was riding became uncontrollably wild and galloped away, eventually bucking him off into a wall. He died a day later from complications to a broken pelvis.
    • Director Richard Lester was so shaken by the incident that he retired prematurely from the film business, despite a series of successes.
    • Kinnear's family successfully sued the film makers for negligence.
  • The Wizard of Oz
    • Four months after the movie was released Frank Morgan, who played the Wizard, was involved in a serious car accident.
    • His chauffeur/house servant was killed in the December 1939 smash in New Mexico and Frank’s wife Alma was injured. Frank and his son George escaped unharmed.
    • Like Linda Blair, Judy Garland's post-child star life was plagued with depression, mental illness, and other calamities. Some have said the Curse even encompassed her daughter, Liza Minelli.

Live Action Television:
  • George Reeves, the original TV incarnation of Superman in The Adventures of Superman, was found dead in suspicious circumstances, shot in the head with a loaded pistol near his hand. This was put down to suicide but it has been pointed out that the corpse must have remained alive for just long enough to clean any fingerprints off the weapon.

Magazines:
  • Weird things reportage magazine Fortean Times loves things like this and reports on new cases as they arise; interested students are directed to the magazine and its extensive archives.

Radio:
  • BBC Radio Scotland in the late 1960's decided to really spice up Hallowe'en broadcasting, by having a simulated Black Mass in the studio to broadcast to the nation. This was despite objections from the Church. The play's producer went home that night, trying to shake off a conviction that something bad would happen. He found his house empty save for a scribbled note from his wife to say she'd had to rush their daughter to A&E. finding them at the hospital, he discovered earlier that evening a feral rat had got into the house and badly bitten the child's face, leaving a permanent scar. Next day he recounted this to a Church of Scotland minister who was broadcasting a God-slot. The priest listened, then said:
    Well, what can ye expect? You called on the Wee Man and he answered you knocking on his door. Only he didnae come to the studio. He made it a wee bit more personal than that, aye."

Theatre
  • The mystique that has developed concerning Shakespeare's Macbeth. Macbeth universally is thought of as this trope embodied. For that reason it's usually referred to as The Scottish Play by superstitious actors.
  • When Lawrence Wright put his thirteenth play on the stage in 1938 titled On With The Show, he avoided prompting fear among traditionally superstitious actors by saying that it was actually his fourteenth. The fates now thwarted, he went ahead. First, the theatre burnt down and all the props were destroyed. On the replacement smaller pavilion one musician slipped and sprained his wrist while two others were rushed away with gastric troubles. A main character lost his voice while another had to have all his teeth pulled out, leaving him helpless throughout the run. A dancer was ordered to take complete rest, two members of the chorus suffered from sprained ankles and a separate dancer fell upstairs and hurt her leg. The manager collapsed one day while the wardrobe organiser fell and sprained her arm. It was then discovered that there were thirteen people in the cast, thirteen musicians in the band and thirteen songs in the show.

Real Life
  • The Conqueror.
    • Years after the making of this film, members of the cast and crew, most notably the superbly mis-cast John Wayne, were diagnosed with cancers and leukemia. Until somebody pointed it out, the common link to the film was never realized. It turned out to have been shot in a North American desert in Nevada, not far away from a nuclear test site. The cluster of cancers was due to having lived and worked on the film set, where the fall-out was densest... this is unique and belongs in Real Life, as the cause of the "curse" - thirty years on - was so unmistakeably clear- with ample evidence to back it.
    • Even worse, they trucked the hot (radioactive) dirt from the desert back to Hollywood to finish off the sets they were building for verisimilitude. Ridiculously sad all the way round.
  • According to the magazine Fortean Times, the clothes and personal possessions of the late Diana, Princess of Wales, have brought misfortune to those who have bought or otherwise acquired them. FT has accumulated quite a few examples of this:
    • At least two American entrepreneurs who intended to tour Diana exhibitions around the USA, centred on the clothes and her personal style, have become ruinously bankrupt. One, Kate McEnroe, even lost her main job as a TV executive amid allegations of financial embezzlement and misrepresentation. Maureen R. Dunkel, a similarly motivated entepreneur, crashed owing over $1,500,000 dollars.
    • Diana dresses
      • Caterer Tomasso Butti paid $120,000 for Diana dresses, with the hope of opening a chain of Diana-themed eateries. He is now bankrupt and legal proceedings drag on.
      • One buyer of a Diana dress died suddenly a year later.
      • One man bought a Diana dress for $240,000 - which had already passed through the hands of McEnroe, Dunkel, Butti and others - as "a surprise for his wife." Let us hope she appreciated the gift.
    • The nominated charity, the Diana Trust, was embroiled in a long and mutually ruinous lawsuit with the noticeably mercenary Franklin Mint, who were producing Diana tat for money and even though their business flourished in the wake of her death, had reneged on a promise to donate to the charity. The charity suffered big losses, and the bad publicity nearly killed the Franklin Mint. Franklin Mint had paid $150,000 dollars for a particular dress, so as to have exclusive use of it for their Diana dolls.
    • Diana's former butler, Mr Borrell, appears to have become a recluse surrounded by his memories and mementos of her.
    • And of course, there is the meltdown suffered by Egyptian multimillionaire Mohammed-Al-Fayed (who lost his son in the crash) who in his grief blamed the deaths on a British establishment conspiracy, and still does today. The fact a drunken or otherwise intoxicated driver in his employment might have been the cause of death is something he vehemently denies.

In-Universe examples;

Establishing a difference between events in Real Life and fictionalised variants

Film

  • A Cock And Bull Story, in which Steve Coogan, playing himself, faces all sorts of problems while trying to make a film of Tristram Shandy - itself a book about the problems the author encounters trying to write the book.
  • Inland Empire has, among its other myriad plots, a theme of the remake of an atmospheric European thriller that is taking place on an unhappy set, beset with calamities and inexplicable accident.

Literature:
  • In Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea's Illuminatus! trilogy, author James Joyce is inflicted with blindness by the evil Illuminati, because he just will not quit writing books that reveal crucial occult secrets that the secret society do not want to see out in the open, in any form. It is also hinted that Ludwig van Beethoven was given the deafness treatment for encoding Freemasonic secrets in his Fifth Symphony. The curse, in both cases, attends the work of art they created. Of course, we only have Hagbard Celine's word for this...

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