Lots of people have been eager to jump on Morgan Freeman’s car accident as new evidence that The Dark Knight is a cursed movie. It’s not an entirely unfair accusation, when you look at the mounting list of disasters associated with the film. First Conway Wickliffe, a special effects technician, died while testing out some car stunts for the movie. Then Heath Ledger was found dead from a suspected overdose, which everyone seemed keen to attribute to mental stress caused by playing the Joker. Christian Bale was arrested on the eve of The Dark Knight’s UK premiere for allegedly assaulting his mother and sister, and now this. That’s not the happiest succession of news stories you could ever ask for, is it?
It might not be quite enough to class the film as “cursed” just yet, though. Other cursed films have far longer lists of badness associated with them. The two films most usually cited as cursed movies are The Omen and The Exorcist – and given the subject matter of those two films, it’s possibly not surprising that people are so willing to believe they’re cursed.
The evidence for The Omen’s curse is pretty convincing, though. Gregory Peck and scriptwriter David Seltzer both travelled on planes that were struck by lightning – in two separate incidents. Peck was also supposed to be on another unlucky flight, though he cancelled his reservation: the plane crashed, killing all the passengers.
Special effects consultant John Richardson and his assistant, Liz Moore, were involved in a car crash – he survived it, but she didn’t. There were multiple problems with animals involved in the film, and there are reports that a safari park warden was killed the day after the film crew packed up and left. Stuntman Alf Joint was in an accident in the film he worked on after The Omen, A Bridge Too Far, which you could put down to an occupational hazard since his job involved jumping off a roof… except he reckons he was pushed. The Omen, then – totally a cursed movie.
As for The Exorcist, the filmmakers called in a priest to bless the set on multiple occasions because everyone was so jumpy. In terms of actual incidents, the studio caught fire and several sets used in The Exorcist had to be re-built. Ellen Burstyn was injured during a stunt for the movie where she’s thrown across the room, and Linda Blair was also injured when a harness malfunctioned during a scene where she’s thrashing around on the bed. Exorcist: The Beginning has also been slapped with a “cursed” label, because it was shot and then scrapped and re-shot again – though, er, that’s more to do with Hollywood politics than demonic influence.
Another horror franchise, the Poltergeist series, is also supposedly cursed: Dominique Dunne, who played Dana Freeling in the first movie, was murdered within a year of the film’s release; Heather O’Rourke, who played Carol Anne in the first three Poltergeist movies, died unexpectedly of complications caused by Crohn’s disease during the production of the third film, aged just 12. Julian Beck, who played Kane in Poltergeist II: The Other Side, lost a long battle with cancer between the end of filming and the release of the movie, and Will Sampson, who was also in Poltergeist II, died from complications arising from a heart and lung transplant. Given that these two were 60 and 53 respectively, though, and suffering from serious diseases, it seems almost rude to classify their deaths as results of a movie curse in the same way that you would an ironic lightning-related accident or an on-set disaster.
But The Dark Knight isn’t a horror film, and it wasn’t about the Devil, so why would it be cursed in the first place? Well, the Superman franchise is apparently cursed, so perhaps it’s endemic among DC superheroes. George Reeves’s death is considered suspicious, and Christopher Reeve was paralysed from the neck down following a horse-riding accident in 1995. (His death isn’t suspicious or curse-related, though.) Lee Quigley, who played the baby Kal-El, died aged just 14 from inhaling solvents. The list just goes on and on and on… (But then incidents dating from the 1930s are included, so it’s perhaps not as overwhelming a list of coincidences as it first appears.)
By my count, The Dark Knight needs at least one more serious incident to be considered a proper, fully-fledged cursed movie. Let’s hope it doesn’t happen.