Tuesday, July 26, 2016

What do Poltergeist, The Omen, and 3 Men and a Baby Have in Common?

Let's talk about movie ghosts.

I don't mean ghost movies. I mean straight-up, weird-shizz-is-happening, how-did-that-kid-end-up-in-that-shot ghosts and curses-- the stuff of Hollywood myth and legend.

There are a number of films where the supernatural seemed to play almost as much of a role in their cachet as the acting, writing, and cinematography, giving rise to endless urban legends. Three of them strike me as particularly notable: The well known supernatural horror flicks Poltergeist and The Omen... and 3 Men and a Baby. Follow me on this.

poster for the movie poltergeist

First, Poltergeist. For people well-versed in ghost lore, it might seem like an oddly named movie-- poltergeists (from the German poltern, "create a disturbance", and geist, "ghost") are said to most often inhabit homes with preadolescent girls, and tend to be annoying and mischievous, not violent or dangerous. Unfortunately, the Poltergeist curse is anything but mischievous-- in the wake of the series' creation, multiple cast members have died in mysterious, violent, or unexpected ways. According to some sources, all of the actors involved in the series have died. Is it because of the subject matter? Is it because the scenery used actual human skeletons?

Whether the skeletons had any feelings on the matter or not, most of the stories about the Poltergeist curse aren't true. There are definitely cast members involved with the series who'd be surprised to hear about their untimely demises, and those who did pass on didn't exactly do so in mysterious ways. While some of the deaths may have been untimely (and all of them were tragic for the families involved), it's hard to pin them to a curse or malevolent supernatural entity. At least, unless there's a malevolent supernatural entity whose idea of revenge is giving old men stomach cancer.

Why is it notable? It's pretty much the standard when it comes to Hollywood ghost stories. There're probably more tales of the weird, spooky things that've happened in the wake of the creation of the Poltergeist series than any other movie.

the omen movie

Next, The Omen. It's a story about the birth of the antichrist, so it's already pretty ripe for some very weird stuff, right? From lighting striking planes, to plane crashes, to two bombed buildings, to an animal handler being eaten by lions(!), it seems that it received more than its fair share. That's not the strangest thing, though.

The strangest stories surrounding The Omen involve how it seems to replicate death scenes from the movie itself. One of the stuntmen, on his next project after The Omen, suffered a fall akin to that experienced by Damien's nanny. A special effects artist saw his companion decapitated in a car accident. A man was the victim of a shooting in front of Guildford Cathedral.

While they're certainly creepy stories, are they coincidental? Probably. There's a natural human tendency to notice things that confirm our preconceived notions, and not notice those that don't. While the people and places involved in the making of The Omen have experienced a lot of misfortune, what about those who didn't? Or the accidents that didn't quite match up to any scenes in The Omen? And how many other people on movie sets have experienced weird, tragic, or violent happenings that weren't involved with a horror movie? It's tragic, but animal handlers suffer bites and attacks pretty frequently. The IRA blew up a lot of buildings during that time period, most of which had nothing to do with movies. People are gunned down pretty often, too. All told, it's hard to say that "The Omen curse" isn't actually "The Omen really-sucky-set-of-coincidences."

Why is it notable? When it comes to curses, this one's probably the one that makes even skeptics shudder a little. Even though the things that happened are probably  coincidental, that's still a lot of really, really strange and violent happenings.


Lastly, we've got the 80's fish-out-of-water comedy 3 Men and a Baby, starring Tom Selleck, Steve Gutenberg, Ted Danson, and probably a whole mess of babies. The story surrounding this movie has to do with the filming location-- allegedly, a kid who lived in the building in which it was filmed shot himself accidentally with a rifle. Images of his ghost appear in scenes in the movie, along with one chilling shot that looks like the silhouette of a gun.

There're only a few problems with this.

  1. There was no building. The entire movie was filmed on a sound stage.

  2. The image of the kid looks conspicuously two-dimensional.

  3. He's got a seriously outrageous mane of hair.

  4. The images of the gun look to be flat, misproportioned, pointing straight up, and hovering in mid-air.

  5. The "kid" is actually a cardboard cutout of Ted Danson's character in a top hat and tails, and the "gun" is part of his tuxedo jacket.

And yet the old story about the dead kid in 3 Men and a Baby gets trotted out every time the movie gets mentioned, even after both Snopes and The Straight Dope debunked it.

[caption id="attachment_2326" align="aligncenter" width="395"]As pointed out here with the help of the Snipping Tool and MS Paint. As pointed out here with the help of the Snipping Tool and MS Paint.[/caption]

Is the movie less interesting without a spooky story attached to it? Judging by some accounts, the studio certainly seemed to think so-- there are rumors that the story was cooked up to drive VHS sales. At least nobody actually had to die, though. Can you imagine having your specter doomed to haunt the backgrounds of 80s comedies?

[caption id="attachment_2324" align="aligncenter" width="596"]ghostmov1 ... Nah.[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_2325" align="aligncenter" width="596"]Definitely not. Definitely not.[/caption]

I mean, really.

Why is it notable? To me, it's easily the goofiest and least plausible and yet still gets mentioned frequently. The "ghost" doesn't look like a kid, it looks like a flat picture. There wasn't even a real house that a hypothetical shooting could've taken place in, guys.

Do you know of any other Hollywood urban legends? What freaky happenings surround your favorite movies?