**Second Anniversary Review** Part Two: Movie Mayhem: The Shocks Behind The Scenes
The second part of this special review surrounds the urban legends of film production and will look at some of the most well-known and eerie stories behind Hollywood films. Some legends have clearly been fabricated as a marketing ploy and have made the films more famous for it over the actual content. Supernatural played on this trope in the second season episode Hollywood Babylon which sees the Winchester Brothers go undercover on a film set where the cast begin mysteriously dying. Of course Urban Legends: Final Cut used a university film course as its setting and had cast and crew members being murdered on set. But what about the true life legends that have been circulating for many years, particularly since the launch of the internet, which will be further explored later in the review. I am going to illustrate through using particular films as case studies how real life rumors can expand into urban legends to create a sense of hysteria.
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
The production of the 1939 classic has generated many rumors however the most eerie remains with the alleged Munchkin Suicide. Snopes.com verifies that this rumor is false and that it may have began in 1989 when the film was celebrating its 50th anniversary and had been released on VHS. With home video being revolutionary at the time, viewers allowed their imaginations to run wild as they were able to pause and rewind between frames. The legend suggests that following the scene where Dorothy and Scarecrow encounter the Tin Man, the three characters make their way down the yellow brick road on the way towards the Emerald City. If you look closely in the background, there is an ambiguous figure hanging from a tree. Its been suggested that the Munchkin took his own life due to his unrequited love for his co-star who was also playing a Munchkin. There are obvious flaws in this story as during this scene no actors playing Munchkin’s would have been needed on set as the scene was not associated with Munchkin Land and shot before it. It has been put down to a stagehand accidentally getting into the frame while the camera’s were rolling. But of course, The Wizard of Oz is a classic family film, therefore if an actual suicide had taken place on set then it would have been re-shot and definitely edited in post-production. Images of this scene remain ambiguous as the alleged figure is position so far in the background, its difficult to fully make out. The Wizard of Oz as a snuff film…I don’t think so!
Unfortunately the rumors surrounding the Poltergeist Deaths can be confirmed as true. Whether the trilogy of films are in fact ‘cursed’ opens up another discussion entirely. Rumors suggest that the films had actually released malevolent spirits and caused the deaths of young cast members. This one all depends on whether you maintain personal beliefs of the supernatural, however some people do fail to separate fact from fiction and try to make sense of the tragic occurrences. Heather O’Rourke who played little Carol Ann in all three films, died of a mystery illness in 1988 and Dominique Dunne who played her older sister was tragically murdered by her boyfriend prior to the first film’s release. Dunne was choked to death after ending an abusive relationship at the age of twenty-two. Her violent ex John Sweeney was released after serving three years in jail causing controversy. Little Heather allegedly died of ‘septic shock’, the saddest part of her death is that she appeared to be a healthy twelve year old, no one saw it coming. She died prior to the release of Poltergeist III, so its not surprising that people made connections between O’Rourke and Dunne’s deaths as they only occurred six years apart and were connected to the same film franchise. The rumors have gone too far as an extreme variation suggests that every single person involved in the films has been killed which is clearly false as many cast members are alive and well. Two other actors Julian Beck and Will Sampson who were in their fifties and sixties passed away from illnesses after appearing in the films, ultimately it all seems down to pure, tragic coincidence. Similar rumors have also been speculated regarding The Exorcist (1973) and The Omen (1976) relating to the ideas of the devil portrayed on screen, illustrating people’s fears about the break down of the church and religion as well as changing times. Let’s face it, its always easy to use films as a scapegoat when a tragedy occurs!
Three Men and a Baby (1987)
Three Men and a Baby is a light-hearted comedy about three bachelors who end up saddled with a child, after the mother abandons her on their doorstep, hilarity ensues! Sounds like a fun, family flick, however a dark rumor spread around the internet three years after its initial release regarding the ‘apartment set’ the film was shot in! Allegedly during the scene where Ted Danson’s character is speaking to his mother and walking through the apartment, the figure of a Ghost Boy can be seen next to the window! Rumors suggest that the ghostly image is that of a nine-year-old boy who committed suicide in the building with a shot-gun. Interestingly, this rumor emerged in 1990, a year after the Munchkin hanging fabrication came forth in The Wizard of Oz and as Three Men… was released on home video. There appears to be a pattern as the two stories bare similarities of chilling images relating to suicide that “accidentally” appeared on screen and they were both noticed on the VHS versions of the films.
It was believed that the studios may have had something to do with it, using the rumor as a marketing ploy, especially as the film’s sequel Three Men and a Little Lady was due a theatrical release. Very much like my comment on Poltergeist, it all depends on personal belief. It has been said that the boy’s parents moved out following his death and a film company took it over. Extreme theories even included the boys mother seeing his spirit on the film and going mentally insane. However, I personally want to dispel the ghost theory as in a later scene, we see a cardboard cut out of Ted Danson, which is used as a prop for his character’s television commercial. Funnily enough the prop is dressed in black and white, just like the ‘ghost’ and is seen close up in a later scene. Its amazing that the rumor is actually bigger than the film itself, try searching ‘three men and a baby’ into google images and the top search result features the word ‘ghost’ next to it. Another rumor suggested that in another scene where the men are singing ‘goodnight sweetheart’ to the baby Mary, a demon can be seen in the window but that’s just going over the top. If the studios were involved, I credit them as its such a clever ploy to get people talking about a film and more so at the time!
The Blair Witch Project (1999) and the rise of the online legends.
This film used the internet to its advantage back in 1999 in order to create hysteria to promote its release. Back in the day, Blair Witch sounded like one of the scariest films imaginable and this was because people were unsure whether to believe if it was true or not. The subject of the film focused on three amateur filmmakers who were creating a documentary about the Blair Witch urban legend in 1994 in the village of Burkitsville, originally Blair. The students went missing but their footage was found years later. The legend goes, a woman accused of witchcraft was killed around 1785, following this, children from the village kept disappearing. It is said that the witch went on to murder the college students. Another variation, suggested by a man the students interview within the film is the Blair Witch was a child murderer who lived in the woods during the 1940’s, he would take two children into his basement, making one face the corner while murdering the other. The latter version proves more chilling! A first for its time, the Blair Witch filmmakers got three unknown actors, directed them to the woods with equipment and had them shoot footage, they were given notes to do so. The fact it wasn’t filmed traditionally, demonstrates how they wanted to achieve authentic reactions and suggest to the audience that the events going on were real. The internet was not as advanced as it is now therefore they were able to get away with it! Unfortunately nowadays so many filmmakers have taken this approach with horror, leading to ‘the found footage sub-genre’ therefore what the Blair Witch did has now lost its credibility.
Since then the internet has been used to create urban legends which have gone viral, modernizing folklore as a whole. A prime example is chain mail, e.g. ‘if you don’t pass this on you will die!’ often in relation to a little ghost girl who has been murdered or involved in an accident. One of the more recent urban legends Slender Man has generated its own mythology and is a major part of internet culture, and now has a game and independent film made about it. With a similar premise, Slender Man abducts children and disappears with them. It appears that with easy access to urban legends and the creation of them on the internet, we have become desensitized in terms of our belief systems. Do they still hold impact like the Blair Witch once did? Or has the enigma been disbanded since sites like Snopes and articles like this one have dispelled rumors in comparison to the time when the internet was limited back in the 80’s and 90’s, and rewinding and pausing your home video was the only method of generating speculation? Either way films and urban legends are very closely linked making separating cinema and reality difficult. As discussed films are made about urban legends and urban legends are created about films which creates complications regarding any notion of authenticity. Overall I still find urban legends a chilling and interesting subject and their online exposure only means more information has become available, leading them to be analyzed in more depth.
Thank you for reading and thank you for all your support over the past two years. I hope I can continue to provide you with new and interesting reviews and articles.
**COMING SOON: ASCENSION: BEHIND THE SCREAMS**
Hayley Alice Roberts