The Quick 10: 10 Film Set Tragedies
If you’ve seen the movie based on Stephen King’s Pet Sematary Two, you probably remember the horrifying scene at the beginning when the actress is electrocuted on set while her son (Edward Furlong, back in his dreamy days) looks on. While that particular incident comes to us courtesy of Mr. King, film set tragedies aren’t unheard of in real life. Here are 10 of them.
1. The Twilight Zone: The Movie. It sounds like something straight out of Rod Serling’s head, but sadly, this accident wasn’t a work of fiction. Actor Vic Morrow and two children were filming a scene for the first segment of the movie that involved a trip in time back to the Vietnam War. Some explosions went off too close to low-flying helicopters, which resulted in “foreign object damage to one rotor blade, the separation of the helicopter’s tail rotor assembly, and the uncontrolled descent of the helicopter.” Sadly, the damaged rotor blade decapitated Morrow and one of the children; the other child was crushed under the helicopter itself.
2. Million Dollar Mystery. A well-known Hollywood stuntman, Dar Robinson, unfortunately plunged over a cliff to his death when filming this barely-concealed advertisement for Glad Bags (the movie was co-financed by Glad and DeLaurentiis Entertainment and featured Glad Lock bags prominently). After 19 years as a stuntman and nary a broken bone, Dar missed his braking point while filming a motorcycle drive-by and sailed right over the edge of a cliff. This movie and Lethal Weapon, which he had just finished filming, were both dedicated to him.
3. Catch-22. The 1970 movie based on the Joseph Heller novel of the same name had its own tragedy, although this was one that probably could have been prevented. Second Unit Director John Jordan was direction a scene out of a vintage airplane and refused to wear a harness to keep him secure while the plane was in flight. He was sucked out of the plane and, of course, didn’t survive the fall.
4. Top Gun. Art Scholl, a seasoned stunt pilot, was hired to do some stunts for the movie and film them from the inside of the plane to make it appear as though Tom Cruise (or Anthony Edwards, or Val Kilmer) had performed them. He was working on a flat spin off the coast Southern California when he radioed, “I have a problem… I have a real problem.” The plane crashed into the Pacific and was never recovered. The cause of the accident is unknown to this day.
5. The Dark Knight. Obviously Heath Ledger died before the film came out, but that’s not the death I’m referring to. Conway Wickliffe, a film technician, was filming a test run of a stunt involving the Batmobile in England. He lost control of the car and was killed when it ran into a tree. The Dark Knight was dedicated to both Wickliffe and Heath Ledger.
6. The Return of the Musketeers. Fifty-four year-old actor Roy Kinnear, a veteran British character actor, was filming a scene on horseback for the Richard Lester-directed movie. The two were old friends and had worked together for many years, including on the Beatles’ 1965 film Help! Kinnear fell off of his horse and broke his pelvis, the stress of which caused him to have a fatal heart attack the next day in the hospital. Lester was so aggrieved by his friend’s death that he retired after that movie.
7. Bikini Island. Stuntman Jay C. Currin was practicing an upcoming stunt where he jumped from a cliff during the filming of this 1991 movie. Sadly, he misjudged it. Although he landed on the safety airbag below, he didn’t land it quite right and ended up smashing into the rocks on the Malibu shore.
8. XXX. Vin Diesel’s stunt double, Harry O’Connor, was working on a scene where he had to parasail near the Palacky Bridge in Prague, then slide down the lines of the parasail onto a submarine waiting below. He executed the stunt perfectly the first time, but told the film crew that he felt he could do it much better. He was wrong: on the second attempt, he didn’t make it down the line fast enough and hit the bridge. The stunt was being performed at such high speeds that he died upon impact. The first take was used in the film.
9. The Crow. How can you have an article about movie set disasters and not mention Brandon Lee? You can’t, of course. Brandon was the lead on The Crow and was shooting a scene where he walks in to find his girlfriend being attacked. One of the attackers turns and fires a gun at Lee’s character. Unfortunately, he really did fire the gun – “dummy” cartridge malfunctioned and a real bullet shot out of the gun. Although the malfunction caused the bullet to move a lot more slowly than normal, the point-blank range coupled with the large bullet resulted in Lee’s death 12 hours later.
10. Delta Force 2. There’s all kinds of improbable things Chuck Norris can do, but he was powerless to stop a helicopter crash in 1989 during the filming of Delta Force 2: The Columbian Connection. It crashed upon takeoff and killed the pilot and four crew members.