Craig T Nelson defies spirits to rescue his family in a scene from the film 'Poltergeist', 1982
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Getty Images

Horror Behind the Scenes: The Most Haunted Sets in Hollywood

From ‘The Exorcist’ to ‘The Conjuring’, here are some chilling examples of life being stranger than fiction.

Mysterious claw marks. Snowfall indoors. A bloodthirsty robotic clown. These phenomena sound like the subjects of a horror film. But all were real events that happened to cast and crew behind the scenes of popular horror films, bringing the term "stranger than fiction" to eerie new heights.

It could be easy to dismiss the paranormal activity on these purportedly haunted sets as a sort of cognitive bias: When we are immersed in a film about supernatural happenings, we may begin to attribute supernatural qualities to natural occurrences. Or, to put a more-cynical bent on things, the ghostly events could be chalked up to good marketing — a legend woven by cast and crew to add an aura of mystique around the film.

But neither of these theories would do well to explain the tragedies — accidents, illnesses and deaths — that seemed to follow some of these people even after shooting had wrapped. Terrible coincidences? Perhaps. Or perhaps something more sinister is at play: an anger from the depths of the spirit world, which is punishing us for turning their torment into our entertainment.

We'll lay down the tales of these haunted Hollywood sets so you can decide for yourself.

Poltergeist Trilogy (1982, 1986, 1988)

Craig T Nelson is held by JoBeth Williams in a scene from the film 'Poltergeist II: The Other Side', 1986

Getty Images

The Steven Spielberg horror classic Poltergeist is about a family whose new life in their dream suburban home is upended by a decidedly PO'd group of ghosts. Turns out that the home's architect decided to plop their house right on top of a Native American burial ground. And behind the scenes, it's arguably the most infamous of the haunted sets.

A series of awful tragedies and near-tragedies befell the cast and crew both during and after the shoot. Perhaps the haunting was a direct result of the decision to use real human skeletons in that famous pool scene — yup, making realistic-looking fakes would have been more expensive, so actual remains were brought in. (Did they want to be cursed? Because that is a clear invitation for ghosts to curse you and everyone around you, postmarked and delivered express to the spirit world.)

Things got haunt-y while shooting the scene in which the family's young son, Robbie (Oliver Robins), is attacked by a possessed clown puppet. The mechanical clown designed to simulate choking Robins malfunctioned and began to actually choke him. When the child actor's face started to turn blue, Spielberg had to run in and pry the clown hands off his neck.

A laundry list of tragedies would follow the cast and crew of Poltergeist and its sequels — most of them occurring shortly after the release of each film.

Six years after the original film's release, 12-year-old actress Heather O'Rourke, who played Carol, died in 1987 of a congenital intestinal abnormality misdiagnosed as Crohn's disease. Dominique Dunne, who played the eldest daughter Dana, was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 1982 after she refused to take him back. Richard Lawson, who played Ryan on the paranormal investigation team, nearly died in a plane crash in 1992 that killed half of the passengers onboard. Lou Perryman, who played Pugsley, was killed by an ax-wielding car thief in 2009. Julian Beck from Poltergeist II died of stomach cancer in 1985, just shy of the film's release. And Will Sampson, who played the medicine man in the second film, died of kidney failure in 1987.

The Omen (1976)

Actors Gregory Peck and Lee Remick embrace child Harvey Stephens in a still from the film, 'The Omen,' directed by Richard Donner, 1976.

20th Century Fox/Courtesy of Getty Images

In the film The Omen, a baby dies shortly after birth. The hospital chaplain encourages the father to adopt a baby whose mother died in labor. The father agrees but doesn't tell his wife that the baby isn't their own. All manner of supernatural horrors ensue, and it eventually becomes clear the adopted child is actually the antichrist.

Marketing for the film included the tagline: If something frightening happens to you today, think about it... it may be The Omen. Those are words you may take to heart after hearing about the creepy and, in some cases, tragic things that happened to the cast and crew.

It would seem the fictional antichrist drew the attention of the real thing. Lead actor Gregory Peck was on a flight in 1975 when lightning struck the plane. That was not terribly out of the ordinary — but shortly thereafter, producer Mace Neufeld's plane was also struck. Then writer David Seltzer's plane took a jolt. To make matters freakier, the plane Peck was originally supposed to be on that day (an action scene was delayed, so he skipped the jet they'd chartered for him) crashed after a flock of birds was sucked into the engine. No one survived.

The animals on set were also stirred by seemingly otherworldly powers. Rottweilers used in the film attacked multiple people on set. And a trainer who handled baboons for a scene was mauled to death by tigers the very next day.

Annabelle Comes Home (2019)

Mckenna Grace in Annabelle Comes Home (2019)

Warner Bros

Annabelle Comes Home, about a demon-possessed doll, had echoes into reality that seriously freaked out the cast and crew.

Actress Mckenna Grace told interviewers all about the bizarre things she experienced during filming. In one instance, the lights went out on set, and when they came back on, Grace had a nosebleed. She also received random and strange cuts on her face, including a small triangle-shaped wound just below her hairline.

There were mysterious knocks on doors — three knocks in quick succession, a classic demon move that mocks the Holy Trinity. A journalist's watch went haywire. Dark figures were spotted lurking in empty rooms. A picture Grace snapped of the Annabelle doll came out all black. And objects seemed to vanish or move around on their own — including the doll.

Ghost (1990)

Demi Moore is embraced by Patrick Swayze in a scene from the film 'Ghost', 1990.

Paramount/Getty Images

While Ghost is more of a love story that bridges planes of existence than a horror film, bizarre and unexplained incidents occurred behind the scenes that chilled cast and crew to the bone.

The laughter of a little girl could be heard tittering through the rafters, which they believed to belong to the ghost of Heather O'Rourke. In addition to her role in Poltergeist, O'Rourke had a recurring role on the show Happy Days, which was shot in the same building as Ghost. O'Rourke was known to play in the rafters between takes.

The Conjuring (2013)

Steve Coulter, Vera Farmiga, and Patrick Wilson in The Conjuring (2013)

Michael Tackett/Warner Bros

Some weird things happened during the filming of The Conjuring — and one of the film's actresses is convinced they are too hair-raising to be a coincidence.

Actress Vera Farmiga, who played clairvoyant medium Lorraine Warren, says that she found herself repeatedly waking up between 3 and 4 a.m. before each shoot — a time period known as the "witching hour," when vengeful spirits prowl our realm with increased power and frequency. Unfortunately for Farmiga, her demon-time wake-up calls persisted even after shooting had wrapped.

Farmiga also suffered random bruises and mysterious claw marks. Other actors reported that props seemed to move around on their own. Even the director says his house became haunted.

But what really moved the terror needle on set was a visit from the Perrons, the clairvoyant family upon whom the film is based. One of the daughters said she had a feeling that something bad was going to happen. And later that day, they received a call that their now-elderly mother had fallen and broken her hip, which needed to be replaced. She ended up being OK, but those who had heard the premonition were sufficiently spooked.

The Exorcist (1973)

(Original Caption) 1973- Picture shows actress, Ellen Burstyn(R), struggling to keep her daughter, actress Linda Blair(L), in her bed during a scene from the 1973 movie "The Exorcist".


A classic tale of a young girl's possession, The Exorcist became one of the most iconic and profitable horror films ever made. But it seemed as if something didn't want the film to be made at all.

The hauntings associated with The Exorcist began well before the film, when the story still resided within the author of the novel. While writing the book upon which the film is based, William Peter Blatty said his wife saw both her hairbrush and the house phone levitate.

The strange activity continued on set of the film adaptation, where two unexplained disasters occurred. First, the house used as the girl's residence burned down, delaying production by six weeks. Everything was torched — except the bedroom where the demon lived for most of the film.

Then the exact opposite happened. The crew arrived on set to find everything in the house covered in snow. According to reports, the indoor snow was caused by multiple air conditioners running at once combined with the humidity — but many who were there didn't buy it.

READ MORE: From 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre' to 'X,'; Country Songs Have Been Terrifying Horror Audiences for Decades