It might be just make-believe, but shooting a horror film can still take its toll on those involved. Indeed, a whole host of actors and actresses – including big names such as Janet Leigh and Shelley Duvall – have suffered some form of trauma after signing up to appear in a scary movie. Here’s a look at 20 particularly chilling cases featuring some of the most iconic terror flicks ever made.
20. Marilyn Burns (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre)
It’s widely held to be one of the most terrifying horror movies of all time. And The Texas Chainsaw Massacre also put its leading lady through her paces, too. In the famous dinner scene, Marilyn Burns had to endure constant blows to the skull with a fake yet still-heavy sledgehammer. She was also required to shriek for hours and hours.
Burns also had to endure the smell of both Leatherface’s costume and food which had long since passed its sell-by date. She later revealed to website Terror Trap, “Afterwards, I was just so grateful it was over. I probably was the happiest girl alive.” And yet she still returned to the franchise on two separate occasions.
19. Shelley Duvall (The Shining)
Legendary movie auteur Stanley Kubrick made poor Shelley Duvall enact The Shining’s bat-swinging scene no fewer than 127 times. This pursuit for perfectionism won it a place in The Guinness Book of Records for the highest number of takes filmed for a spoken-word scene. Duvall’s hands were left tender and sore as a result.
Duvall was also often required to spend half of her entire day simply yelling at the top of her voice. The actress admits that these tactics helped to coax an unforgettable performance from her. But she also labelled the experience of playing Wendy Torrance “almost unbearable.”
18. Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange)
Malcolm McDowell also learned that Stanley Kubrick likes to push his actors to their limits while filming A Clockwork Orange. For one of the cult classic’s most disturbing scenes, the Brit assented to having his eyes pinned open for extended periods. And this actually cost McDowell his sight. Happily, this unforeseen effect was only temporary.
And if briefly going blind as a result of having his eyelids propped up for such a long time wasn’t bad enough, McDowell also scratched his cornea, too. By this point even Kubrick decided enough was enough. He called time on the scene and brought the star’s suffering to a merciful end.
17. Kyle Richards (Halloween)
Kyle Richards wasn’t particularly affected by the filming of John Carpenter’s seminal Halloween. Indeed, the actress was a little too young to fully understand its slasher storyline. But she was scarred for the rest of her childhood after seeing it unfold at the film’s premiere aged just nine.
In an interview with website Halloween Daily News in 2013, Richards revealed, “I had no idea what I was in for. Seeing it for the first time all pieced together was a very, very different movie. It was just really scary, and I really did sleep with my mom until I was 15 years old after that. I was terrified.”
16. Linda Blair (The Exorcist)
Like her fellow 1970s horror movie child actress Richards, Linda Blair didn’t have a particularly arduous time on the set of The Exorcist. In fact, despite being covered in prosthetics to resemble a terrifying demon, the young teen treated the role like any other. But like Richards, the problems started when the film was released.
Indeed, aged just 13 Blair became hounded by both religious organizations and the press for her views on the film’s weighty themes. Faith, possession and Christianity were just a few of the subjects she was quizzed on at the height of The Exorcist’s success. And it was this intrusion which unsettled her far more than any demonic make-up.
15. Ellen Burstyn (The Exorcist)
Of course, Blair wasn’t The Exorcist’s only star to suffer. Ellen Burstyn, who played mother Chris McNeil in the controversial horror, suffered years of chronic back pain following an on-set accident. The actress was injured in the scene where she’s attacked by Regan when a stuntman yanked too hard on the wire tied around her waist.
Burstyn had previously expressed her concerns about the stunt. In fact, she specifically asked director William Friedkin to ensure she wasn’t pulled so hard. She told website The Huffington Post in 2017, “Billy is one of those directors that is so dedicated to getting the shot right that I think some other considerations sort of fall by the wayside sometimes.”
14. Heather Donohue (The Blair Witch Project)
Heather Donohue and her two co-stars were constantly on edge while filming The Blair Witch Project. The trio were kept largely in the dark by the directors of the late 1990s classic throughout its shoot to make their reactions more credible. But Donohue’s trauma continued when the film was released.
Indeed, due to the film’s found-footage, extreme realism concept, Donahue had the unusual experience of seeing her own obituary. The actress later told newspaper The Guardian, “It’s a complicated thing to be dead when you’re still very much alive and eager to make a name for yourself.” Donahue later abandoned life in front of the lens in favor of working as a screenwriter and author.
13. Veronica Cartwright (Alien)
The cast of seminal sci-fi horror Alien were also kept in the dark about its most terrifying scene. Indeed, in a bid to elicit “raw animal fear,” director Ridley Scott refused to warn actors about the terrifying moment that an alien bursts from John Hurt’s chest. And Veronica Cartwright had the most extreme reaction.
Indeed, Cartwright actually fainted the moment that the fake blood hit her. The actress later told The Guardian, “You see this thing start to come out, so we all get sucked in, we lean forward to check it out … all of a sudden it comes out. I tell you, none of us expected it.”
12. Patrick Wilson (The Conjuring 2)
Of course, it’s not just scream queens that can feel the after-effects of shooting a horror movie. Patrick Wilson wasn’t a particular believer in the supernatural before starring as paranormal investigator Ed Warren in haunted house franchise The Conjuring. But that all changed after filming its sequel.
Indeed, speaking to newspaper The Independent, the actor revealed that there’s since been some potential paranormal activity in the New Jersey home he shares with his family. He said, “I’ve heard people on two different occasions say they’ve heard kids’ laughter in the middle of the night, in my house. And that used to freak my wife out.”
11. Janet Leigh (Psycho)
Of course, scaring your lead actor half to death is nothing new. Alfred Hitchcock put various actresses through hell during his reign as the Master of Suspense in the mid-20th Century. None more so than Janet Leigh, aka the woman at the center of possibly the most iconic horror scene of all time.
Indeed, after playing the ill-fated Marion Crane in Psycho, Leigh refused to ever take a shower ever again. And even when she had a bath she always kept the shower curtain pulled back. She had to make sure she had a clear view of the door, and that every potential way into the room was secured.
10. Tippi Hedren (The Birds)
Tippi Hedren also suffered for her art while filming a Hitchcock classic. Now, you might have thought that the dozens of feathered creatures that attack the actress in The Birds’ finale were props. But in order to make the scene as authentic as possible, the director used the real things.
Unsurprisingly Hedren didn’t walk away from the set unharmed. Ravens, gulls and crows were thrown at her across five days of filming by several far more protected prop men. Inevitably, one of the many feathered missiles eventually gouged the actress’s cheek. Hedren has since repeatedly discussed just how harrowing she found the whole experience.
9. Mia Farrow (Rosemary’s Baby)
Rosemary’s Baby was one of the most chilling films of the 1960s. But the biggest ordeal that star Mia Farrow had to endure during filming didn’t relate to any of its satanic rituals. Rather, it was the moment when director Roman Polanski insisted she eat raw liver.
Eating raw liver on camera not just once but multiple times would be tough for even the most carnivorous of actors. So you have to feel Farrow, who had to do so in Rosemary’s Baby despite being a vegetarian! Perhaps the moment when she throws up after seeing her reflection in a toaster didn’t require much acting.
8. Sandra Peabody (The Last House on the Left)
The Last House on the Left was one of the most controversial horrors to emerge in the 1970s. And its filming was the stuff of nightmares for the actress who played victim Mari Collingwood. Indeed, Sandra Peabody was repeatedly scared senseless on set under the orders of its director, the legendary Wes Craven.
To heighten the film’s realism, Craven insisted that the co-stars who portrayed Mari’s attackers remained in character even when the cameras stopped rolling. As a result Peabody found herself constantly petrified. She was so scarred by the experience that she hasn’t once attended any of the movie cast’s subsequent meet-up events.
7. Dakota Johnson (Suspiria)
Dakota Johnson confessed that she had to undergo therapy after being severely traumatized by the filming of the 2018 version of Suspiria. The actress plays a U.S. dancer who attends a Berlin academy in the 1970s that just happens to be a front for a witches’ coven. And she told Elle magazine that her experiences on set were hellish.
She said, “We were in an abandoned hotel on top of a mountain. It had 30 telephone poles on the roof, so there was electricity pulsating through the building, and everyone was shocking each other. It was cold as s**t, and so dry. The only thing that helped was dousing myself with oil every night.”
6. Bill Skarsgård (It)
Bill Skarsgård is another Hollywood star who found that remaking a classic horror can wreak havoc on your mental state. The actor famously took over from Tim Curry as Pennywise the clown in the 2017 big-screen version of It. And speaking to Entertainment Weekly magazine in January 2018, Skarsgård admitted the character haunted him in his dreams.
He said, “Every night, he came and visited. It was in the shape of either me dealing with him, sort of Pennywise as a separate entity of me, and then also me as Pennywise in circumstances that I didn’t appreciate. Like, I’m Pennywise, and I’m really upset that I’m out in public, and people are looking at me.”
5. Alex Wolff (Hereditary)
“I don’t think you can go through something like this and not have some sort of PTSD afterwards.” That’s how Alex Wolff described working on one of 2018’s more unsettling movies, Hereditary. The actor was at the center of one of its most disturbing scenes, the moment when Peter’s head is continually smashed on a desk by an unknown force.
Wolff told broadcaster Vice, “When I started talking about it, all these flashes with all this disturbing s*** I went through sorta came back in a flood. It kept me up at night. To where I got into a habit of emotional masochism at that point of just trying to take in every negative feeling I could draw from.”
4. Oliwia Dabrowska (Schindler’s List)
The real-life events depicted in Holocaust movie Schindler’s List are far more horrific than anything you’ll see in a fictional scary movie. It’s why Oliwia Dabrowska, aka the Girl in the Red Coat, was left scarred for life after watching the Oscar-winning classic aged 11. Responsibly, director Steven Spielberg had advised her to wait until she was 18 before watching the finished film.
Darbrowska was only a toddler when she actually appeared in the World War II epic. But she still found herself repeatedly bombarded with questions about the film’s dark subject-matter while growing up. Indeed, in 2013 Dabrwoska admitted to the Daily Telegraph newspaper that she even used to feel ashamed of her part in the movie and tried to keep it under wraps.
3. Isabelle Adjani (Possession)
Isabelle Adjani won the first of her five César Awards (like a French Oscar) for her performance in Possession. And the legendary French actress certainly committed herself fully to the role. In fact she had to undergo therapy after playing Anna in the cult 1981 horror flick.
Directed by Andrjez Zulawski, Possession sees Adjani play the wife of an international spy whose behavior becomes increasingly strange after she files for divorce. Indeed, her soon-to-be ex-husband even starts to wonder whether she’s been possessed by a demon. Adjani later declared she never wanted to play such a similar character ever again.
2. JoBeth Williams (Poltergeist)
The Steven Spielberg-produced Poltergeist was rumored to have been cursed following a series of tragic events that befell many of its cast members. JoBeth Williams, who played Diane Freeling, is thankfully very much still alive and kicking. But she still suffered while filming the 1982 horror.
Indeed, during one particularly gruesome scene Williams was forced to swim in a pool full of real skeletons. But this wasn’t for creative reasons. Despite Spielberg’s presence, Poltergeist was a relatively low-budget affair which didn’t have the cash to splash out on authentic-looking props.
1. Jennifer Carpenter (The Exorcism of Emily Rose)
Jennifer Carpenter hasn’t watched a scary movie since filming The Exorcism of Emily Rose. The actress got spooked out by several strange things which occurred during the shoot, including the clock radio in the room in which she slept regularly turning on at random times throughout the night. And while filming one particular scene Carpenter ended up fainting.
However, this wasn’t anything supernatural-related. After taking an antihistamine to combat her hay allergy during the barn-shot finale, Carpenter began to feel her heart race. And combined with a full day of constant screaming, the actress eventually passed out, scaring the rest of the cast and crew in the process.