#4. Director Werner Herzog was a Weapon of Mass Destruction
German director Werner Herzog is best known for being crazy. As for his actual work, in the U.S. he's known for his documentary Grizzly Man, about a man so obsessed with bears that he ends up being eaten by one. Oddly enough, Herzog's own obsessions have led to equally dangerous situations -- except that the ones in danger were usually his cast and crew. And himself. And the local villagers.
He looks like he's permanently about five seconds from collapsing in on himself.
For a while there, Herzog seemed bound and determined to keep his crew in a constant state of terror.
In Aguirre: The Wrath of God, he told the story of a conquistador and his men floating down a river in the middle of the godforsaken jungle. Herzog, in what we hope you're starting to recognize as a theme, decided to film the whole thing by making his crew float down a river in the middle of the godforsaken jungle. There was no budget for effects or stuntmen -- everything that happened in the film had to happen in real life as well. That includes a catastrophic flood, which wasn't in the script but Herzog saw as too good an opportunity to miss.
You don't need CGI when you have crazy German people.
Most directors would spend the rest of their lives doing romantic comedies after an experience like that; Herzog, on the other hand, returned to the South American jungles for Fitzcarraldo, about an Irish entrepreneur who moved a steamship overland from one river to another. The real-life Fitzcarraldo managed to move the 30-ton boat by dismantling it and reassembling the pieces on the other side, with the help of 1,100 natives; Herzog had his small crew (and some local villagers) haul a 320-ton steamer in one piece up a muddy, 60-degree mountain slope.
Then they dropped it into a river and filmed it shooting through real rapids ... from the inside, a shot that injured three of the six people involved in filming it. You can see the lead actor helping an injured crew member near the end of this video. Herzog is the one taking a drink, looking unimpressed.
Is that gin?
#3. Cannibal Holocaust Was Pretty Much What the Name Implies
Cannibal Holocaust was the Blair Witch Project of the early 80s: It's the earliest (and for a decade, only) example of a film presented as "found footage," a genre that's exploded into the mainstream in recent years thanks to movies such as Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity. Director Ruggero Deodato created one of the most original films ever made -- and he did it by stranding his cast and crew in a tiny village in the Amazon and tormenting them physically and emotionally.
Did we mention the village was only accessible by a private plane flight followed by a boat ride? And that the film was a brutal gorefest full of graphic murder and rape?
Not what we expected from the subdued poster.
Seven animals died during the filming of Cannibal Holocaust, or more specifically, were killed at the director's orders. Deodato had the cast slaughtering native animals, often in a single, unrehearsed take. Various actors and crew members were reduced to hysteria or tears, and some later described Deodato as "remorseless and uncaring" and "a sadist."
The native extras (many of them children) had to do some incredibly dangerous shots, like the one where they're crowded into a burning hut. If you've been paying attention to this article, you already know they filmed it by doing exactly that:
Also, according to one of the actors, these extras weren't even getting paid; even the stars had to argue for their pay and were initially underpaid in local pesos.
The violence in Cannibal Holocaust was so extreme and well-done that Deodato was charged with making a snuff film and, when he proved none of it was real, was arrested for obscenity. Sometimes an abusive lunatic just can't catch a break.
It's always the pretty ones ...
#2. A Crazy Howard Hughes Plus Airplane Stunts Equals Horror
Besides being insanely rich and insanely insane, Howard Hughes was also a prolific film producer and occasional director. Along with the original Scarface, his best-known film is probably Hell's Angels, about a group of heroic combat pilots in World War I. This period in Hughes' life served as the basis for Martin Scorsese's The Aviator, starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
As seen in that film, Hughes was obsessed with making the air battles as realistic as possible. What Scorsese and DiCaprio didn't tell us is that he did such a great job with the realism that the fights even came with their own casualties.
Kind of makes the final battle in Avatar feel sort of half-assed, doesn't it?
Since Hell's Angels was all about pilots in WWI, Hughes hired actual Air Corps veterans from the war to fly authentic biplanes and triplanes in choreographed stunts. You know, the same guys he was supposed to be honoring -- whom he then put in mortal danger with his insane stunts. Four people died in crashes during filming: three pilots and one mechanic.
When told about a crash that almost killed two more people, Hughes said he would be right there ... as soon as he finished his game of golf.
The No. 1 priority of the super-rich.
The film's final sequence called for stunts so dangerous that even the veteran pilots refused to fly them. Undeterred, Hughes jumped into a plane and flew the scene himself, successfully completing all the stunts. Then he crashed the plane, like the pilots predicted, possibly because he was simultaneously flipping two birds at them while piloting with the craft upside-down.
#1. The Flight of the Phoenix Finds a Way to Make Aviation Even More Dangerous
The Flight of the Phoenix stars James Stewart as a cargo pilot who crashes in the desert, forcing him and his crew (and their pet monkey) to build a smaller plane from the wrecked parts of the first one. The 2004 remake with Dennis Quaid didn't do quite as well as the original.
The reason is obvious just by looking at the poster: No monkey.
Another key difference is that the making of the James Stewart version involved building a real plane that looked made out of stray pieces of junk -- and then getting someone to fly it.
Yep, the studio commissioned a plane that resembled bits and pieces of a Fairchild C-82 Packet, the model that crashes in the film. The private firm that engineered it used plywood, wire and even clothesline to give it a more "cobbled-together" look, scavenging parts from different planes and building others from scratch. In the end, that's what sold the movie: watching the pile of junk lift off at the end is a cathartic experience for anyone who has to sit through the 130 minutes when they're just sitting there, putting the thing together.
But shockingly, the plane specifically designed to look like it could barely stay in the air, um, barely stayed in the air. While flying close to the ground, the aircraft struck a hillock, tipped over and completely broke apart, instantly killing the pilot and badly injuring a stuntman.
"Oh, well, we all saw that coming," was the pilot's last thought.
In the grand tradition of saying, "Fuck it, let's keep filming," the film crew brought in a similar-looking plane for the remaining shots. They removed the canopy and added skids, among other changes, because clearly, maintaining visual consistency was way more important than not killing any more people. Luckily, this one didn't crash.
It's also worth mentioning that the man killed when the plane came apart (also one of the partners in the firm that built it) was an accomplished pilot with more than 30 years of experience doing film stunts -- in fact, he survived being one of the stunt pilots in Howard Hughes' Hell's Angels.
So he was already living on borrowed time, really.
You can read more from Orrin here.
For more Hollywood horror stories, check out 6 Beloved TV Shows (That Traumatized Cast Members For Life). Or learn about some movies that were almost completely shitty, in 7 Terrible Early Versions of Great Movies.
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