The 5 Most Horrifyingly Wasteful Film Shoots

#2. The Ten Commandments Built a City and Then Buried It


In the early days of cinema when the industry was lawless, the name Cecil B. DeMille was synonymous with a complete disregard for budgets, deadlines and human safety. Yet despite the train wrecks his projects should have been, he somehow managed to crank out overblown blockbusters that were critically hated but publicly adored. He was the Michael Bay of the early 1900s, the king of crowd-pleasing spectacle.

In the next scene, the cows start fixing cars in their bras and panties.

So, when he was shooting the original The Ten Commandments film in 1923, DeMille was not likely to cut corners on any of the effects. He was determined to have everything as authentic as possible, stating, "We don't fake anything in pictures; we've got to have the real thing." Unfortunately for DeMille, the story was inconveniently set in ancient Egypt, making authenticity a little tricky. Logically, the next best thing was to rebuild ancient Egypt in California.

The set was the largest ever built. It included four 35-foot-tall, 20-ton pharaoh statues, 21 sphinxes and 300 chariots. The entire thing took an army of 1,000 workers more than a month to build.

How long did it take those slackers in Egypt to build theirs?

The production was so massive that the studio threatened to pull the plug on the whole film if he didn't tone it down, but DeMille presumably stared them in the eye while ordering 5,000 animals and more than 2,500 extras to top it all off. Then everything was shipped piece by piece by train from Hollywood 150 miles north to the Guadalupe sand dunes in California.

Now, building a life-size replica of ancient Egypt is one thing, but what to do with it when you've finished filming? Already over budget, DeMille didn't fancy paying to have it taken back to Hollywood, where other filmmakers might actually have some use for it again. He also knew he couldn't just leave it all standing there in the desert. So, he did what anyone would do: He hired a load of bulldozers and spent a day pushing sand over it. Remarkably, he did it all in complete secret, too. Most locals assumed the props had been taken with the crew, so they never bothered hunting for the remains.

And just so no one would talk, he buried the crew, too.

The Lost City of DeMille stayed buried for over 60 years before a young film buff named Peter Brosnan happened to be reading the director's autobiography, where DeMille mentioned that one of the most lavish film sets ever constructed was lying under some Californian sand. In 1983, Brosnan and his friends discovered the set and found that much of it was still completely intact, albeit a bit sandy. They have since attempted to raise money to preserve the site, but so far people seem content to let it stayed buried until it's rediscovered thousands of years from now and confuses the hell out of those silver-suited archaeologists.

"By Jove, this could be the Lost Tomb of the Kardashians!"

#1. Ben-Hur and Charge of the Light Brigade Slaughtered Horses

We've previously established that the chariot race in the 1925 film Ben-Hur was one of the most dangerous film shoots in history. In a quest for realism at the expense of life, the film recreated a full on, no-holds-barred chariot race among the stuntmen with a $100 incentive for the winner, and at least one loser was treated to the consolation prize of death. But that's not why it's on our list; the scene was also responsible for killing around 100 horses.

They still segregated horses back then, too. It was a different time.

The majority of those deaths were thanks to one man: B. Reeves Eason. He was the second unit director in charge of the chariot race and seemed to have a real vendetta against horses. When an animal had a problem, instead of getting treatment from a vet it, he'd just shoot it instead. Worst of all, most of those horses were killed during the disastrous yearlong shoot in Italy, of which almost none of the original footage made it into the final movie.

The race was shot again in America, this time with much fewer animal fatalities, although the crash at the very end of the race is real and resulted in five horse deaths alone.

But before you accuse Ben-Hur of being one of the bloodiest film productions in history, Casablanca director Michael Curitz created a movie in 1936 called The Charge of the Light Brigade that was responsible for so many horse deaths that people stopped counting.

"Here's looking at horse carnage, kid."

In the scene depicting the charge for which the movie was named, the battlefield was strewn with trip wires. When the director shouted, "Bring on the empty horses," meaning the horses without riders, the handlers sent them all sprinting full speed toward their doom. At least 25 were killed, although some people claim the figure was as high as 200. If you're wondering what kind of monster could be so careless with the life of those animals, then you may not be surprised to learn that the scene was organized by the film's second unit director, one B. Reeves Eason, the same man who was by that point famous for killing as many horses as anyone would let him.

"This is the touching scene where a guy puts a horse out of its misery. No, it won't be in the final cut."

The numerous animal deaths forced Congress to look at animal abuse in film for the first time. Its star Errol Flynn later asserted in his autobiography that it was he who complained to the ASPCA.

Due to the use of trip wires and many animal deaths, Charge of the Light Brigade has never been rereleased by Warner Bros., although the scene has managed a second life as raw material for Iron Maiden's music video for "The Trooper." See, horses? It was all worth it after all.

But it's viewed with a rose-tinted lens, so we don't feel anything anymore.

For more from Kevin read Listening for Grasshoppers, the blog, not the book (to which he is unaffiliated), or follow him on Twitter.

For more disturbing Hollywood stories, check out 9 Awesome Directors Who Temporarily Lost Their Mind and 12 Classic Movie Moments Made Possible by Abuse and Murder.

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