5 Famous Movie Scenes Made Possible by Reckless Endangerment
As we've mentioned before, sometimes the best way for a director to capture pain and suffering is to make the cast suffer actual pain, because that whole "acting" thing is seriously overrated. Thus the following directors turned their sets into torture chambers for artistic purposes, and/or because they just hated actors.
James Cameron Almost Drowns His Cast and Himself
We've covered The Abyss' amazing technological leaps, but we neglected to mention that 40 percent of the shooting took place in an abandoned underwater nuclear tank, which doesn't exactly conjure up images of tea parties and pony rides. For starters, there's the iconic scene where Ed Harris is introduced to the magic goop that will let him breathe underwater.
Made by dipping gillyweed in the suit's urine compartment.
This fluid actually exists in real life, but the only man who's tested it nearly bought the kelp farm. Not wanting to take his chances with a magical mystery liquid, Harris opted to hold his breath whenever he had to film in the suit. So when Harris is gasping and seizing up in panic as his helmet fills, he ain't acting.
As it turns out, nearly drowning was something of a running theme on the set. Another scene involved actors swimming without helmets, and since nobody in the cast was Aquaman, Cameron employed safety divers to stick life-giving oxygen into their faces. Then he told them to stay way the hell away from the camera, so if any of those scenes had gone wrong, the safety divers would have had a nice long swim to get to whoever's lungs were quickly filling with water. Oh, and one time a diver used an oxygen regulator incorrectly and pumped water into Harris' mouth instead of air and nearly killed him. Whoops-a-daisy!
It gets better. In order to ensure that nobody accidentally floated up to the surface, the actors were all strapped down with weights, meaning weak swimmers were screwed, and strong swimmers ... were also screwed. Yes, Cameron kept his actors in line with the same method the mafia uses to dispose of bodies.
All the hard work and stress (along with the constant threat of decompression sickness) caused Harris to break down and cry one evening and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio to famously scream "We're not animals here!" before storming off the set. Cameron responded to their extremely understandable concerns by calling anyone who couldn't keep up "wussies," because this was before he filmed Titanic and invented the concept of love.
Love of water, and of hypothermia. Which wouldn't really have helped matters.
In fairness to Cameron, he was putting his life on the line right there with them. One day both Cameron and his assistant forgot to check the oxygen meter on his tank and, well, you can guess what happened next. Again, a safety diver gave him water instead of air, and Cameron had to cold-cock him in the face so he could escape to the surface moments before blacking out. Both the diver and the assistant were fired, and humanity narrowly avoided living in a dark timeline where Terminator 2 was never made. If you can call that living.
Roman Polanski Is a One-Man Army of Terror
Roman Polanski is simultaneously one of the most sympathetic and terrible people in movie history. And we're not just talking about his personal life -- he's directed classic films like Chinatown and Rosemary's Baby, but his directing methods apparently came out of the Stasi's torture handbook.
He used microphones and cameras to keep actors under surveillance at all times.
In his very first film, Knife in the Water, Polanski got an actress to jump in fear by firing a gun behind her head. Because when has having a real gun on set ever gone wrong?
In Rosemary's Baby, there's a scene where the unraveling Mia Farrow eats raw liver. Health risks aside, Farrow was a vegetarian. Polanski, giving precisely zero fucks, made her repeatedly eat the real stuff over several takes. Then he made her walk into traffic, possibly because she kept complaining about the liver. But don't worry -- he promised her that no one would hit a woman who looked pregnant. So either Polanski had never heard the word "accident," or he didn't care enough about Farrow's life to come up with a believable justification.
Plus, her death would have provided enough liver for at least two sequels.
Polanski's increasing fame and fortune just fueled his insanity. In his 1971 adaptation of Macbeth, he decided to add a scene where a bear gets attacked by a pack of dogs, because nothing says Shakespeare like animal fights.
But he couldn't have dogs attack a real bear, because that would be cruel. So Polanski dressed a stuntman up in a bear suit and set three attack dogs on him. The pooches were so vicious that the stuntman feared for his life, and on the next take insisted that he could only handle one dog, or perhaps maybe a pack of poodles. Polanski nodded, made his best "I appreciate your concern" face, and unleashed all three again.
But as a precaution, he rubbed the costume with cat hair. Dogs don't like cats, right?
During the filming of Chinatown, he ripped a strand of hair out of Faye Dunaway's head because it was catching too much light (apparently "scissors" also isn't in Polanski's vocabulary) and gave himself a cameo where he stuck a prop knife up Jack Nicholson's nose that could have sliced Nicholson's extremely bankable face open if he held it the wrong way. Polanski purposely didn't show Nicholson how he was holding it, because ethical motivational techniques take, like, effort and shit. We're surprised he didn't actually just murder Dunaway at the end of the movie.
Stanley Kubrick Starts His Career With a Gas Attack
The famously insane Stanley Kubrick was just 24 when he made Fear and Desire, a film about four soldiers who are stuck behind enemy lines and slowly lose their minds, possibly because they had to work with Stanley Kubrick. Since at this point in his career Kubrick was just a creepy-looking guy who had made a few documentaries, he didn't have much of a budget to work with. He therefore had to improvise most of the film's special effects without taking little things like "safety" and "common sense" into consideration.
Later, he could afford to plan unsafe, senseless effects.
In particular, he wanted one of the final scenes to be shrouded in fog. Lacking a fog machine, Kubrick, like the evil twin of MacGyver, built one himself by pouring mineral oil and water into a crop sprayer ... without first removing the toxic insecticide already in it.
The fog looked fantastic, but it turned Fear and Desire into The Mist as the drifting insecticide nearly asphyxiated the cast and crew. Collapsing in desperation and acting insane must have been easy when the actors were surrounded by a lethal cloud of poisonous gas.
Kubrick would later disown Fear and Desire, ostensibly because he considered it amateurish, but possibly because someone actually was killed and he wanted to hide the evidence. However, the accidental unleashing of toxic inhalants gave Kubrick his first near-murder boner, inspiring him to purposely harass his actors throughout the rest of his professional life. This is how great careers start, kids!
D.W. Griffith Puts Thousands of People and Animals onto the Biggest Death Trap in Movie History
If you played L.A. Noire, you'll remember the sequence where you chase a criminal through a gigantic movie set that starts to collapse around you.
Recalling that classic noir film Earthquake.
That set was a real thing that sat abandoned in LA for decades, and it was actually used to shoot a movie. Also, director D.W. Griffith decided to pile the contents of a small country onto it.
And when one person looked at the camera, they of course had to cut and start all over.
Griffith is most famous for directing The Birth of a Nation, which in terms of technical achievement was like the Avatar of 1915, if Avatar had been super racist. Unhappy with being labeled a bigot just because he did a little innocent promotion of the KKK, Griffith's follow-up was the Cloud Atlas of 1916, Intolerance. It was a story about the evils of hatred across several generations, and one of those generations lived in ancient Babylon. Despite almost being out of money, Griffith decided he needed a gigantic set, because Hollywood is not a place known for restraint and reason.
Mother Nature did not approve of his hubris. Summer storms nearly destroyed the set -- the whole thing had to be tied down so it wouldn't blow away. Griffith was left with a poorly constructed, weak, and waterlogged Babylon, but he was broke, so he decided to improvise with a little trick filmmakers call "not giving a shit if anyone gets hurt."
For starters, he brought in more than 3,000 extras, because the best thing to do when you aren't sure of a structure's stability is to cram as many people in there as you can to check it out. Then he got chariots to run along the battlements, which spooked the horses, because even they realized they were working on a giant death trap. Finally, because Griffith's Ark wasn't quite finished, he hired elephants. But the amateur trainers mixed males and females together, giving him elephants that were more interested in flirting than following orders.
He used oliphants as well, but they were comparatively well-behaved.
Then came the battle scene. To simulate a collapsing tower, Griffith dropped canvas and wood right onto a cameraman, who miraculously wasn't hurt and even more miraculously didn't immediately quit. Thankfully, the incident taught Griffith the importance of safety and he stopped using potentially lethal filming methods.
Ha, you didn't fall for that, right? He then had his actors throw fake boulders from the towers that were heavy enough to knock the extras below unconscious.
Noel Marshall and His Family Get Mauled by Wild Animals for 11 Years
In 1968, actress Tippi Hedren and her husband, talent agent Noel Marshall, were entertained by the sight of an abandoned home in Africa that had been taken over by lions. So they decided to sell their house and use the money to buy 150 wild cats and build a set for a movie about a family that lives with deadly animals. Christ, that's like abandoning your life to go live on a riverboat in the Congo because you really liked Disneyland's Jungle Cruise.
Or flying to a Jupiter moon because your Space Mountain pic came out awesome.
The film was primarily a family affair, starring Hedren, Marshall, and three of their children (including Melanie Griffith). Marshall also wrote, produced, and directed, because if you're going to be on a sinking ship, you might as well be the captain. He looked around, saw nothing wrong with having lions and tigers attack untrained actors, and let the cameras roll.
Over the course of the 11 years it took to shoot Roar, a film about peaceful coexistence between man and nature, over 70 members of the cast and crew were mauled. Hedren was bitten on the back of the head and fractured her leg after being thrown off an elephant (yeah, they had one of those, too), while Griffith somehow wasn't put off of an acting career after her face was torn open in an injury that would require plastic surgery. We're not experts on film directing, but we're pretty sure that if you let your daughter get ravaged by lions, you're doing something wrong.
But that wasn't even the worst injury, because cinematographer Jan de Bont had the top of his head torn off. One week and 200 stitches later, de Bont returned to work, where animals were discouraged from further attacks because they know that the meat of insane prey tastes bad.
And they saw that he had no mane, so clearly he was not a threat.
In addition to not knowing how nature worked, the cast and crew didn't recognize signs from God. There was a dam break that killed several lions, bush fires, a foreclosure, and an outbreak of a feline virus. Presumably if the production had taken any longer the locust swarms would have been released. But all the pain and suffering was worth it when, over a decade after its inception, Roar was released in theaters for one week at a loss of $15 million.
At least the story still had a happy ending. Hedren converted the set into an animal sanctuary that's still in operation today, and Marshall went on to direct a horror movie by releasing a serial killer into a summer camp full of horny teenagers.
Mitch Anderson is on Twitter and Tumblr. Sam can be found on Twitter and Facebook, as well as the Hilltop Views, which is just a front for his world-domination scheme.
Related Reading: Want some more classic movies made possible by reckless endangerment? Read about how the actor playing Jesus in the Passion of the Christ was actually whipped. Robert Rodriguez was never tortured at Mel Gibson's behest, but he did sell his body for medical experimentation to fund his early films. It's true: abuse and murder made Hollywood what it is today. Click here for further proof.