There aren’t many worse things that can happen on a film production than your star dying; after all, how the Hell are you supposed to finish things when your protagonist can no longer appear on screen?
Though many filmmakers would simply abandon the film and admit defeat, in these 8 instances, a “never say never” attitude resulted in some shocking movies that either demonstrated inventive genius, or an incredible lack of taste, or just made us wish that the film had never been made. Many got up in arms about that rumour a few years back that George Lucas was going to use CGI to “resurrect” dead actors, but boy, that’s got nothing on these actual incidents…
From poor editing tricks to flat out lying to consumers about how much of their role the late star had actually filmed, situations like this can catch directors and producers at their most unscrupulous. Ranging from superbly crafted Best Picture-winning blockbusters to the worst of the worst, here are 8 shocking movies that Hollywood made with dead actors…
Bela Lugosi is, of course, best known for playing Dracula, though probably his next-most prominent role would be in a movie released after his death, Ed Wood’s inimitable schlock spectacle Plan 9 from Outer Space. Wood had previously filmed some footage of Lugosi in his Dracula costume for a vampire movie he eventually planned to make, though struggled to find funding for. Wood eventually decided to make Plan 9 instead, and so opted to incorporate the vampiric Lugosi character into the plot, despite the fact that the man had by now died.
But mere death wouldn’t stop a renegade filmmaker like Wood; he combined the silent footage of Lugosi that he had with new footage of a double he hired, who in fact happened to be his wife’s chiropractor, though is noticeably slimmer than the actor, and has to cover his face with his cape during most shots…
Bruce Lee tragically died just 3 months before Enter the Dragon was to become a smash hit in the US, but shark-like Hollywood producers decided that the man’s career would continue to blossom, and that being dead wasn’t an excuse for not starring in more movies. Prior to production on Enter the Dragon kicking off, Lee had filmed portions of a movie called The Game of Death, and after Lee’s death, Enter the Dragon director Robert Clouse took the raw dailies and shot new footage to try and splice together a whole new Bruce Lee movie.
We were all gob-smacked when it transpired that Heath Ledger had died of an accidental drug overdose in January of 2008, and though his role as The Joker in The Dark Knight had been completed, he still had plenty of work to do on Terry Gilliam’s fantasy flick The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, having only shot about 1/3 of his total work. Though Gilliam considered abandoning the project, you have to give the guy credit – he picked himself up, and came up with a pretty damn smart way to save the movie and the jobs of everyone working on it.
Wagons East! is remembered largely for being the last film starring John Candy, who sadly died of a massive heart attack during production. The big-wigs in charge swore blind that Candy had finished his commitments before passing away, but watching the final product, it’s clear that this is not the case at all. Not even the best editor in the world would be able to disguise the lack of Candy footage seemingly available here; so many scenes feature the actor awkwardly reacting out of context to something that’s happening, or just standing around for no reason at all.
At one point, Candy disappears from the film with no explanation given, and then when he returns, the filmmakers opted to use naff digital technology to superimpose earlier shots of the actor in new settings, thinking that we somehow wouldn’t notice…
One of the most shocking deaths in all of Hollywood was Brandon Lee’s tragic demise on the set of Alex Proyas’ gothic thriller The Crow. Lee was shot by a prop gun, but due to a cartridge being improperly disposed of, a shard of it fired out of the gun and into Lee, killing him a few hours later in hospital. Lee still had about a week’s worth of footage to shoot, and Proyas, proving his sure skill as a director, used a combination of doubles, CGI and smart shooting techniques to convincingly finish the film.
Artfully obscuring Lee’s face with shattered mirrors and lightning, while also compositing the actor’s face onto a double, it’s staggering watching the final product. One could easily never even know that the actor had died during production.
The famous “Fourth Stooge”, Shemp, died in 1959, though crass Hollywood producers still held the surviving Stooges to their original contract, being forced to make 4 more shorts that had to somehow feature Shemp. The Stooges tried their hardest, using archive footage combined with some recently shot material, though because of Shemp’s declining health, it’s shockingly apparent what’s happened, and just a little confusing to be honest.
A fake Shemp was also used, with a large amount of his screen time being devoted to the other Stooges trying to keep his face obscured in the most blatantly obvious way possible. Most Stooges enthusiasts consider these the worst films the gang ever produced, and to even the layman, they are a sad by-product of Hollywood at its most insensitive and surely, its most unfunny.
Ridley Scott encountered an unexpected problem when Oliver Reed died of a heart attack during production of Gladiator in 1999; though it wasn’t as drastic a blow as, say, the prospect of Russell Crowe dropping dead on set, it still created a massive issue given Proximo’s importance to the plot, and the fact that many key scenes and shots had yet to be filmed.
While CGI was used rampantly by this time, it still proved to be one of the most ambitious and daring manoeuvers in major blockbuster filmmaking at the time; the production forked out over $3m for a visual effects company to create 2 minutes of new footage, in which a double’s face had a digital version of Reed’s face mapped onto it.
One critic referred to Trail of the Pink Panther as “cinematic graverobbing at its most unsavoury”, due to the fact that it was released more than 2 years after Peter Sellers’ death, and simply re-used deleted and cutting room footage from throughout the actor’s career, even if it didn’t make any sense at all. It feels like a surreal Dali experiment; Sellers’ age changes drastically without rhyme or reason, and the time chasm between the various films means that characters never stick to a specific time era regarding cars and clothing codes.