Dark Days for Stars of 'Dark Knight'

Will "Batman" film join the ranks of "Poltergeist" and other "cursed" movies?

Aug. 11, 2008 — -- Can a movie be cursed?

The stars of "The Dark Knight," the latest installment in the "Batman" franchise, may be wondering just that. Since the film has wrapped, violence and death have shadowed three of the film's stars.

First, there was Heath Ledger's untimely death, ruled an accidental overdose from prescription drugs, in January. Then, Brit Christian Bale was arrested last month amid allegations that he assaulted his mother and sister in London. And last week, Morgan Freeman was airlifted to a hospital after the car he was driving skidded off the road and flipped several times in Mississippi. Later in the week, it was announced that he and his wife of 24 years were getting divorced.

Curse or coincidence?

"America and the world love a good story, a good conspiracy," said film professor Wes Gehring at Ball State University in Indiana. "It's fun to play with, but I don't really think of curses that way."

The Rev. Edward Beck, a Roman Catholic priest and a host of "Faith Matters" on "ABC News Now," does not believe that films can be cursed, but he believes the cast and crew working on a film can open themselves up to evil when it is the focus of their work.

"Heath Ledger was supposedly portraying a dark character, and needing to be in that darkness had an affect on him," Beck said. "He could have been depressed and it seeped into his regular life, which could have led to an accidental suicide."

Beck hastens to add that he doesn't believe Freeman's accident or Bale's arrest has anything to do with the film.

"Dark Knight" is only the latest film in which the question of a curse has been raised.

'Poltergeist' Trilogy

The 1980s' "Poltergeist" trilogy became legendary for its supposed curse, known as the Curse of Haddad, after four cast members died in the six-year span between the first and the third films.

Heather O'Rourke, the young star of all three films, died of septic shock at age 12, while her on-screen sister, Dominique Dunne, was strangled to death at 22 by her jealous boyfriend. Julian Beck, who played an evil spirit in the second film, died at 60 of stomach cancer, while Will Sampson, who played a good spirit, died after an organ transplant.

'The Crow'

Star Brandon Lee's death so closely paralleled the plot of this 1994 dark comic book adaptation that it's hard not to chalk it up to a curse.

Lee died on the set when he was shot with a gun that was supposed to be filled with blanks. Likewise, his character was supposed to be shot with a gun he thinks is unloaded. His character was killed the night before his wedding; Lee was supposed to marry after wrapping the movie.

'Rebel Without a Cause'

When film professor Gehring wrote a book on the movie's star James Dean, he came across all sorts of theories for why three of the film's stars, including Dean, had met untimely deaths.

Dean was killed at age 24 when his Porsche Spyder, nicknamed "Little Bastard," collided nearly head-on with another car that had crossed into his lane. Natalie Wood drowned in the waters off Catalina Island at the age of 43 when she fell overboard from her yacht. And Sal Mineo, who received an Oscar nomination for his supporting role in the film, was stabbed to death at age 37 in a possible gay hate crime.

"Were they jinxed?" Gehring asked. "It's fun for stories, but usually it's just chance."

Gehring tends to believe that the simplest explanation is often the best.

In the case of the 1956 epic film "The Conqueror," in which John Wayne plays Genghis Khan, the director and three of the stars, including Wayne, all died of cancer. What at first seemed like a curse was later attributed to the St. George, Utah, location where exterior scenes were shot. The location was 137 miles downwind of the government's above-ground nuclear testing site in Nevada.

Beck, who deals in the realm of good and evil, cannot completely dismiss the idea of a curse. When filmmakers and the actors they cast focus on the supernatural or the paranormal in films, they could be playing with fire.

"It's trying to take something that is very powerful and influential in the spiritual world and use it for entertainment," he said. "If you're playing around with that kind of stuff, it has powerful effects. Whether or not that's related to paranormal event happening on the set, I don't know. Is that predisposing these people to thinking those things are related? Perhaps."

The Bible does mention curses. In the Gospel, Jesus says, "Cursed be the one who ... "

But it's not Jesus who is putting a curse on someone, Beck explained, just as he doesn't believe an external force can cause someone to be cursed. The curse, he said, is not choosing the path of goodness. "It's almost as if you're cursing yourself."