Shudder just did a series about Cursed Films and while they covered The Exorcist, they completed neglected this off-shoot, which may be the most dangerous, most cursed movie ever.
Noel Marshall was William Peter Blatty’s agent and the executive producer of that film before he decided to make this movie. Perhaps the problem is what we often discuss: the auteur complex.
Marshall wrote, co-produced, and starred in this movie alongside his then-wife, The Birds star Tippi Hedren, his stepdaughter Melanie Griffith and his sons Jerry and John.
During the filming of Mr. Kingstreet’s War, Marshall and Hedren got the idea to make this film about the plight of big cats called Lions, Lions and More Lions.
They approached animal trainers for support on the training of numerous big cats, and were told the idea was impossible. Each cat would need at least two trainers on set at all time. They dismissed these experts, as we’ll soon learn more about.
Hedren originally wanted actor Jack Nicholson to play the lead role, but Marshall decided to play that part.
The six months of production stretched into three years of shooting and eleven total years of production. The lions would live in Marshall’s homes and would eventually reach more than 130 lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars and cougars.
I referred to this film being cursed earlier. Instead of theory and conjecture, ala that Shudder show, let me give you facts: seventy people were injured during the making of this movie. Marhsall’s wounds got so bad that he got gangrene and nearly died, taking an entire year to recover. There was also a near Biblical series of calamities, including a flood, a fire, a feline plague, destroyed equipment, Hedren breaking her leg after falling off an elephant, John nearly being smothered by a lion and needing more than fifty stitches to his head and Melanie being attacked by a lion and needing facial reconstruction.
Two years in, most of the investors had left. Marshall would sell four houses to pay for the film, rebuild the sets and rehire a crew. At the end, the movie would cost $17 million to independently make; $48 million in today’s money.
It would play theaters for a week and only bring in $2 million. Then, it went away for decades.
This is a movie that destroyed lives and a marriage.
A year after, Marshall and Hedren would split. His son John would tell Xfinity that, “Dad was crazy. He was absolutely bat [expletive] crazy. He was worse than the whole family put together. He was actually quite dangerous.”
Marshall was known for screaming at the cast and crew, ignoring safe words and working to get a shot more than take care of them.
Jan de Bont, who would go on to shoot Cujo, Basic Instinct and, yes, Leonard Part 6 before directing Speed, Twister and The Haunting, was the cinematographer on this film. He was scalped by a lion and needed more than two hundred stitches. Of the film, he said, “The technical problems were gigantic. When you shoot with five cameras simultaneously, each has to be ingeniously disguised so they don’t appear in the shots. This was my first Hollywood film. And I’ll never be the same again.”
Togar was one of the lead lions. He was adopted from Anton Lavey, the leader of the Church of Satan, who could no longer keep him in his small San Francisco apartment. He was perhaps the most dangerous of the lions, despite being raised in a domestic situation. He would attack assistant director Doron Kauper, which required four and a half hours of surgery to survive. Twenty of the crew walked out and would not come back.
Man, I know way too much trivia about this film. Like how Ted Cassidy — Lurch from The Addams Family — was a writer. That three of the animals had to be shot by sheriffs after they escaped during the flood. And that was one of the other lions was named Christian and he’d live with the aforementioned Togar, which means smoke.
As for the actual movie, I’d describe it as a cross between Born Free, The Birds and Jackass. It is less a narrative film when you know the story behind the movie.