vote on everything
506 voters

11 Movies That Used Real Skeletons And Bodies For Bone-Chilling Dramatic Effect

June 17, 2020 2.6k votes 506 voters 78.5k views11 items

List RulesVote up the films that benefit from the added creepiness of real human remains.

Horror films are designed to be as scary as possible. While special effects are often enough to make audiences squirm in their seats, some filmmakers filmed their movies with real skeletons and dead bodies to lend some authenticity to the horrifying images. You might not be able to pick out these moments onscreen, but you'll never look at these scenes the same after finding out the movies were made with real dead bodies. 

If a movie is filmed with real skeletons, the filmmakers rarely advertise it openly. Superstitions such as the "Poltergeist curse" dictate that using real human remains is not only disrespectful, but also potentially dangerous. Horror movie sets are scary enough without forcing actors and behind-the-scenes workers to come into contact with real human remains. Shouldn't we allow the dead to rest in peace? 

Nevertheless, the use of read dead bodies in movies is a reality. Take a look below at a few films that opted for real skeletons and vote up the scenes that benefited from the use of real human remains. 

  • Poltergeist is well known for the supposed curse that plagues the three movies. Several mishaps and deaths, both on set and off, made it a dangerous choice to be part of the Poltergeist cast. While the film's director vehemently denies any fault, most people believe the curse started because the film used real skeletons at the end of the first movie. 

    At the conclusion of the first film, the Freeling family discovers that their hometown was built on top of a cemetery. Skeletons emerge from the ground, ready to attack and take back their final resting place. At one point, Diane Freeling (JoBeth Williams) falls into the family's mud-filled pool and is immediately set upon by vengeful skeletons. 

    Though Williams didn't know it, the skeletons that jumped on her in the pool were real. The film purchased the skeletons from a medical supply company, which cost much less than acquiring fake skeletons. Considering the many deaths suffered by actors appearing in these movies, most people connected the use of real skeletons with the supposed "Poltergeist curse." 

    • Actors: Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams, Heather O'Rourke, Zelda Rubinstein, Beatrice Straight
    • Released: 1982
    • Directed by: Tobe Hooper
    amazon_watch buy button
  • The making of Apocalypse Now was something of a disaster. While the film was originally meant to shoot for 14 weeks, issues on set expanded that original timeframe to 16 months. Filmed in the jungles of the Philippines, the film was intense and emotionally draining for everyone involved. 

    To really highlight the destruction caused by the Vietnam War, the prop crew started to get creative. They wanted an environment that truly felt dangerous, so they started scattering the bodies of rats on the ground to create a realistic smell of death. When Martin Sheen's wife complained about the rats, producer Gray Frederickson confronted the production designer, Dean Tavoularis, and asked that he stopped using the rats. Tavoularis responded by saying, "That's intentional, it gives it real atmosphere." During the conversation, a prop guy muttered within Frederickson's hearing, "Wait till he hears about the dead bodies." 

    After further investigation, Frederickson found out that the set designers had been keeping cadavers behind the tent where everyone ate. They wanted to scatter them in the trees to create a sense of authenticity. Although Frederickson immediately shut that idea down, their problems didn't stop there. It turns out the man who had been supplying the bodies was a grave robber. The police found out and the entire cast and crew were arrested until they could confirm that the production team had nothing to do with the unidentified bodies. 

    • Actors: Marlon Brando, Harrison Ford, Robert Duvall, Martin Sheen, Laurence Fishburne
    • Released: 1979
    • Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola

    More Apocalypse Now 

    15 Stories From The Wild Life Of David Hackworth, Who Inspired Two 'Apocalypse Now' Characters#177 of 1,189 Every Oscar Winning Film Ever#22 of 374 The 50+ Best War Movies Ever Made, Ranked

    amazon_watch buy button
  • Faces of Death is one of the most disturbing movies to ever see the light of day. It's exactly what the title suggests - a mondo film focused solely on death. Since it's filmed in a sort of documentary style, the movie has sparked dozens of rumors that the deaths taking place onscreen are actually real. However, the filmmakers explained that much of the action shown onscreen is entirely fake. 

    It's important to note the word "much." The film's creator, John Alan Schwartz, intercut his own fabricated scenes with real archival footage, forcing viewers to constantly question which scenes are real and which are fake. Some archival footage shows genuine dead bodies and corpses, though much of the violence depicted onscreen is simply the result of regular film production. 

    There is also one shocking, authentic moment that disturbingly aligns with the messaging of the film. While filming the final scene of the movie on a beach, a deceased surfer washed up onto the sand. He was completely unrelated to the film project, but it was a disturbing discovery in the midst of such a violent film. 

    • Released: 1978
    • Directed by: John Alan Schwartz

    More Faces of Death 

    #40 of 88 The Goriest Movies Ever Made#4 of 45 The Most Controversial Movies of All Time#79 of 100 The Best Movies On Shudder

    amazon_watch buy button
  • While some movies decide to use real skeletons on purpose, other films - such as Dawn of the Dead - bring human remains on set entirely by accident. While filming the movie, makeup specialist Tom Savini borrowed a skeleton from a prop collector. At the time, he believed the skeleton was fake. 

    When filming ended, the skeleton was sold to Marilyn Wick, who owned the famous Costume World costume shops. She placed the skeleton in the front window of her store. After a few years, authorities noticed that the skeleton looked disturbingly real. They confiscated the skeleton in 1982 and performed an autopsy. 

    The autopsy revealed that the skeleton was, in fact, real, and that it once belong to a 35-year-old woman nearly 100 years prior to the discovery. After being questioned about the skeleton, the original owner said he knew it was real, but Savini and Wick maintained that they had no idea. 

    • Actors: Tom Savini, Ken Foree, James A. Baffico, Howard Smith, David Early
    • Released: 1978
    • Directed by: George A. Romero

    More Dawn of the Dead 

    #38 of 714 The Best Horror Movies Of All Time#690 of 1,647 The Most Rewatchable Movies#21 of 114 The Best Intelligent Horror Movies

    amazon_watch buy button
FilmsFilmEntertainmentHorrorBehind The ScenesGraveyard Shift