So you’re cuddled up in front of the TV with your ‘Significant Other’, when all of a sudden the screen is filled with scenes involving horse deaths. It’s horror for horse lovers! If this is you, then you might want to give these a wide berth…
1. The Revenant
Have you been totally put off seeing this recent blockbuster by friends – OK, ex-friends – gleefully telling you about the bit where Leo DiCaprio uses a dead horse as a sleeping bag? Have they also told you that it was a real dead horse? If so, take comfort from the fact that, well, it wasn’t. It has since been revealed that ‘a set piece’ was used in this scene. ‘The horse was built and the guts inside were created out of latex and hair,’ explains production designer Jack Fisk. Slightly less fortunately for the raw fish which Leo chomps on later in the film, it seems that bit may actually have been real. Yuck.
2. Game Of Thrones
Guts and gore are the order of the day for the various bloodythirsty houses battling it out for the Iron Throne in the HBO fantasy series. Brace yourself for a particularly stomach-churning moment in which Gregor ‘The Mountain’ Clegane chops his handsome black steed’s head off in a fit of rage after losing a jousting match. Just avoid series one, episode five, people. In fact, if you don’t like things being horribly dismembered and/or killed, it’s probably best to avoid Game Of Thrones altogether.
3. Ben Hur
In the original 1925 silent version of the film about a Jewish prince who’s enslaved by the Romans and goes on to wreak revenge on his captors, the climactic chariot scene resulted in the death of 100 horses – apparently. It’s not completely clear whether this is an urban legend, as another separate rumour about a stuntman being killed during the chariot race and the footage being used in the film has since been debunked. However, according to Francis X. Bushman, who played Ben Hur’s opponent Messala in the race, horses injured during the five weeks of filming in the harsh California desert were shown no mercy. “If it limped, they shot it.”
4. Jesse James
This 1939 film about the notorious outlaw contains a scene in which two horses are ridden off the edge of a cliff. There was huge outrage when the public discovered that, far from being an elaborate stunt, this actually happened. The horses were blinkered – with fake eyes painted onto the blinkers to look real for the cameras – so that they couldn’t see that they were in fact running to their deaths. The only upside of this awful episode was that the public outcry forced Hollywood to review its treatment of animals and eventually led to the reassuring phrase: “No animals were harmed in the making of this film.”
5. The Hobbit
Although no animals were harmed during the actual filming of Peter Jackson’s trilogy, wranglers hired to manage the animals used in the films complained that conditions on the New Zealand farm where the animals were kept were far from ideal. The land was said to be full of sinkholes due to underground streams, putting the animals at risk. A miniature horse called Rainbow – intended to be a hobbit horse – had to be put down after he fell off a bank on the farm and broke his back. A horse called Claire was found dead with her head in a stream. After this, the animals were moved elsewhere.
6. The Charge Of The Light Brigade
Another film made back in the days before animal welfare was considered important, this 1936 epic starring Errol Flynn was loosely based on an event during the Crimean War in which Lord Cardigan led a doomed cavalry charge against the Russian forces, leading to huge loss of life. In the real charge of the Light Brigade, many horses died. Unfortunately, many horses also died during the filming, as trip wires were used to bring the horses down. Of the 125 horses used in the film, 25 were killed outright or had to be put down. Errol Flynn, an accomplished horseman, was so outraged by these unnecessary deaths that he physically attacked the film’s director Michael Curtiz – and the film was never re-released by Warner Brothers because of the carnage.
Like this? You might also enjoy reading these:
7. The Godfather
In one of the most infamous scenes in movie history, film producer Jack Wolz refuses a request to cast Mafia boss Don Corleone’s godson in one of his films, uttering a bunch of anti-Italian slurs to make his point – and wakes up to find the severed head of his prize racehorse in his bed. This shocked cinema-goers to the core when the film was released in 1972, and it’s still pretty horrific now. It’s been claimed that this was based on a real-life event – but fear not, the author of the 1969 book on which the film was based, Mario Puzo, says that he fabricated the whole thing. Phew.