James Dean Death Car Horror Movie in the Works
A new movie plans to turn the story of the imagined curse of James Dean's wrecked Porsche into a fun horror romp. It's probably not a good idea.
Deadline reports that screenwriter Samuel Gonzalez Jr. is making a new horror movie about James Dean's “cursed” Porsche, Little Bastard. The new movie, Little Darling, currently in preproduction, follows “a small-town junkyard wrecker who stumbles upon the car that Dean died in. His obsession to rebuild it takes him on a mind-bending odyssey that unleashes the true horror behind the forgotten mystery.” Shooting is scheduled to begin this spring.
Gonzalez implied that he plans to take the film in a demonic direction, following a rather extreme version of the “curse” conspiracy theory promulgated by Zak Bagans and other paranormal enthusiasts, but largely absent from the original versions of the story circulating in the twentieth century. “I’m putting the camera deep in engine oil and blood intending to resurrect the Hollywood legend and the ‘curse of Little Bastard’ with a grounded ’90s-based horror ride straight to hell and back.”
This is disappointing. As I wrote last year when Zak Bagans tried to capitalize on the same story, the "curse" narrative is a combination of self-promotional fabrication, media-driven ignorance, and a heavy dose of 20th century homophobia. I'm not sure we really need to be giving the demon-curse narrative more publicity.
The narrative of the cursed Porsche has a distinct origin point, as I laid out in a previous article:
The story was assembled piecemeal. In 1956, two drivers who used salvaged pieces of Dean’s car in their own racecars suffered accidents in the same race, one fatal. A reporter was there to cover Dean’s “cult” of fans who had come to see the pieces of his car. Those fans called the double accident a “jinx,” but the surviving driver noted that the recycled parts played no role in either accident. The story was a one-day wonder, and life went on.
Two decades later, celebrity car customizer George Barris expanded the “jinx” story into a full-on supernatural curse tale in his 1974 book “Cars of the Stars,” with the addition of many doubtful and outright fabricated details. Now supposedly “cursed,” the parts became associated with a murder that never happened and several dubious accidents and injuries.
DC Comics adapted the falsified story for a 1975 comic, depicting James Dean’s ghost hovering over scenes of death and injury. They called it “James Dean’s Curse on Wheels” and claimed the “weird hand of fate” took Dean to a “destiny with death.”
In later decades, the story expanded into ridiculous territory. A zany Viennese professor named Karl Unster became obsessed with a completely different “cursed” car—the Gräf and Stift double phaeton that the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was riding in when he was assassinated in Sarajevo in 1914—and turned by accident an account of Dean haunting his own car into a century-long demon epic. Unster had claimed that Porsche had used steel salvaged from the Franz Ferdinand death car, which meant Dean’s Porsche was suffused with the death’s cars nefarious essence. This argument should have been prima facie false since Franz Ferdinand’s car not only still exists but is on public display in the Heeresgeschichtliches Museum in Vienna. But Unster denied the evidence of his own eyes.
Instead, he believed a story apparently invented by Frank Edwards for Stranger Than Science in 1959 that the “real” Franz Ferdinand death car killed a succession of later owners before being destroyed in an Allied bombing in 1944. So, in 1968 Unster traced the imaginary “wreckage” to a garbage dump in Stuttgart, Germany, where Porsche built cars. Later research discovered that Porsche salvaged steel from the local dump for recycling. Thus, decades after Unster, some concluded--without evidence--that Dean's Porsche had been made of demon-possessed steel from Franz Ferdinand's car.
More recent writers, copying from copyists, conflate a lot of moving parts and falsely suggest that Unster had proved in 1968 that Dean’s Porsche was made from Franz Ferdinand’s steel, thus creating a longer history for the curse story, which was largely invented in 1974.
As I laid out last year, the reason the curse story took hold in 1974 had a lot to do with the revelation in the mid-1970s that James Dean had had sexual relations with other men. As I described last year, after those revelations,
Stories about how James Dean was evil, cursed, or somehow supernaturally deserving of death quickly gained in popularity, for sadly obvious reasons. The connection was never hidden. The playwright Venable Herndon made this clear in his 1974 Dean biography. He sought out the most derogatory and extreme rumors about Dean’s same-sex encounters and published them alongside Dean’s horoscope to “prove” that Dean’s fate was sealed in the stars. Soon enough, the tabloids carried new tales of Dean’s alleged occultism and longing for death, the only fate considered proper for queer people.
The story of the cursed car gained popularity and kept growing for a similar reason. It symbolically said that divine fate would strike down a sexual sinner and any who had commerce with him.
I’m sure Samuel Gonzalez Jr.is merely thinking of a demonic curse story as just another supernatural fun ride with a vague celebrity connection. But the underlying themes and the dark history of this particular bit of angry paranormal nonsense deserves more careful treatment than a cheapie exploitation film.
I never quite understood until recently why this particular incident loomed so large in Dean's legacy. Unlike, say, Marilyn Monroe's death there was no real mystery or political/sexual intrigue behind what was after all a simple traffic accident. It was only when my Nascar obsessed car fanatic brother-in-law dragged me to car shows, subjected me to 24/7 news coverage of races when at his home, and taught his kids to have encyclopedic knowledge of every vehicle ever produced (including concept cars that never rolled off the assembly line) that I realized automobiles were living things to some people. Perhaps it is only a matter of time, but it is curious Paul Walker's death, which was a virtual replay of Dean's, has not become such a fetish. Perhaps it is a question of being first. There is still great interest in Bruce Lee's death, yet the even more spectacular on-set death of his son is mentioned almost as an afterthought.