One of the most infamous stories to come out of the production of James Cameron’s “Titanic” was when much of the film’s crew were raced to hospital following their consuming of a clam chowder that was later found to have been spiked with a hallucinogen.
The event took place in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in August 1996, where the film’s present-day-set framing scenes were filmed with actor Bill Paxton as the leader of an expedition that discovers Rose’s necklace. Thus much of the film’s main cast, like Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, were not on location at the time.
With the film’s 25th anniversary coming up, Vulture has done a retrospective piece about the incident which began when craft services provided the seafood chowder for the crew’s lunch on a night shoot (the final day before production moved to Mexico).
Crew member Jake Clarke said he first noticed something was wrong when a 6’4 crew member among the grips and electricians “started talking really hyper” and said he wasn’t feeling okay. At that point, “we saw James Cameron run by the door and this extra running behind him. He said, ‘There’s something in me! Get it out!’”
At that point, the sober crew and the intoxicated crew were divided into ‘good crew’ and ‘bad crew’ groupings, with the latter growing bigger fast. Soon the bad crew, numbering between 50-80 people, were pouring into Dartmouth General Hospital at 1 am, with some freaking out whilst others… weren’t.
Set decorator Claude Roussel says: “grips were going down the hallway doing wheelies in wheelchairs”. Cameron previously told Vanity Fair in 2009: “People are moaning and crying, wailing, collapsed on tables and gurneys. The DP, Caleb Deschanel, is leading a number of the crew down the hall in a highly vocal conga line. You can’t make this stuff up.”
Cameron was ultimately granted an extra day of production to finish the scene that couldn’t be completed due to the incident. The Halifax Regional Police Service conducted a criminal investigation into the incident over a span of two-and-a-half years. However, they never found who laced the food with what was later confirmed to be PCP, according to the Nova Scotia Department of Health.
The film, of course, went on to shoot for another six months in Mexico with its own set of strenuous conditions before the film went on to become one of the most successful of all time.