Twenty-five years ago, a late-night shoot of James Cameron’s Titanic suddenly descended into chaos after the cast and crew took a break to chow down servings of seafood chowder. While food poisoning is never out of the question when it comes to eating seafood, the cast and crew were not suffering from tummy aches, but rather the hallucinogenic effects of PCP, which was used to spike the chowder.
“We had a room for the grips and electricians, and one of the guys started talking really hyper,” crew member Jake Clarke recalls, per Vulture. “He’s a big guy, like six-four, and he says, ‘Do you guys feel okay? Because I don’t. I feel like I’m on something, and believe me, I would know.’ He was just chattering on like that. And just as he was saying this, we saw James Cameron run by the door and this extra running behind him. He said, ‘There’s something in me! Get it out!’”
Cast and crew members were swiftly divided up into “good crew” and “bad crew” areas, with the sober employees tasked with wrangling those reeling from the drug. Amongst the bad bunch included Cameron himself, as well as actor Bill Paxton, who were all carted away to the nearest hospital.
“Bill Paxton was a real sweetie,” says Claude Roussel, a set decorator on the film. “He was sitting next to me in the hallway of the hospital, and he was kind of enjoying the buzz. Meanwhile, grips were going down the hallway doing wheelies in wheelchairs.”
Between 50 and 80 people then marched into Dartmouth General Hospital, high on PCP. The sense of giddiness and confusion soon turned into torment and unbridled ecstasy, making it a long night for both the hospital staff and the crew.
“People are moaning and crying, wailing, collapsed on tables and gurneys,” Cameron told Vanity Fair about the incident in 2009. “The DP, Caleb Deschanel, is leading a number of crew down the hall in a highly vocal conga line. You can’t make this stuff up.”
The spiked chowder spurred a years-long investigation, resulting in nothing. In 1999, the case was officially closed with no leads on who could have possibly drugged the Titanic set, or what motivated them to do so. However, for those there that night, the PCP chowder became a behind-the-scenes story for the ages.
“One of the art-department guys made T-shirts, and he recreated that chowder on the corner of the T-shirt,” Clarke says. “He gave that out to a bunch of the local crew. It said underneath it, ‘Good crew, bad crew.’”