The 20th anniversary of the film's release is bringing back some not-so-fond memories.
titanic chowder mystery
Credit: Archive Photos / Getty Images

James Cameron’s Titanic is known for many things, among them earning the second highest box office in film history, as well as launching the careers of Hollywood A-listers Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. But the film was notoriously plagued by setbacks, from actor injuries and release date delays to what is perhaps one of the weirdest food stories to ever come from a set: hallucinogenic-spiked chowder.

Yesterday marked the 20th anniversary of the film’s theatrical release, and as part of that celebration, the half-hilarious, half freaky tale of more than 50 stars and production crew members getting high on PCP re-emerged. As the tale goes, on the night of August 8, 1996, Titanic stars Bill Paxton and Suzy Amis, director Cameron and more than 60 other crew members were in the midst of wrapping a scene when they were suddenly overcome with the need to vomit, laugh and cry.

In a 1996 interview, Paxton told Entertainment Weekly that, “One minute I felt O.K., the next minute I felt so goddamn anxious I wanted to breathe in a paper bag. Cameron was feeling the same way.”

Speaking to Vanity Fair in 2009, Cameron recalled that after feeling “suddenly and very distinctly woozy,” he stepped off set to vomit. When he got back, no one was there because they too had been physically overcome. Eventually, everyone made their way to a local hospital where they reportedly bounced off the walls—moaning, leading conga lines, collapsing and racing around in wheelchairs. The hospital staff and even Cameron believed they had come in contact with paralytic shellfish neurotoxin and were experiencing food poisoning, but a toxicology report from the Halifax Police Department revealed the truth: everyone was high on PCP.

Further investigation uncovered that someone had laced the chowder, which was provided by a local catering company as part of the crew’s lunch spread. The event was incredibly disorienting, so much so in fact that several people involved still can’t recall whether it was a clam, mussel or lobster chowder (the police report identified it as the latter). Several parties were questioned, but no one was charged, and the case was eventually closed in 1999.

That doesn’t mean there wasn’t some fingerpointing. The culprit remains at large, but Earle Scott, the C.E.O. of the catering company that served the corrupted chowder, told Entertainment Weekly that, “It was the Hollywood crowd bringing in the psychedelics... I don’t think it was purposefully done to hurt somebody. It was done like a party thing that got carried away.”

Cameron, on the other hand, believes it was a disgruntled production member who had recently been let go.

“We had fired a crew member the day before because they were creating trouble with the caterers,” he told Vanity Fair. “So we believe the poisoning was this idiot’s plan to get back at the caterers, whom of course we promptly fired the next day. So it worked.”