It was during filming this on location in New Zealand that Michael J. Fox made up his mind that he'd had enough of being away from his family making movies and decided to head back to the small screen and star in a new sitcom (Spin City (1996)). This turned out to be his last leading role in a film.
Peter Jackson and Robert Zemeckis unsuccessfully campaigned to have the film released in October 1996 for Halloween week. The studio however wanted it for a summer release. The move ultimately backfired as it didn't do well in gross earnings.
Danny Elfman was so impressed with Peter Jackson's previous movie, Heavenly Creatures (1994), that he offered to do the score for one of Jackson's next movies, and agreed to this movie without even knowing what it was about.
It was Jeffrey Combs who suggested the Adolf Hitler-inspired haircut for his character, to show Milton Dammers' extreme sense of nationalism after serving his country for so long. Combs also suggested two ear appliances, which made his ears stick out quite comically, and several of Dammers' chest tattoos.
From the second-half of the film onwards, Lucy (Trini Alvarado) wears only one outfit - the pink shirt. It eventually became a running joke throughout the film such that on the last day of her schedule, the crew presented her a Barbie doll with the Lucy-dressed outfit as a gift.
Michael J. Fox performed many of his own stunts in the film. Ironically he broke his foot by a simple fall whilst filming in the forest at night. Peter Jackson said Fox's injury was actually a blessing in disguise because it allowed him to work on the script some more, and edit some of the film's scenes while Fox recovered for a week.
When Fran Walsh and Peter Jackson were writing the part of the Drill Sergeant in the graveyard, they wrote the part as a spoof of R. Lee Ermey's character in Full Metal Jacket (1987) with the intention of getting an actor in New Zealand for the role. But they didn't feel the actors who auditioned were right and finally ended up approaching Ermey himself.
Peter Jackson loved Jeffrey Combs' work on the Re-Animator (1985) movies so much that he asked the casting director to find out whether Combs was still available and working (he was unsure). Fortunately, Combs was available and signed up. He wore black contact lenses for his role.
The film was not released to theaters in Tasmania. The Port Arthur Massacre rather spookily mirrored the film's content and it happened not long before the film's release. It was released on video and subsequently broadcast.
Charles Starkweather, the real life killer referenced in the movie, killed 11 people (and 2 dogs) during a nearly two month killing spree. His 14-year-old girlfriend (Carillon Ann Fugate) accompanied him for, and participated in most of the killings. He was caught, tried, convicted, and executed (by electric chair), in a seventeen month span. Caril Ann Fugate was not executed, but sentenced to a "Life" term in prison. She was paroled after serving 17 years in prison.
The shooting script originally included another character at the cemetery called the Gatekeeper, a big chubby angel who would be acting as the cemetery's guardian. A large Gatekeeper prop was created and some scenes with him were actually filmed. However, these were omitted from the film, as director Peter Jackson couldn't really find a good explanation for the angel's presence. Most of its role was taken over by the Sgt. Hiles character (R. Lee Ermey).
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
DIRECTOR_CAMEO(Peter Jackson): The bearded and pierced man who Frank bumps into a minute before the ghost of Ray knocks him down. Jackson had to wear the heavy metal outfit (leather jacket, make up and a vast amount of piercings) the entire day of shooting, which was also the day that the studio had invited the media to the set for publicity.
In order to trick the audience into believing that Patricia Bradley was innocent of the Fairwater murders, Peter Jackson specifically wanted Dee Wallace for the part. He figured that her role as Elliot's mother in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) was about the sweetest character you could find, and therefore no one in the audience would suspect her.
Dammers' (Jeffrey Combs) death scene was made extra gruesome when it was clear that the MPAA was going to give the movie an 'R' rating instead of the PG-13 rating the makers were aiming for. He originally died of a shot in the chest, which was changed in post-production to his head exploding.
During Ray Lynskey's funeral you can see Frank Bannister's house burning down in the background (not clearly, you can see a large orange blur directly behind Lucy). It was burned by the film crew because they had finished filming there.
Johnny Bartlett" is named after Velda and Marion Bartlett, the second and third victims of Charles Starkweather, who murdered 11 people throughout Nebraska and Wyoming in 1958, accompanied by his his 15-year-old girlfriend, Caril Fugate, whose precise role in the killings is not known. The story has been dramatized in Badlands (1973) and other movies. In the film, the Johnny Bartlett character names Starkweather as his role model. Strangely, Starkweather and the victims Bartlett are buried together in Wyuka Cemetary, Lincoln, Nebraska.
The first name of Patricia Bradley (Dee Wallace) provides a hint to her criminal past, revealed later in the film. She is named after Patricia Hearst, also known as Patty Hearst, a girl who was taken hostage by an urban guerrilla group, then brainwashed into sympathizing with her kidnappers and helping them rob banks.