The Poltergeist Curse
The 1982 film Poltergeist is a classic of the horror genre. The film was originally set to be directed by Texas Chainsaw Massacre auteur, Tobe Hooper. On set he reportedly clashed with producer Steven Spielberg, who ended up directing large chunks of the movie himself. Which is why viewers seem to be presented with both Spielbergian fantastical elements mixed with moments of macabre horror and social commentary. The film follows the Freelings who are living the American dream of the 1980’s, wholesome middle class family who moved to the suburbs. After their young daughter Carol Ann disappears into the television, the family begins to learn their exciting new life is built on the broken bodies of those interred in the ground beneath them.
While Poltergeist is a fun movie which is still remembered fondly by moviegoers, there is a dark side which is unavoidable when discussing the flick. Due to the horrible events which struck several who worked on Poltergeist and the sequels there is a belief that the movie is cursed. From real skeletons to tragic deaths to mysterious illnesses, there is no denying that the production of Poltergeist was probably scarier than anything that they put onscreen.
When you ask anyone what the scariest scene in this classic was, just about all of the will probably bring up little Robbie Freeling being dragged under the bed by a terrifying clown toy. Luckily we did not witness the horror which occurred during the making of this scene. When actor Oliver Robins was filming this scene the horrifying puppet which was tormenting him experienced a technical problem and began to choke the boy in reality. Given the tense nature of the scene, the others on set did not interfere believing that Robins was simply giving a truly believable performance. Fortunately one of the crew members realized something had gone wrong with the puppet’s remote and was able to save the kid before he was seriously hurt.
In the film we all know that Robbie could not be rescued because his mother played by JoBeth Williams, was trapped in a muddy pool of water dealing with the corpses who could not rest in peace. Years later Williams would say that many of the skeletons in this scene were real human remains. This claim was laughed off by most as her joking around or making a mountain out of a mole hill. It was not until the Prop Master, Bruce Kasson came forward that what she said was validated. According to Kasson, Spielberg had found a way to procure actual skeletons from the medical supply company Carolina Biological.
While Williams and Robin were inconvenienced on the set of the first Poltergeist, the real tragedy those who believe in the curse point to is the tragedy which struck Dominique Dunne who played Dana. The 22 year old actress was seen as a rising star and was set to play a major part in the critically acclaimed mini-series V. She had been dating a man named John Sweeney, who did not like the new attention she was receiving and horribly abused the young woman. At her home, when a co-star from V had come over to rehearse, Sweeney came by and called her outside. This time he took things too far and knocked her unconscious. Dunne was taken to Cedar Sinai Medical where she passed away days later from lack of oxygen getting to her brain from the injuries.
Tragically she Dominique Dunne was not the only young actress from this franchise to die far too young. The centerpiece of Poltergeist, was young Heather O’Rourke, who will forever be associated with the line “They’re here.” O’Rourke was simply a young girl who Spielberg saw having lunch with her mother at a local mall. The legendary filmmaker right off the bat asked her to be in the movie, choosing her over famed child star Drew Barrymore for the iconic part of Carol Ann. While filming the third film in the series, Heather O’Rourke fell horribly ill and was rushed to the hospital where she was rushed into surgery. The young girl had had intestine trouble for her entire life, which complicated things greatly and sadly she never made it out. She passed away due to septic shock during the procedure, but her parents and agent believed malpractice was at work so naturally lawsuits began to fly around.
These are only the major elements of the Poltergeist curse, but these are far from the only mishaps and tragedies associated with the production of the film. The author charged with writing the novel adaptation was almost killed by a freak air conditioning incident during a storm. Actor Lou Perryman, who had a small role as a construction worker was bludgeoned to death in his Austin Texas home. In Poltergeist II, actor Will Sampson was brought in to play an American Indian medicine man. After getting an offsetting vibe on the set, he actually performed legitimate cleansing rituals to rid the area of this malevolence. Shortly thereafter he was having a routine surgical procedure but passed away during the operation. It may seem like lead actor Craig T. Nelson escaped any curse aimed his way, yet in the original Poltergeist he had a fairly nice head of hair but by the time the sequel rolled around, his locks had faded away.
We may never know if Poltergeist and its sequels were cursed, but there is no denying the amount of misfortune which hit those involved. Perhaps these were all mere coincidences, but there were far too many events for that alone to be the case.