Poltergeist Curse: Fact or Urban Legend?

Steven Spielberg’s Poltergeist trilogy is arguably the scariest set of ghosty-ghoulie movies ever made, but does the terror exist just in the movies, or were the actors cursed in real life, too? Depending upon who you ask, the rumor is real. Let’s take a look at some of the facts to see if the rumor holds as much water as the swimming pool in the famous scene that is at the root of the problem.

The curse basically states that after each of the three movies, one of the child actors died an untimely death and the rest of the cast were cursed. Supposedly, one of the children was murdered, one died in a car accident and one died of a mysterious disease. It’s true that there were some unexplained or unfortunate deaths but they didn’t happen like the rumor says.

One of the main factors that brought about the curse, in theory, was the fact that in that swimming pool scene, real human cadavers were used because they were cheaper than using plastic. This part of the rumor is true.

All told, eight of the crew has died, but several of them were of an age where disease and death aren’t entirely uncommon.

Dominique Dunne

Shorly after the initial Poltergeist was released in 1983, 22-year-old Dominique Dunne was murdered by her abusive ex-boyfriend whom she had broken up with a few weeks prior. He attempted to choke her to death and left her for dead in the driveway. She was taken to the hospital but never recovered from the coma and died five days later. Ms Dunne had played the role of Dana Freeling.

Heather O’Rourke

The girl that played Carol Ann, the little “They’re baaa-ack” girl in front of the TV, died during the filming of the third film, near the end of production. Originally diagnosed with the flu, doctors changed that diagnosis to septic shock caused by bacterial toxins in her blood. She was 12. For the remainder of the movie, a stunt double was used and they avoided face shots.

Julian Beck

Mr. Beck played Kane in Poltergeist II The Other Side. He died of stomach cancer.

Beatrice Straight

She played Dr. Lesh in the first movie and died of pneumonia

Will Sampson

AKA Taylor the Medicine Man in the third movie, Mr. Sampson died of post-operative kidney failure and complications derived from malnutrition.

Geraldine Fitzgeral

She played grandma Jess in the second Poltergeist movie and passed away from symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

There were other unfortunate incidents as well, but no more deaths.

Oliver Robbins

Mr. Robbins played Robbie Freeling and was nearly choked to death by the clown in the bedroom scene the clown misfunctioned during shooting and the other actors on set just thought that he was doing an amazing acting job. He nearly died before somebody noticed he was turning blue and rescued him.

There were other strange happenings during and following shooting of the movies, including:

  • JoBeth Williams, aka Dianne Freeling, reported that every day during shooting, she would come back to her trailer to find her pictures askew.
  • Zelda Rubenstein, aka the psychic Tangina reports that during shooting she felt a hard shock then when they replaed the film, there was a bright shining white light that obstructed view of her face.
  • The Freeling House where the movie was filmed in part was damaged in the 1994 earthquake.

These are just a few of the examples of odd happenings. As you can see, odd things did certainly happen, but whether or not they were actually related to the movie can be debated until the cows come home and a true decision will never be agreed upon. It’s probably best to just use your imagination and your head to decide for yourself.


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