The Chilling Stories Behind the Alleged ‘Poltergeist’ Curse

Poltergeist, arguably one of the most memorable horror movies of its time, has terrified audiences since its debut in 1982. Directed by Tobe Hooper and produced by Steven Spielberg, the film tells the chilling story of a suburban family haunted by supernatural forces.

Despite its success, the Poltergeist trilogy has been shrouded in mystery and tragedy, leading many to speculate about a possible Poltergeist curse associated with the cast and crew members. So what exactly is the Poltergeist curse? We explore the real-life stories of the actors, their untimely deaths, and the events that unfolded after the release of the film.

Tragedy befell the young star of the Poltergeist movie.

Heather O’Rourke (Carol Anne)

Heather O’Rourke was only five years old when she was cast as Carol Anne, the youngest daughter of the Freeling family, in the original Poltergeist film. Her innocent and cherubic appearance, combined with her chilling performance, made her an instant Hollywood star. Unfortunately, Heather’s life was cut short when she died suddenly at the age of 12 from septic shock and cardiac arrest, following a misdiagnosis of Crohn’s disease. The official cause of death was ruled congenital stenosis of the intestine, complicated by septic shock. Her untimely death, which occurred during the post-production of Poltergeist III, sparked rumors of a curse associated with the film franchise.

Dominique Dunne (Dana Freeling)

Another tragic story surrounding the Poltergeist cast is that of Dominique Dunne, who portrayed Dana Freeling, the eldest daughter of the family. A promising young actress with a bright future ahead, Dominique’s life took a tragic turn when she was strangled by her ex-boyfriend, John Sweeney, in the driveway of her own home in November 1982, just a few months after the release of the first film. Sweeney was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and served less than four years in prison, fueling further speculation about the so-called Poltergeist curse.

Will Sampson (Taylor) and Julian Beck (Kane)

Poltergeist II: The Other Side saw the introduction of two new characters, Taylor, played by actor Will Sampson, and Kane, portrayed by Julian Beck. Sampson, a Native American actor known for his role in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, was said to be a spiritual healer in real life. He reportedly performed an exorcism on the set of Poltergeist II due to the use of real human skeletons as props, a decision that had been made to save money as they were cheaper than rubber or fake skeletons.

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Julian Beck, a talented stage actor, was cast as the sinister Kane in the sequel. Tragically, Beck was diagnosed with stomach cancer during the production of the film and passed away in September 1985, before the movie’s release. His death, along with Sampson’s in June 1987 due to post-operative kidney failure after a heart and lung transplant, added to the mounting evidence of a curse plaguing the Poltergeist cast and crew.

Lou Perryman (Pugsley) and Zelda Rubinstein (Tangina)

Lou Perryman played a small role as Pugsley, a construction worker, in the first Poltergeist film. In April 2009, Perryman met a tragic and violent end when he was murdered with an axe by a man named Seth Christopher Lawson. Lawson, who had a history of mental illness, was later convicted of the crime and sentenced to life in prison. The grisly nature of Perryman’s death further fueled rumors of the films’ curse.

Zelda Rubinstein, who played the psychic medium Tangina Barrons in all three Poltergeist films, did not suffer a tragic death. However, her life was marked by a series of unfortunate events, such as the death of her mother and the crash of USAir Flight 405, in which she herself was scheduled to be a passenger. Rubinstein passed away in 2010 from natural causes at the age of 76, but the series of misfortunes in her life added to the speculation surrounding the alleged curse.

A scene with Zelda Rubinstein, from the Poltergeist.

Oliver Robins (Robbie Freeling)

Oliver Robins played Robbie Freeling, the middle child of the family, in the first two Poltergeist films. During the production of the original movie, Robins experienced a near-death encounter when he was almost strangled by a mechanical clown prop.

The incident, which occurred while filming a scene in which Robbie is attacked by the clown, was a chilling reminder of the potential dangers on set. Although Robins survived and continued to work in Hollywood as an actor and director, his brush with death added to the growing list of eerie occurrences tied to the franchise.

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A famous and terrifying scene from the Poltergeist.

The Use of Real Skeletons

As previously mentioned, the Poltergeist films have been criticized for their use of real human skeletons as props. The decision was intended to save money, as authentic skeletons were cheaper than fake prop skeletons.

The Timeline of Events

The following is a chronological summary of the events and tragedies associated with the Poltergeist franchise:

  • June 1982: Poltergeist is released, directed by Tobe Hooper and produced by Steven Spielberg.
  • November 1982: Dominique Dunne is murdered by her ex-boyfriend, John Sweeney.
  • May 1986: Poltergeist II: The Other Side is released, featuring Will Sampson as Taylor and Julian Beck as Kane.
  • September 1985: Julian Beck dies of stomach cancer.
  • June 1987: Will Sampson dies due to post-operative kidney failure.
  • February 1988: Heather O’Rourke dies from septic shock and cardiac arrest.
  • June 1988: Poltergeist III is released, posthumously featuring Heather O’Rourke.
  • April 2009: Lou Perryman is murdered with an ax by Seth Christopher Lawson.
  • January 2010: Zelda Rubinstein dies from natural causes at the age of 76.
On set of the "Poltergeist".

The Aftermath of the Poltergeist Movie Curse

The Poltergeist movie franchise has undoubtedly been surrounded by mystery and tragedy. While there is no concrete evidence to support the existence of a curse, the series of unfortunate events linked to the Poltergeist cast members has left many pondering the possibility of supernatural forces at play.

In the end, the Poltergeist curse may be more of a reflection of our tendency to seek patterns and connections in seemingly unrelated events. Whether or not you believe in the curse, the chilling real-life stories behind the movie can not be denied.

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