The curse of Poltergeist

Steve Charnock
Yahoo UK Movies Features

It seems that some movies are besieged by unimaginably awful luck, almost unending misery and terrible, terrible events. No, we're not talking about the back catalogue of Rob Schneider, we're talking about so-called 'cursed' films. You've probably heard about a few movies that have been besieged by ill fortune before. Films like 'The Exorcist', 'The Crow', 'Rebel Without A Cause' and 'The Omen'. But perhaps the most cursed motion pictures of all time are the three that make up the '80s horror trilogy, 'Poltergeist'.

June 4th sees the 30th anniversary of the release of the first film and it reminded us of the remarkable and quite disturbing reputation that the Steven Spielberg-produced chiller and its two sequels have ('Poltergeist 2' was made four years later and the third followed in 1988). In the movies, a family is haunted by a host of evil ancient spirits, but it seems that many of the people associated with the films were then haunted by awful luck. Was the production really cursed? Let's find out...

[Related feature: How real are exorcism movies?]

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The most remarkable thing about the 'Poltergeist' legacy is the alarming number of cast deaths that occured post-shoot. In the six years between the first movie and the third, four of the main cast had died. Two were slightly older men, so that's perhaps not all that shocking. Will Sampson (who also played the sink-chucking Indian in 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest') died in June 1987 from complications of his heart surgery and Julian Beck (Henry Kane in the sequel) died of stomach cancer in September 1985.

The saddest deaths though were those of 22 year-old Dominique Dunne, who played Dana in the original, and Heather O'Rourke, who was little Carol Ann from all three films. Dunne was strangled by her abusive ex-boyfriend John Sweeney (who ended up serving less than four years in prison). Immediately after filming wrapped on the last film, Heather was misdiagnosed with Crohn's disease and died due to toxic shock caused by a bowel obstruction missed by doctors. She was just 12-years-old.

It's fair to say that most people would attribute these sad deaths as mere bad luck or happenstance. Some of the people that passed were older and had existing conditions. Plus, a lot of people are involved in a movie shoot (not to mention three), so it's not unimaginable that a number may fall ill or die independently. And with the amount of movies that have been made, sooner or later, there's going to be an 'unlucky' one or two, isn't there? But could there be a more sinister, supernatural explanation? Plenty of superstitious Hollywood insiders think so. Why? For one because the design crew used real human skeletons instead of props in some of the scenes, that's why. Even if that didn't cause the bad luck specifically, it's certainly unsettling!

The disturbing events don't end at the untimely deaths of the cast, though. In fact, so many weird and macabre goings-on transpired during the three blockbusters, that it's truly frightening...


The clown doll that attacks the young boy actually did attack him. Malfunctioning robotics caused the red-nosed trouble-maker to squeeze Oliver Robins’ neck so tightly he went blue and started choking.

Whilst filming, the author writing the film's novelisation, James Kahn, was injured after lightning struck his trailer, causing the air-conditioning unit to explode, fly across the room and hit him, causing damage to his lower back.

'Poltergeist II: The Other Side':

Uneasy feelings amongst cast and crew during a scene in a cave reached such levels that filming was halted until an exorcism could be conducted. Who conducted it? The actor who played Taylor the shaman, Will Sampson (who was a real-life shaman). As we know, Sampson died shortly after this.

'Poltergeist III':

Actress Zelda Rubenstein (Tangina Barrons) mysteriously became ill during the shoot and quickly fell into an unexpected and deep depression. That afternoon she received a phone call telling her that her mother had passed away.

A scene in which a garage was on fire got out of hand and engulfed the set in flames. All but one of the crew members on set were injured.

Creepy stuff, we're sure you'd agree. But what do you make of the ‘curse’ of ‘Poltergeist'? Is it just a series of unfortunate occurrences? Or do you think there might be more to it? Let us know.