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Were the Poltergeist Movies Cursed?

Imdb.com, Sampson

One of the most popular horror movies of all time is also rumored to be cursed, due to the unusual events that happened during the shooting of the Poltergeist trilogy. Four deaths, objects that seemed to move on their own, and even an exorcism on the set add to the mystique of the ghostly films.

Strange happenings are somewhat commonplace with horror movies. According to the IMDB trivia section for The Omen (the original 1976 version), cast and crew members became involved in deadly car accidents and were almost hit by lightening. (1) MTV.com also lists strange things happening on other horror sets, such as a firework almost causing blindness for a crew member on the set of Final Destination 3, and Jennifer Carpenter, who played the title character in The Exorcism of Emily Rose, had a stereo that turned itself on in the middle of the night, waking her up. (2)

The Poltergeist trilogy remains the most cursed in the eyes of those who believe in otherwordly events. The original movie came out in 1982 and was a huge success, and according to IMDB, made over six million dollars in its opening weekend. (3) While the movie frightened audiences, what happened to the cast and crew was scary enough to make people believe that the ghostly film was cursed.

After the first movie had finished, young actress Dominique Dunne (who played teenage daughter Dana Freeling) was murdered by her jealous boyfriend John Thomas Sweeney. Unfortunately, theirs was an abusive relationship, so much so that IMDB’s page for her reports that when she portrayed a battered girlfriend in an episode for “Hill Street Blues”, she didn’t need makeup for fake bruises. (4) Tragically, when Dunne ended the relationship on October 30,1982, Sweeney went to her house and began arguing with her, then strangled her so badly that she became brain dead. After five days she was taken off life support and died at the young age of twenty-two.

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The untimely death of Dominique Dunne wasn’t the only tragic event for the young cast of the first movie. Heather O’Rourke, who played Carol Anne, also died far too young at the age of twelve. Heather’s IMDB page details that she began showing flu-like symptoms on January 1987, and after a few diagnoses she continued to get sicker. On February 1, 1988 she fainted at the breakfast table and had a fatal heart attack during a ride in an ambulance to the hospital. (5)

The websites eighteightynine.com and escendi.com list two other cast deaths; Julian Beck, who played the evil character Kane in Poltergeist II died of stomach cancer in 1985, and Will Sampson, who played Taylor in the same movie, died from complications after a heart/lung transplant. (6)(7) Will Sampson was the one who performed an exorcism on the set of the sequel after the cast discovered that the skeletons were real, understandably upsetting the actors.

Other strange events that happened during the production of the films include, according to the article on escendi.com, lightening hitting the building where author James Khan was writing the novelization for the movie (after he wrote the lines “Thunder and lightning ripped the sky”). (7) JoBeth Williams, who played Diane Freeling in the first and second movies, reported that the pictures on her wall were crooked every time she came home from the set, even though she straightened them every day. Another odd event involved Craig T. Nelson; IMDB describes it on Will Sampson’s page. Wanting to pay his respects, Craig visited Will’s grave, and since it was cicada season, the insect’s buzzing was loud, but when Craig announced himself to Will, the buzzing died down and then there was silence. (8)

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Although these events are tragic and strange, the eighteightynine.com site debunks the myth that the films were cursed. The site states that “apart from the four deaths”, the rest of the cast is still alive, as are the directors and producers from the three films. Also, while the deaths of Heather O’Rourke and Dominique Dunne were untimely, Julian Beck had already been diagnosed with cancer, and Will Sampson’s death resulted from transplant complications, which are unfortunately common. The other odd events don’t have explanations, but might be easily explained by natural phenomenon, and they have not been documented in a way that prove their actual existence.

Whether or not the movies were cursed, the Poltergeist movies are among the most popular in the horror genre, and the four deaths were undoubtedly tragic. If people want to believe in the curse, however, they have plenty of supporting arguments.

1 – “Trivia for The Omen” (1976) IMDB.com (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0075005/trivia)

2 – “Real-Life Horrors Beg The Question: Are Some Movie Sets Really Cursed?” Larry Carroll, October 24, 2006 (http://www.mtv.com/movies/news/articles/1543832/20061023/story.jhtml)

3 – “Box office / business for Poltergeist” IMDB.com (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0084516/business)

4 – “Biography for Dominique Dunne” IMDB.com (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001161/bio)

5 – “Biography for Heather Michele O’Rourke” IMDB.com (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001576/bio)

6 – “The Poltergeist Movie Curse” (http://www.eightyeightynine.com/film/poltergeist.html)

7 – “Film Facts – THE POLTERGEIST CURSE” (http://www.escendi.com.au/eyescream/movies/polt.html)

8 – “Biography for Will Sampson” IMDB.com (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0760225/bio)