The original 1982 version of the Poltergeist is known to be a cult-classic in American horror movies. What is known as the “Poltergeist Curse” was a series of strange happenings on the sets of both Poltergeist and Poltergeist II: The Other Side and the tragic deaths of some of the movies’ actors.
It begun when it was believed that director, Steven Spielberg, insisted on using real human skeletons as props instead of the fake skeletons. In the original movie, there is a scene where actress JoBeth Williams who played Diane Freeling, slips and falls into a pool of floating skeletons. Williams at the time had no reason to believe that they were authentic corpses. After production had ended it was later revealed to Williams that they had in fact used real skeletons as they were cheaper to buy than plastic ones.
Months after the movie was released, actress Dominique Dunne, who played Dana Freeling, was murdered. On Oct. 30, 1982, Dunne was strangled by her ex-boyfriend, John Sweeny, in her driveway. Dunne was taken to the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California where she was put on life support. It was later revealed that she had no brain activity due to the deprived oxygen amount in her brain. She would be pronounced dead days later on Nov. 4, 1982.
Prior to the release of Poltergeist II, actor Julian Beck who played Henry Kane, died in 1985 due to stomach cancer. Beck had knew of his disease prior to his casting in the movie. The actor was able to finish shooting his parts in the movie before passing away in at Mount Sanai Hospital in New York City.
During the filming of the second movie, a real exorcism was performed on the set by actor and shaman, Will Sampson in 1984. After the deaths of their costars and learning that there were skeletons used on both sets, Sampson believed it was best to rid of the curse that was believed to be following them. After hours on the set, Sampson performed the exorcism late at night by himself. Coincidently, Sampson would later after a heart-lungs transplant due to severe malnutrition in 1987, a year after the second movie was released.
In 1988, child-actor, Heather O’Rouke who played the little girl, Carol Anne Freeling, in all three movies, died due to complications of sepsis within her intestines. O’Rouke had previously fallen ill in 1987 when she had contracted giardiasis from the well water at her family home. Giardiasis is a parasitic disease that typically affects the intestines and bowels. She was later diagnosed with Crohn’s diseases and was taking injections during the filming of Poltergeist III to help treat it. She would later fall ill again on Jan. 31, 1988, where she would have a heart attack and later die from congenial stenosis in her intestines.
In 1992, actor Richard Lawson who played Ryan in the first movie, nearly escaped death after his flight crashed into Flushing Bay. USAir Flight 405 was flying the route when they suddenly crashed due to poor weather conditions. 27 out of the 51 passengers aboard the plane had passed, with Lawson surviving the incident.
More recently, Lou Perryman, who played a small role in the Poltergeist, was murdered in 2009 by an ex-convict in his home. 26-year-old, Seth Tatum, had recently been released from prison for aggravated robbery and mad gone off his medications and been drinking. Tatum would then kill Perryman in his home with an axe. Tatum would later confess to the murder and was sentenced to life in prison.
Fans of the series have speculated that the cast is cursed from the original movies using real life skeletons and performing an exorcism. While it’s all just speculation, the tragic deaths of cast members and strange mishap-endings on set pushed the Poltergeist movies into becoming the cult classics they are known as today.