‘Poltergeist’: Was there a curse on the cast?
It’s hard to believe that nearly three decades have passed since the release of Poltergeist in 1982, a film that rightfully earned incredible box office success and a dedicated following by fans of timeless horror.
To this day Poltergeist remains revered as a horror classic and even spawned two sequels and a remake in 2015. Although the harrowing events in the film are reportedly based on a true haunting in Long Island, NY, they are not the only disturbing connection to the world of the living.
For as long as the films have survived, so has tragedy following their cast members, leaving actors, fans, and media publications alike to conclude there was an actual evil presence surrounding the cast of Poltergeist – and they may have been right.
The beginning of the Poltergeist curse
In the same year as its release, tragedy struck one of the youngest members of the film’s original 1982 cast when actress Dominique Dunne was killed weeks before her twenty-third birthday.
Dunne played Dana Freeling, the eldest daughter and middle child of the Freeling family. Although her character survived the encounters with death in Poltergeist, she could not be written out of her tragic fate.
Dunne was strangled by her former boyfriend – John Sweeney – after the two were reportedly in an argument. Dunne was hospitalized and died on life support within a week’s time, having just starred in the biggest role of her career.
But surely one death can only be described as coincidence, and not a curse, right?
Poltergeist: The cursed franchise
Still enjoying the popularity of its first release, no sooner was the surviving cast reunited in 1986 for the release of Poltergeist II: The Other Side. This time, the possessed body of an insane, deceased Reverend Kane (Julian Beck) seeks revenge on the Freeling family in their new home.
Unbeknownst to the actor himself, Beck may have been playing a hunter on screen, but it seemed that he was also being hunted by something very real. Julian Beck would never see the film’s release, and he died after filming in 1985 from stomach cancer.
Suspicions were raised again in 1987, when Native American actor Will Sampson died at the age of fifty-three from what was reported as a lengthy battle with a “chronic degenerative condition.” Sampson played a protective spirit and guardian to Carol Anne, named Taylor, in Poltergeist II. Sampson tallied the third death of a cast member amidst the franchise.
By this time the “Poltergeist curse” seemed more than speculation – it was a buzzing phrase detailing the phenomenon of deaths that preyed upon cast members.
Poltergeist curse: Third time is not the charm
The release of the third film of the franchise in 1988 – Poltergeist III – brought the most troubling death for cast and fans alike when it was reported that Heather O’Rourke was deceased at the ripe age of twelve.
The actress played arguably the most central character to the franchise, as the young and haunted Carol Ann Freeling. She was reported to have died from complications during an emergency surgery to remove an acute bowel obstruction.
Heartbroken, many fans – along with some media publications – remained skeptical of the four deaths all occurring amidst the making of the popular Poltergeist franchise. Some labeled it a conspiracy, and others were certain it was the work of an evil curse.
The question loomed: Who would be next? But despite the death of Zelda Rubinstein by natural causes in 2010 – who played the well-known medium Tangina Barrons across all three films – it appeared that the Poltergeist curse reached an end. The paranoia, however, did not.
The Poltergeist curse: Conspiracy continued
It appeared that fans and conspiracy theorists hadn’t gotten their fill of tragedy as they pursued and began rumors of more cast members from the original Poltergeist franchise meeting untimely ends.
Wild rumors emerged that cited the deaths of all the actors who starred as members of the Freeling family – like Craig T. Robinson & Jo Beth Williams. These were all proven wholly untrue, due to the fact that they have all featured in TV or film since.
Even more unsettling were false claims of the death of Oliver Robbins who played older-brother Robbie Feeling. Reports included car crashes, strangulation, and death by the mechanical clown prop used in the first film. Despite these, we are happy to report that the remainder of the core ensemble is alive and seemingly well today.
The legacy of the Poltergeist curse
When it was announced that a remake of Poltergeist was to be released in 2015, some followers of the film lore expressed concern for the new star-studded cast including Sam Rockwell, Jed Harris, and Rosemarie DeWitt.
Despite no death or misfortune this time around, director Gil Kenan was not shy about mentioning paranormal activity that he claimed to have experienced during filming. He spoke freely about a female spirit who haunted the house they filmed and the turning on and off of lights on their set.
It appears for now the Poltergeist curse has long been broken. There is little surprise that the death of four primary cast members would ignite belief in a curse surrounding a movie that scared millions for what was at the time, incredible effects of haunted horror.
Whether you believe in curses or not, we are certain when another addition to Poltergeist comes down the pipeline, fans will be first to remember the tragedy that plagued the original films. It’s no secret that perilous circumstances and curses have long plagued Hollywood, and in the unlikely event of their truth – let’s keep our minds at ease by letting them stay there.