• Fraser du Toit

Poltergeist 1982 – Cursed/Coincidence

Have you ever watched a horror movie so scary that you started believing your house was haunted? Imagine how it must feel working on a production like that. Hollywood has always been a superstitious place. There's a long history of productions being labeled as 'cursed'.

Poltergeist came out in 1982. It is the story of a family that moves into a brand-new home that may or may not have been built by the Bluth family. Steven Spielberg came up with the idea after reworking a script for the sequel to Close Encounters of the Third Kind. He was unable to direct it because he was contractually locked into E.T. at the time.

Tobe Hooper, who gave us Texas Chainsaw Massacre, was tapped to direct Poltergeist 1982. So what's all this about a curse?


Based on Real Events



The Poltergeist movie was inspired by the real life story of the Herrmann family. They bought a new home in 1953 and were soon beset by the paranormal. It started with bottle caps popping off on their own and objects moving as if by an invisible hand.

Police were called in, and they witnessed the activity for themselves. Eventually Dr. Rhine, the Director of the Duke University Parapsychology Lab was called in. His theory was that the raw energy emitted by the Herrmann family's teenagers was to blame.

It has been suggested that some time around puberty, especially in the case of girls, children can manifest a sort of wild telekinesis. Either that or they attract whatever energy it is that we know as a poltergeist. These phenomena are believed by parapsychologists to be caused by something other than a human spirit. That is, when it isn't an outright hoax.

The most famous case of Poltergeist activity is the Enfield Poltergeist case (pictured above). While the case has captured imaginations at the time, the photos clearly show a girl jumping off her bed while doing a terrible vampire impression. You can even see the arc of her jump if you look at the whole series of pictures together.


The Curse – Mayhem, Mishap, Murder



The Poltergeist cast had a tough time of it. One of the first instances of something strange occurring happened to JoBeth Williams, who plays Diane Freeling in the film. In a sequence where her character is running around near an unfinished pool in the rain, she falls into the pool and slides into the muddy water within.

Seems standard so far. That's when a crowd of skeletons pops up out of the water. You might assume that these were rubber dummies. Unfortunately it has been confirmed by the special effects artists that they used real human skeletons for this sequence.


Real human skeleton used in Poltergeist pool scene with JoBeth Williams
Boo!

Spielberg and Hooper claimed that it was cheaper to use real skeletons than to buy fakes. They only told the Poltergeist cast after filming wrapped. Some speculate that this is where the curse began.



A near-death mishap occurred when the animatronic clown malfunctioned. Actor Oliver Robins was strangled when the mechanical arm or the clown malfunctioned during a scene where the clown attacks his character. They shot the sequences in reverse, to achieve the effect of the arm wrapping around his throat.

Oliver would have died had Steven Spielberg not noticed the boy's face turning blue on the monitor. The crew was just in time to wrestle the evil clown off of the boy before it took his life.


One of the worst things to befall a cast member happened to Dominique Dunne after filming. She was murdered by her ex-boyfriend, John Sweeney, after an argument. He strangled her to death in the driveway of her home. Despite having filed assault charges against him before, he only got 6 years in prison for her murder.

Her death came shortly after the film's theatrical release. She wouldn't be the only young star snuffed out too early.


Arguably the most unexpected death of a Poltergeist cast member came 1 February 1988. Heather O'Rourke was twelve years old when she died in an ambulance on the way to the emergency room.

Her death was preceded by the sudden onset of flu-like symptoms that quickly escalated into septic shock and finally, cardiac arrest. The 12-year-old Heather had an undiagnosed bowel obstruction that flooded her little body with toxins. She died on the operating table.



Heather O'Rourke was the face of the franchise, but she would die before the third installment's release. The studio, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, didn't want to ride off of her death for marketing, which led to an overall decrease in marketing for the film. Poltergeist 3 barely made a profit.

Two other Poltergeist cast members died shortly after completing their roles in the trilogy. Their deaths were less unexpected. Julian Beck, who played the evil preacher in Poltergeist 2: The Other Side, died of stomach cancer shortly after wrapping his role as Kane in the film. He was diagnosed before production began, so not too unexpected.

Will Sampson died at 53 in 1987, one year after the film's release (not to the day). Sampson, who was of the Creek Nation, was not only a successful actor, but also a Medicine Man. After the Poltergeist 2 cast and crew complained of sensing bad energy, Will Sampson performed a real exorcism on the set.

Sampson died after undergoing an incredibly risky heart and lung transplant. He was suffering from Scleroderma, an autoimmune disease that caused his own body to attack his skin and organs.


Poltergeist 2015 – The Curse Lingers


Hollywood loves a remake. Apparently they also love to continue a curse. The only casualty of the remake was its audience appeal though, as the movie was a flop and is widely disliked by fans.

Director Gil Kenan reported during a Reddit A.M.A that the production of the remake was haunted by the specter of a lady in black. She would stalk him from the home he was renting, to the set and back.

He also mentioned that electronics would stop working in certain spots of the house they were filming in, and start working again in other parts. Here are some quotes from the A.M.A:


“Lights that could turn on anywhere else in the neighborhood would blow out the second you’d try to light them on”

“The house that I rented during filming was straight-up legit haunted by a female spirit dressed in black, and I became aware of her within the first few days of staying in the house. And only after I left did I receive a call from the previous owner, who had moved back in, who was terrified by the goings on in the house, and wanted to see if I had experienced any of it. So it was an incredible real-life inspiration for filming that followed me home.”



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