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News Article

Haunted Hollywood: The 'Poltergeist' Curse

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One of the scariest movies ever made is also considered one of the most cursed films. Written by Steven Spielberg and directed by Tobe Hooper (though many involved with the production say that Spielberg in fact took the helm more often than Hooper. A clause in Spielberg's contract prevented him from taking any other directorial work while prepping E.T. The films were released a week apart), Poltergeist was one of the highest-grossing films of 1982. It was the movie that scared my brother off of horror films for ever (he caught 20 minutes of it on television, and didn't sleep for weeks. To this day, nearly 20 years later, he still can't watch scary movies). And with a string of deaths that span all three Poltergeist films (some premature; others less so), many believe the Poltergeist films to carry with them a curse.

But it is not just the deaths that lead people to believe in a Poltergeist curse. A string of incidents that, on their own, most would consider coincidence, are often used to point to a curse.

In the first film, Jobeth Williams was anxious about filming the swimming pool scene because of so much electrical equipment around so much water. Spielberg got in the pool with her to put her fears to rest. The scene went off without a hitch, except for the fact that the skeletons in the pool with Williams were real human skeletons, not props. Real skeletons were cheaper than plastic ones at that time, but Williams was not happy when she found out. Superstitious people believe that this was the start of the curse. It turns out that real skeletons were also used in the second Poltergeist. Will Sampson, the actor who played a shaman in that film, was a real-life medicine man. He performed an exorcism on the set one night after shooting. This did not seem to help the curse, as Sampson died less than a year later after complications from a kidney transplant.

While his own curse began way before his role in Poltergeist, Richard Lawson faced not one, not two, but five separate near-death experiences (not including his own premature birth). Lawson served in Vietnam, and though every day was fraught with danger, he was involved in a violent firefight in which he narrowly avoided a bullet. It was his 21st birthday. A few years later, while in Australia for TV show, he was nearly hit by a car while crossing the street. Next up was another car accident. Lawson was driving and hit by another car. His body folded in half and had his window not been rolled down, his head would have gone through the glass and likely killed him. In 1983, not long after the release of Poltergeist, Lawson nearly died of a cocaine overdose. He became sober shortly thereafter. In 1992, he was on a commercial flight that crashed into a lake minutes after takeoff. Before getting on the flight, the ticket agent recognized Lawson as an actor and upgraded him to the first class cabin. Lawson survived; the man who ended up in his seat died.

But the true myth of the curse came about with the tragic fates that befell the actors who played the Freeling children. Dominique Dunne, who played eldest daughter Dana, was strangled to death by an abusive boyfriend just months after Poltergeist was released. He was convicted of voluntary manslaughter, and only served three years in prison. Dominique was 22 at the time of her death.

Heather O'Rourke played the youngest and most memorable of the Freeling children, Carol Anne. She is the one who the movie truly revolves around. Heather took ill suddenly and severely in 1988. What began as stomach cramps worsened suddenly, and her parents called an ambulance. She went into cardiac arrest, was rushed into surgery, suffered from septic shock, and died on the operating table.  She was 12 years old. Doctors determined that Heather's undiagnosed Crohn's Disease caused a bowel obstruction and sepsis set in before they could get to it.

Many conspiracy theorists also claim that the middle Freeling child, Robbie (played by Oliver Robins) met the same untimely death as his on-screen siblings. While this is not true - Oliver is very much alive and well - he did come close. While filming the scene where he is attacked by clowns, he was nearly choked to death by a malfunctioning mechanical clown. Spielberg and Hooper thought he was just a really great actor - until he started to turn blue. They freed him and Oliver suffered no lasting damage.

So what do you think? Is there a Poltergeist curse?

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