Inside the ‘Poltergeist Curse’ and the Deaths Behind It

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Videos by Rare

Poltergeist is one of those classic horror films that, to this day, continues to creep out its viewers — in more ways than one. There’s a theory that the Tobe Hooper / Steven Spielberg cult classic, released in 1982, resulted in an actual “Poltergeist Curse.” Numerous actors from the original film passed away, some soon after filming. And the deeper you delve into this Poltergeist Curse mystery, the eerier it becomes.

Poltergeist focuses on the Freeling family, whose house happens to be built on an ancient Native American burial ground. They are haunted by a fraid of ghosts (like a school of fish or a murder of crows), who are all possessed by a demon known as “The Beast.” It all begins with the youngest of the three Freeling children, the blonde haired, angel faced Carol Anne.

The Real Life Deaths of the Poltergeist Actors

Heather O’Rourke, the actress who played Carol Anne, was six at the time the film was released. Six years later, she was rushed to the San Diego children’s hospital after suffering from cardiac arrest. She passed away soon after during surgery, meant to correct a bowel obstruction. O’Rourke had previously been misdiagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, which likely led to many of her symptoms being overlooked. Her death shocked the world and many of her fellow actors.

O’Rourke wasn’t the first Poltergeist cast member to die in a horrific way, however. Soon after the movie was released, another Freeling child met their end. Dana Freeling was the older sister. The actress who played her was murdered five months after the film was released.

Dominique Dunne was strangled to death by her ex-boyfriend in November of 1982. When she refused to take back her old sweetheart, John Sweeney, he showed up at her Hollywood home. Sweeney strangled Dunne in the driveway until she was unconscious. He was put away for murder, although his sentence was cut short after 43 months.

Poltergeist II: The Deaths Continue

Two more cast members from Poltergeist II also passed away shortly after filming. While the sequel was released in 1986, one of those deaths occurred before it ever saw the theaters. Julian Beck, the evil preacher Kane, died of stomach cancer in September 1985.

Will Sampson, who played Native American shaman, Taylor, from the sequel, passed away in June of 1987 while receiving a heart transplant. According to, Sampson was a real-life medicine man. He allegedly performed an authentic exorcism after filming one night, while still on-set. Why?

It leaves a lot to the imagination, as medicine people are supposed to be in-tune with the spirit realm.

But the story gets a lot creepier. It’s one thing to speculate if there is some underlying thread as to all of these deaths just based on a Hollywood movie. But as it turns out, there could be another reason for belief in the Poltergeist Curse. That is, if you believe in these kinds of things…

Real Skeletons Were Used While Filming Poltergeist

Numerous cast and crew members have come out over the years, alleging that real skeletons were used in the filming of the movies. Snopes did some snooping around, and it seems as though these claims are true.

Remember the scene when Diane Freeling swims around in mud with a bunch of skeletons? In 2002, actress JoBeth Williams told VH1 that she thought the skeletons were plastic, only to find out they were real later!

Bruce Kasson, the assistant prop master, is quoted as giving the following explanation for why real skeletons were used:

“They came from Carolina Biological… Replica skeletons did not exist, as far as I remember, at that time… They’re now common and relatively cheap. And the rush to the bottom line for cost will dictate.”

Kasson’s claim is backed up by special effects makeup artist Craig Reardon, who was under oath. After being deposed for a lawsuit against Spielberg, Reardon said:

“I acquired a number of actual biological surgical skeletons is what they’re called. They’re for hanging in classrooms in study. These are actual skeletons from people. I think the bones are acquired from India.

“But at any rate, we got 13 of these. And we dressed them so that they looked not like bleached, clean, bolted together skeletons but instead, disintegrating cadavers. And, you know, added sculptured rubber and things to them so they would have a kind of dramatic leering spooky aspect and not be dull — what am I trying to say — clinical type corpses, you know.”

Craig Reardon, Special Effects Makeup Artist from Poltergeist

(You can read his deposition here).

The Real Exorcism Was Tied to the Real Skeletons

According to JoBeth Williams, the use of skeletons in the first Poltergeist film is what led Will Sampson to perform the exorcism in the second movie.

So, is there a Poltergeist Curse? The last living Freeling child hopes not. Oliver Robins, who played the middle Freeling child, Robbie, told Yahoo Entertainment, “I hope there isn’t a curse, because I’m still around.”

Robins also revealed that, while he was told the skeletons in his scenes were real, he was never sure if that was just to scare him.

The Poltergeist actor also says he believes in the paranormal, although it hasn’t yet been explained. While talking about a trip to a haunted sanitarium, he told Yahoo Entertainment that he and others saw things that they couldn’t explain.

“We were all thinking, ‘This is kind of a joke,’ but we ended up seeing things that we can’t understand to this day — like we saw things darting from door to door,” said Robins. “So, you have to keep an open mind. I think science will eventually explain everything that we call the paranormal, but there are certainly things we don’t get in this world.”

What do you think?

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