In 1982, Steven Spielberg and Tobe Hooper released the horror hit “Poltergeist”, which spawned two sequels and even a television series. The trilogy comprises of “Poltergeist” (1982), “Poltergeist II: The Other Side” (1986), and “Poltergeist III” (1988). Each film recounts an episode in the lives of the Freelings, a family who unfortunately moves into a house filled with evil spirits.
But beneath the ghosts on screen, there is something even more chilling. An unusually large amount of deaths have accured among the former cast of the movies. These deaths have risen the rumor that the productions were cursed due to the stories of the films. It was as if the monsters of the movie world were claiming victims of our world where monsters don’t exist. Although coincidence would be a much more common response, four of the cast members have died from this trilogy, two were expected, the other two were not.
22-year-old Dominique Dunne (Donna Freeling) died on November 4th, 1982 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. It was four days after her boyfriend choked her into a coma from which she never awoke. A few weeks earlier, Dunne had ended her abusive relationship with Los Angeles chef John Sweeney. On the night of October 30th, 1982, he dropped by their former shared residence to plead with her to take him back. The visit did not go as he had hoped, and with what he thought was going to be a quiet conversation, ended with him strangling her for what was later determined to be 4 to6 minutes, then leaving her for dead in her driveway.
Sweeney was convicted of voluntary manslaughter, sentenced in November, 1983, and released in 1986 after serving only 3 years, 8 months of a 6 and a half year sentence. His sentence is controversial to this day.
“Poltergeist”, the film in which Dunne appeared, had been released earlier that year, in June.
12-year-old Heather O’Rourke (Carol Anne Freeling) died of septic shock in on February 1, 1988 at the Children’s Hospital in San Diego. What had been thought to be a bout of ordinary flu launched her into cardiac arrest during the drive to the hospital as bacterial toxins set loose by a bowel obstruction made their way into her bloodstream. Her heart was successfully restarted and she was flown by helicopter to the larger Children’s Hospital where she underwent an operation to remove the obstruction. The toxins destroying her system proved too much, and she died on the operating table.
The circumstances surrounding her passing rendered her death even more of a shock than it otherwise would have been. She went overnight from a little girl who had the flu to a dead little girl who expired during an operation to save her life. Of course such an unexpected death would fuel rumors, especially when considered in conjunction with Dominique Dunne’s murder only six years earlier.
O’Rourke appeared in all three Poltergeist movies. Poltergeist III had been completed at the time of her death although it had yet to be released, which lead to rumors that she had expired during shooting and a double had to be used to complete the picture. Gary Sherman eventually decided to use a double and shoot the alternate ended. In an interview he said that the worst time of his life was carrying that little girl out of the church in a casket.
The other two deaths were of seasoned actors well into their careers, both suffering from serious illnesses that would in time take their lives. Because their deaths were not unexpected, only rarely is either one mentioned in connection with the Poltergeist “curse.”
60-year-old Julian Beck died of stomach cancer on September 14, 1985 at Mount Sinai Hospital inNew York. Beck died during the end of filming and the release. Unlike O’Rourke, his death was not unexpected; he had been battling the cancer for 18 months.
53-year-old Will Sampson died on 3 June 1987 in a Houston hospital after receiving a heart-lung transplant 6 weeks earlier. The cause of his death was ascribed to severe pre-operative malnutrition and post-operative kidney failure and fungal infection. It has been said he knew his chances for survival were small due to his weakened condition prior to surgery. Samson was probably best known for his potrayal of the indian in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
There have also been rumours of strange things happening on set, but there is almost no info on these happenings. The E! True Hollywood story of the Poltergeist Curse is very interesting, and I would recommend you trying to find it.