It’s the Halloween season again and time for watching our favorite scary movies. A perennial favorite remains the “Poltergeist” series, particularly the original. But, even after all these years, rumors persist regarding the fate of several of the cast members, including Heather O’Rourke, the actress who played the part of Carol Anne.
Poltergeist was released in June of 1982, followed by Poltergeist II in 1986 and Poltergeist III in 1988. There have been four deaths among the cast involved in these films: 22 year old Dominique Dunn (Dana Freeling), Will Sampson (Taylor), Julian Beck (Kane), and 12 year old Heather O’Rourke. These deaths occurred over a period of six years.
According to a crew member interviewed by the Hollywood Reporter shortly after Heather’s death, “Ever since these films started, there has been tragedy after tragedy. It’s like the movies are cursed. I think the Poltergeist movies have unleashed something evil — and very dangerous.” Apparently, the films were also plagued by a series of injuries. “One guy twisted his ankle, another hurt his ribs,” this insider alleged. “And there was a lot of tripping and falling on things. But the weirdest thing of all was when the film came back blank after the first day’s shooting. I’ve been in this business for 15 years and I’ve never seen that happen before.” Prior to his death, Will Sampson, a Native American shaman, acknowledged that the cast and crew was aware that something was wrong and he admitted that he had conducted an exorcism on the set of Poltergeist II.
Dominique Dunn was the first to die, murdered by her boyfriend in October of 1982. Next, Julian Beck, 60, of Poltergeist II, died of stomach cancer in September, 1985. Will Sampson, 53, died in 1987 after a heart/lung transplant. He also was seen only in Poltergeist II.
The most shocking death, however, was that of Heather O’Rourke. Heather died of septic shock on February 1, 1988, at the age of 12. Filming on Poltergeist III had not yet been completed and rumors persist that the filmmakers used a double for Heather’s remaining scenes. The film was released in June, 1988.
Heather had previously been diagnosed with Crohns’s Disease, a inflammation of the bowel. Although she appeared to be suffering only from a severe bout with the flu, she was getting sicker and her parents made the decision to take her to the hospital. Unfortunately, she experienced cardiac arrest during the drive. She was subsequently revived in the Emergency Room and rushed into surgery to remove the obstruction in her bowel that had released deadly bacteria into her bloodstream. However, by that point it was too late to save her and she died during the operation.
Other movies also cursed?
Other horror films are also thought to be “cursed,” including “The Exorcist.” The set was plagued with an unusual number of accidental fires, although none caused any damage. Star Linda Blair exhibited odd behavior at times and some observers even thought she had suffered a nervous breakdown during the filming. Unexpected deaths connected to the cast and crew during the making of “The Exorcist” – or to their families – include a bit player who died of a heart attack, Max Von Sydow’s brother, Linda Blair’s grandfather, a security guard on the set, a special effects crew member, and a cameraman’s newborn child. Unconfirmed rumors involved panic attacks by cast and crew members and, once the film was released in 1973, moviegoers fainted, vomited, and became hysterical. Heart attack statistics rose markedly for no known reason in Georgetown and the surrounding area immediately after the film premiered. In Italy, a lightning strike destroyed a 400 year old cross during the showing of the movie at Rome’s Metropolitan Theatre.
The 1994 film, “The Crow,” included a high number of accidents on the set, including – once again – fires that caused some damage and personal injuries. Star Brandon Lee died during while filming a scene of the death of the character he played. He was going to be shot with .44 Magnum which was not a prop, but a fully functioning firearm. The gun was loaded with blanks. But when the gun was fired, Lee fell to the floor with a wound the size of a quarter in his left abdomen. Apparently, the metal tip of one of the dummy bullets had somehow pulled loose from its brass casing and caused a fatal wound.
During a short-lived TV series called “The Crow: Stairway to Heaven,” veteran stunt supervisor Marc Akerstream was also killed while coordinating an exploding boat scene. Debris from the explosion hit him in the head, causing a skull fracture.
But it gets even stranger. “The Omen,” released in 1976, also has a number of odd events associated with it. On the first day of filming, a crew member was in a serious car accident. Gregory Peck’s flight to London was struck by lightning and the plane lost an engine, although it landed safely at Heathrow. Screenwriter David Seltzer’s plane was also struck by lightning eight hours later. After filming on “The Omen” wrapped, special effects director John Richardson headed to The Netherlands to work on “A Bridge Too Far.” He and his girlfriend were involved in an auto accident in which his girlfriend was beheaded.
During “Damien, Omen II,” William Holden’s best friend was stabbed, but recovered. Almost the entire cast and crew were felled by a severe flu, even though no outbreaks were being reported among the general public.
Something to keep in mind is that these movies all involved very large cast and crew, upwards of several hundred people. In any group of several hundred people, over a period of years, some will – of course – die and probably in strange and unexpected ways including accidents, illnesses, and the like.
However, if you accept that these particular films may, indeed, be “cursed” in some way the question then becomes why and by whom were they cursed. Was it because they may have trespassed too far into the unseen world, exposing its secrets? Many paranormal investigators have experienced similar problems; including depression, obsession, and even possession or partial possession after venturing into notoriously haunted locations. Perhaps these events are merely coincidence but they have certainly raised questions and fueled debates over the years about the dangers of unleashing forces we may not fully understand.