As if scary movies weren’t already terrifying enough to watch in a darkened movie theater with strangers, what if you found out it was real? For fans of the classic 1982 film “Poltergeist,” the premise is all too familiar after rumors about the haunted set and the series' curse spread in the wake of the films’ popularity.
The story of the top 1982 horror film begins on director Tobe Hooper’s (“Texas Chainsaw Massacre”) set. Collaborating with Steven Spielberg as he was working on “E.T.,” the pair set out to create the Freeling family’s harrowing run-in with spirits after strange happenings lead them to discover their house was built on a cemetery.
In a bit of inspired thriftiness, the crew opted to use real skeletons in a now iconic scene over fakes ones because they were cheaper. Star JoBeth Williams, who played the mother Diane, wasn’t told until after the shoot that her co-star skeletons were real. “Poltergeist” dealt with the desecration of the spirits’ resting place, so once the whispers about real skeletons were used for filming began circulating, a “Poltergeist” curse was born.
It took the tragic deaths of four of its prominent cast members for the “Poltergeist” curse to really take off. Shortly after the release of the first film in 1982, the actress who played older sister Dana (Dominique Dunne) was murdered by her abusive ex-boyfriend, chef John Sweeney. “Poltergeist” was her only on-screen role. Likewise, the young actress who played Dana’s little fair-haired sister Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke) died unexpectedly from complications of septic shock shortly before the release of the third film.
Two older cast members passed way around the release of “Poltergeist II: The Other Side.” The man behind the evil spirit Kane (Julian Beck, 60) died seven months before the film’s release from stomach cancer. The actor who portrayed the good spirit Taylor (Will Sampson, 53) died a year after the film’s 1986 release due to complications following his heart-lung transplant. “Poltergeist II” director Brian Gibson also met an early death at 59 from Ewing’s sarcoma, although it was several decades after the film was released.
So far, no other deaths have been connected to the curse. The 2015 “Poltergeist” reboot hits theaters Friday.