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Cursed Films Released After an Actor’s Death

poltergeist 3 cast deaths

Many moving parts go into a film’s production. From the cast of actors to the camera operators, set designers, audio technicians and other crew members, many key roles are essential, and the loss of any one of them could be devastating to a film’s final product. Besides losing a director, the worst upheaval often stems from the unexpected death of a key actor before a movie is completed.

Through technology and recasts — depending on when the death occurred — movies can sometimes still be completed and released posthumously. The bigger question might be whether that’s the best choice, considering some films have seemed downright cursed after the death of a key player. Take a look!

Saratoga (1937)

Back in the days of Old Hollywood, producers were in charge of more than just production. They also controlled the ins and outs of the lives of their star actresses. One of the most gut-wrenching examples of this was young Jean Harlow, who died at the age of 26.

poltergeist 3 cast deaths

About 90% of her film Saratoga was complete when she died, and the crew had to finish her parts with body doubles and voice actors to imitate her signature sound. The film was a success, but the studio — MGM — constantly faced financial troubles after that.

To Be or Not to Be (1942)

Because he was one of the originators of the romantic comedy genre, audiences usually clamored to score a spot in the theater for Ernst Lubitsch’s latest film in the throes of Old Hollywood. However, his 1942 film To Be or Not to Be — released in the months following actress Carole Lombard’s death — was not very successful.

poltergeist 3 cast deaths

After his leading lady died in a plane crash, Lubitsch’s film went over quite poorly with audiences. They were confounded by the story, which relentlessly mocked the very real threat of Nazi Germany during World War II.

Brass Monkey (1948)

Believe it or not, the sensationalism of the tabloid magazine is not a new phenomenon. They have been around since the very beginning of Hollywood, and audiences have almost always been obsessed with the inner workings of the lives of their favorite stars.

poltergeist 3 cast deaths

When Carole Landis committed suicide before the release of 1948’s Brass Monkey — allegedly because of heartbreak over actor Rex Harrison’s rejection — moviegoers wanted to flock to see the film. However, once they learned that it was nothing to write home about, critics and audiences proceeded to ignore it.

Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

James Dean had barely gotten started when he was tragically killed in a car accident. Appearing in his first major screen role just months before in Elia Kazan’s East of Eden , Dean passed away before Rebel Without a Cause could be released.

poltergeist 3 cast deaths

Today, the film might be the role he’s most known for, although he didn’t live to enjoy the fame. Back then, the movie was almost universally panned by critics. The only reason it made so much money, according to experts at the time, was because of the spectacle of Dean’s death — not because of the quality of the movie.

High Society (1956)

A musical remake of the 1940 smash hit The Philadelphia Story , 1956’s High Society had plenty going for it to potentially transcend (or at least divert itself from) the success of its source material. Featuring the great Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Grace Kelly, what could go wrong?

poltergeist 3 cast deaths

As it turned out, the death of one of the main actors was something no one could have predicted. This sort of thing generally sours a film, and High Society was no exception. Actor Louis Calhern’s death in the months leading up to the release essentially stained it.

The Misfits (1961)

Some actors are certainly a lot harder to work with than others. This is a lesson that Clark Gable knew better than almost anyone. In fact, the troubles he faced trying to get along with Marilyn Monroe during the filming of 1961’s The Misfits are often blamed for his death before the film’s release.

poltergeist 3 cast deaths

The Misfits didn’t just claim the life of Clark Gable, though. Less than one year later, Gable’s co-star Marilyn Monroe also lost her life, leading to rumors that The Misfits could be one of the most cursed movies ever.

The Exorcist (1973)

Widely regarded as one of the most cursed movies ever made, it only makes sense that 1973’s The Exorcist would be mentioned here. Naturally, this movie would include a posthumous performance from not just one actor, but two: Jack MacGowran and Vasiliki Maliaros.

poltergeist 3 cast deaths

The problems with The Exorcist go far beyond the simple fact that these two actors passed before the film’s release. Many reports claim that the set itself was haunted throughout the film’s shoot, with all kinds of spooky goings-on practically becoming commonplace for the cast and crew.

Enter the Dragon (1973)

There’s simply no better martial artist in cinema than Bruce Lee. This is basically a fact at this point. With nearly four decades between his death and the present day, his legacy is continually honored, and his image still as recognizable today as it was back then.

poltergeist 3 cast deaths

Unfortunately for the cast and crew of Enter the Dragon , Lee died before the now-famous film could be completed. His death during production would eventually be repeated with his own son, making his legacy of martial artistry — and a potential curse — a dark shadow on a sadder tradition.

Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)

Based on the success of the television show of the same name, 1983’s Twilight Zone: The Movie should have gone off without a hitch. Bringing together three of the biggest names in sci-fi and fantasy filmmaking at the time to reproduce three classic episodes, the film was as mysterious and dark as an episode of the series itself.

poltergeist 3 cast deaths

Unfortunately, the film directed by John Landis claimed three lives — two children and a leading actor — in a helicopter accident. To make matters worse, the scene in question potentially violated California labor laws involving children. Criminal charges were filed, and various lawsuits followed.

Curse of the Pink Panther (1983)

When you put the word “curse” in the movie’s title, it seems like you’re more or less asking for trouble to happen. This was the case with 1983’s Curse of the Pink Panther , one of two films in the Pink Panther series made in the wake of actor Peter Sellers’ death.

poltergeist 3 cast deaths

Co-star David Niven was boosted to a more prominent role in the wake of Sellers’ passing, but he also passed in the days that preceded Curse of the Pink Panther ‘s release. Clearly, Peter Sellers was considered irreplaceable by the man upstairs.

Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986)

Like The Exorcist , the Poltergeist films have ended up carrying with them a terrifyingly cursed reputation that far exceeds the scares on-screen. For the Poltergeist movies, the deaths of main actors almost seem like a way of life, as commonplace as a director calling “action.”

poltergeist 3 cast deaths

Actor Julian Beck passed away before the second film could be released, and — tragically — the franchise’s main star, little Heather O’Rourke, passed away at a devastatingly young age before the release of this sequel. Thankfully, nothing went wrong with the remake.

The Exorcist III (1990)

Speak of the devil, The Exorcist III seems to be as cursed as the first entry in the series. A second follow-up to the events of the first film — which remains one of the most highly-praised horror films ever, despite the dips in quality of its sequels — The Exorcist III can’t escape the franchise’s reputation.

poltergeist 3 cast deaths

An incredibly strange sequel, the movie saw actress Barbara Baxley die two months before the movie’s premiere. It lives on as one of the weirdest horror sequels to come out of the 20th century.

Canadian Bacon (1995)

First and foremost, Michael Moore is a documentary filmmaker. He has tried his hand at acting before and has even attempted stage shows in the past, but at the end of the day, he is always going to be known best for his documentaries. At one point, he even tried doing comedic films.

poltergeist 3 cast deaths

John Candy starred in Moore’s first — and only (so far) — fictional film titled Canadian Bacon . Strangely, the movie was as political as his other films but untethered from reality. Candy passed away before the movie’s release. Maybe Moore should have taken it as a sign.

Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)

Like Curse of the Pink Panther in 1983, it’s more than likely that the producers of Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers sealed their own fate when they decided to include the word “curse” in the title of their film.

poltergeist 3 cast deaths

In addition to many horror movies naturally carrying a “cursed” reputation, this Halloween sequel also saw the death of main character actor 0 in the months that followed the final days of shooting. The movie was ultimately a complete hack job, cut to pieces in the post-production editing process.

The Crow (1994)

Just like his father before him, Bruce Lee’s son Brandon tragically passed before the completion of what would be his final film. An aspiring actor who hoped to one day reach the heights of his father, Brandon was robbed of the opportunity in an accidental shooting.

poltergeist 3 cast deaths

The movie took quite some time to complete after Lee’s inopportune death. While it was well-received upon its eventual release more than a year later, the movie was ultimately destined to live in the shadow of the fateful incident that occurred on set. That is its curse.

Waterworld (1995)

Cult classics don’t have to be good. If there was a cult classic rulebook, that would be rule number one. Look at Waterworld , for example. The 1995 Kevin Costner vehicle was almost universally panned and a total flop here in the United States. As it happens, it may have also been cursed.

poltergeist 3 cast deaths

Actor Rick Aviles, who had a supporting role in the infamous Waterworld , died before the movie premiered. Could Aviles’ death be the source of the blame for the film’s horrendous performance? While it probably would have flopped, regardless, it’s interesting to consider.

Lost Highway (1997)

Leave it to David Lynch to create one of the most cursed films of the 1990s. While it features only one posthumous performance, the entirety of Lost Highway radiates an ominous sense of fear that seems to have seeped into the lives of the other actors as well.

poltergeist 3 cast deaths

Lynch favorite Jack Nance died a mysterious death before Lost Highway could be released. Co-star Robert Blake went on to be arrested for murder not long after, and co-star Richard Pryor didn’t appear in another film for the rest of his life.

Queen of the Damned (2002)

Very loosely based on the third novel in the popular Vampire Chronicles series, 2002’s Queen of the Damned was a horror movie destined to be a huge hit. Starring superstar Aaliyah as the titular evil royal, the film was halted when the singer-actress was killed in a plane crash.

poltergeist 3 cast deaths

A year later when the film was finally completed, all hopes of it being a success were essentially tossed out. It barely made back its budget and was nearly undone by the negative reception from both critics and audiences alike.

Waitress (2007)

For a movie about domestic violence and the harmful effects on the victims as well as their friends and family, it’s a horrible twist of fate that writer, director and actor Adrienne Shelly was killed before her film Waitress could be released. When you hear she died from a horrific act of violence, it just makes the death even harder to bear.

poltergeist 3 cast deaths

The movie has enjoyed success as of late, thanks in large part to its Broadway adaptation, but the real shame is that Shelly never got to make another film. She was destined to be a real success, and her death truncated any and all hopes of that happening.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)

After playing the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s 2008 film The Dark Knight , Heath Ledger died from an accidental overdose of prescription medications. Many considered his untimely death to be a direct result of the psychological torment he supposedly experienced during the shoot.

poltergeist 3 cast deaths

While this was later disputed, his unfinished role in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus proved to be pretty troubling for the rest of the cast and crew. Four other actors were brought in to finish Ledger’s role, but — unlike The Dark Knight , which was already mostly complete — this posthumous completion resulted in the movie flopping hard.

The Last Film Festival (2016)

Dennis Hopper is a pillar of the New Hollywood movement. At a time when the moviemaking industry faced plenty of uncertainty — the focus of Quentin Tarantino’s 2019 film Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood — Hopper and friends came along and revitalized the process.

poltergeist 3 cast deaths

His death in 2010 was nothing short of difficult, not just for his family and friends but for the crews of the films he was working on. Still unreleased, Hopper’s final role The Last Film Festival has been shelved and considered doomed in the wake of the actor’s death.

Furious 7 (2015)

From the very beginning of the franchise, Paul Walker was the most important character in the Fast & Furious universe. It started with him, dating all the way back to 2001’s The Fast and the Furious , but after 2013, the series had to continue on without him.

poltergeist 3 cast deaths

His death in a car accident during the shooting of Furious 7 resulted in Walker’s role being completed through CGI and body doubles. The franchise has been on a rocky road in the years since, coming across as more unfocused and increasingly ridiculous.

Wish I Was Here (2014)

At the time, news of Zach Braff’s follow-up to his debut film Garden State was quite buzzworthy. Funded largely through Kickstarter, Wish I Was Here had both fans and audiences talking before the movie had even gone into production.

poltergeist 3 cast deaths

One of the film’s co-stars, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air ‘s James Avery, didn’t live long enough to see the film through to the end, however. His death was an early indication that the movie wasn’t destined for the same heights as Braff’s first. It ultimately disappeared into obscurity soon after its release.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Parts 1 and 2 (2014, 2015)

Was there a greater actor to come out of the last few decades than Philip Seymour Hoffman? It’s not likely. Working on a slapstick comedy one day and a gripping drama the next, Hoffman’s range often surpassed his colleagues and consistently garnered praise.

poltergeist 3 cast deaths

His death in early 2014 meant that his final two roles — Plutarch Heavensbee in the final Hunger Games entry, Mockingjay , which was split into two parts — were released posthumously. Once intended to be a long-spanning series of main entries followed by spinoffs, The Hunger Games craze has practically vanished.

Absolutely Anything (2015)

A new movie from the Monty Python boys should have been a smash hit. Judging by the sheer amount of success achieved with earlier films like Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Monty Python’s Life of Brian , a brand new collaboration could have allowed the troupe to reach new heights.

poltergeist 3 cast deaths

2015’s Absolutely Anything , starring Simon Pegg and Robin Williams, was absolutely anything but a hit, unfortunately. Put out a year after Williams’ death, the movie was a box office failure and a critical disaster.

Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)

Robert Loggia had a long and fascinating career. Born in 1930, the actor enjoyed all kinds of notable Hollywood roles. From An Officer and a Gentleman and Scarface to Big and Independence Day , Loggia was a character actor who refused to play the same character.

poltergeist 3 cast deaths

Reprising his Independence Day role for the sequel was a fun bit of news at the time, but his death six months before the film’s release cast a shadow on the whole affair. The movie was supposed to soar, but it never exceeded its predictions. Cursed or simply lacking Will Smith? It’s hard to say.

Star Trek Beyond (2016)

Still a relatively up-and-coming talent at the time of this death, Anton Yelchin had just started to begin his slow, steady rise to the A-list. An absolutely fantastic performer, no matter the size of the role, Yelchin was a promising talent, and his death in 2016 still hurts today.

poltergeist 3 cast deaths

A supporting player in J.J. Abrams’s revived Star Trek trilogy, Yelchin’s death marked the end of the series dubbed the Kelvin Timeline. Many directors have tried and failed to get the rebooted series going again, but all efforts have been squelched before any progress was made.

The Circle (2017)

Bill Paxton was a staple of blockbuster filmmaking ever since he first appeared in the first Terminator movie in 1984. From there, he went on to be an essential part of various action franchises like Aliens , Predator 2 and various movies made by James Cameron.

poltergeist 3 cast deaths

His death in 2017 was a devastating blow to fans of his filmography and his franchises. His final role, a thriller starring Tom Hanks, Emma Watson, John Boyega and Karen Gillan, should have been a sure-fire hit. It released two months after his death and flopped.

Star Wars – Episode VIII: The Last Jedi’ (2017) and Star Wars – Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

Carrie Fisher has always been an integral part of the Star Wars universe. One of the very first characters seen in the first entry, Star Wars – Episode IV: A New Hope , Fisher was a main character for six of the series’ nine films.

poltergeist 3 cast deaths

After her death in 2016, the final two entries in the Star Wars sequel trilogy faced a tough decision: remove her character or repurpose footage. The filmmakers went with the latter, and the films ended up being two of the most contested entries in the entire saga.

The Other Side of the Wind (2018)

Orson Welles was no amateur. He was the man responsible for the movie many consider to be the greatest of all time: 1941’s Citizen Kane . Originating as a stage director and moving into the film industry in the wake of the success of his first film, Welles enjoyed a long and successful career.

poltergeist 3 cast deaths

Unfortunately, he died before he could finish his final film in 1985. Titled The Other Side of the Wind , Welles’ death resulted in decades of troubles until Netflix finally managed to release it in 2018.


poltergeist 3 cast deaths

The 'Poltergeist' Curse: Inside the Mysterious Cast Deaths and Oddities On Set

JoBeth Williams looks on as Craig T Nelson holds Oliver Robins in a scene from the film 'Poltergeist', 1982. (Photo by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Getty Images)

Released in 1982, the original Poltergeist , directed by Tobe Hooper and produced by Spielberg, was an instant success and is considered to be a masterpiece of American horror cinema. The film focuses on the Freelings, a middle-class family (led by a youthful, dashing Craig T. Nelson) whose life is upturned when a number of paranormal and vicious events occur in their California home and their daughter Carol Anne is abducted through her bedroom closet by a group of ghosts who are under the control of a monster demon called the “Beast.”

After learning that their house sits atop a Native American burial ground, the Freelings spend their time attempting to retrieve Carol Anne and all the while stay sane as they get smacked around, terrorized and ultimately, “goobered” on in the bathtub.

With Poltergeist's success came a creepy mystique that the classic film is shrouded in real-life tragedies that some interpret as a curse.

Four cast members died during and soon after the filming of the series

The majority of the fuel for the alleged curse stems from the deaths of multiple cast members. In total, four cast members died during and soon after the filming of the series. Two of these tragic deaths were highly unexpected and puzzling, leading many fans to speculate on the trilogy’s eerie implications.

Heather O'Rourke screams as she is harassed by evil spirits in a scene from the film 'Poltergeist', 1982. (Photo by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Getty Images)

Heather O'Rourke

Carol Anne Freeling, the young focal point of the series, was played by Heather O’Rourke. Only six years old when the first Poltergeist film was released, O’Rourke captivated audiences with her stark blond hair, doll-like appearance, and big, inquisitive eyes. Sadly, however, she was misdiagnosed with Crohn’s Disease in 1987. The following year, O’Rourke fell ill again, and her symptoms were casually attributed to the flu. A day later, she collapsed and suffered a cardiac arrest. After being airlifted to a children’s hospital in San Diego, O’Rourke died during an operation to correct a bowel obstruction, and it was later believed that she had been suffering from a congenital intestinal abnormality.

Dominique Dunne

Dominique Dunne, who played the original older sister Dana Freeling, met an equally tragic and unforeseen fate. In 1982, Dunne separated from her partner, John Sweeney. In November of that year, he showed up at Dunne’s house, pleading for her to take him back. When she refused, Sweeney grabbed Dunne’s neck, choked her until she was unconscious, and left her to die in her Hollywood home’s driveway. Sweeney was sentenced to six and a half years in prison but was released after three years and seven months.

Julian Beck and Will Sampson

The other two cast member deaths, while unfortunate, were not as unpredictable or mysterious. The evil preacher Kane from Poltergeist II was played by Julian Beck. In 1983, Beck had been diagnosed with stomach cancer, which took his life soon after he finished work on the second installment of the series. The same film was met with further tragedy, after Will Sampson, who played Taylor the Native American shaman, died after undergoing a heart-lung transplant, which had a very slim survival rate.

Other strange things happened on set

Cast deaths were not the only agents of the curse’s proliferation, as other peculiar and creepy legends surround the film franchise. JoBeth Williams, who played mom Diane Freeling in the first two films, claimed that director Spielberg insisted on using actual human skeletons as props in an attempt to save money (at the time, they were cheaper than plastic skeletons). Williams’ claim has never been verified, but it persists to this day in the lore surrounding the films’ curse.

Finally, in an effort to further creep out everyone involved, Sampson, the real-life medicine man who passed away due to circumstances mentioned above, performed an authentic exorcism after shooting wrapped up one night. One can only imagine how this made the other cast members feel.

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Four actors in Poltergeist have since died and people think the film is 'cursed'

Four actors in Poltergeist have since died and people think the film is 'cursed'

Featured Image Credit: PictureLux / The Hollywood Archive / Photo 12 / Alamy

It’s almost Halloween, and we’ll soon be bundling up on the sofa with a pumpkin spice latte and a bucketful of popcorn before tucking into our favourite spooky movie.

And there’s one horror movie which is particularly ‘cursed’ - and we don’t just mean because of a terrifying plot twist, or two.

The film in question is none other than Poltergeist , after four of the actors in the movie have sadly died following their appearance in the horror fantasy. Watch the trailer here:

If you cast your mind back to 1982, you’ll recall a family moving into their dream home, which, of course, becomes their worst nightmare when an evil spirit decides to corrupt their young daughter through their TV.

What ensues is the five-year-old generally tormenting her poor parents after the spirits use the child to bring them ‘to the light’ due to her life force.

But following the film’s initial release and its follow-ups in 1986 with Poltergeist II , and 1988’s Poltergeist III , four actors involved in the movies later passed away.

Those that died include Dominique Dunne, Heather O’Rourke , Will Sampson, and Julian Beck.

Four of the actors in Poltergeist have sadly died following their appearance in the horror fantasy. Credit: PictureLux / The Hollywood Archive / Alamy Stock Photo

Beck, who played the evil priest, Kane, in Poltergeist II was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 1983 and died of complications from the disease shortly after he completed the second movie.

Meanwhile, Sampson, who portrayed the role of the shaman, Taylor, in the second film also had a poor prognosis after receiving a heart-lung transplant, and sadly died following the operation.

There were two more unexpected deaths following the trilogy, including Dunne, who played one of the lead roles of Dana Freeling in the first movie and was strangled to death the same year by her ex-boyfriend after she refused to date him again.

Furthermore, O’Rourke, who portrayed Dunne’s little sister Carole Anne Freeling - the iconic blonde little girl who perhaps best encapsulates the original movie - also had an unexpected and tragic death at just 12 years old due to a medical condition.

Heather O'Rourke sadly died at just 12 years old after her appearance in the film. Credit: AJ Pics / Alamy Stock Photo

O’Rourke, who was also featured in the two sequels, was believed to have received an incorrect diagnosis of Crohn’s disease in 1987, which may have caused the actor to eventually die in 1988.

Could it be a real-life curse?

Well, onlookers seem to think so. “I’ve been studying the Poltergeist movie curse. It’s truly deep and crazy,” one social media user explained.

Another added: “The whole set was cursed. Some of the cast died. Weird things happened during production. Will Sampson, a Native American actor and shaman was in Poltergeist 3. He cleared the energy and lifted the curse.”

Spooky, right?

Topics:  Film & TV , Film and TV , Halloween , Horror

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The Tragic Real-Life Story Of The Poltergeist Cast

The Freelings frantically search for Carol Ann in 'Poltergeist' (1982)

"They're heeeeere !" Who can forget those chilling words from little Carol Ann (Heather O'Rourke) as ghostly apparitions projected out of a television and into the Freeling family household in the classic 1982 horror film  Poltergeist ? "The TV People" led by the evil Reverend Kane (Julian Beck) would go on to terrorize audiences (as well as the Freelings) in three movies, including 1986's Poltergeist II: The Other Side  and the final film in the trilogy, 1988's Poltergeist III .

All three films are filled with memorable, spine-tingly moments such as the hideous clown doll that pulls Robbie Freeling (Oliver Robins) under his bed, or perhaps the nightmarish tree that smashes through his bedroom window and literally tries to devour him. Another etched-in-brain scene for many is from the second film, when Steve ( Craig T. Nelson ) swallows a possessed worm while guzzling a bottle of tequila, which leads to him eventually vomiting out an H.R. Giger monstrosity. What happens in these movies is truly the stuff of nightmares, but to many, it's what happened in real life to some of the cast members that's far more tragic.

Even if you're just a casual moviegoer or horror fan, you've probably heard of "the Poltergeist curse." It's been the subject of many online articles, TV specials and mini-documentaries, including E! True Hollywood Story: Curse of the Poltergeist and most recently, episode three of Shudder's Cursed Films . Sadly, four lead actors from the trilogy all suffered deaths within a six-year span following the original film's release, leading many to believe that the movie sets were somehow cursed. This led to other various myths and exaggerated claims about what happened on the set — but before we get into that, let's look at the four main deaths that paved the way for the now infamous curse.

Dominique Dunne

Perhaps one of the most grisly and tragic deaths was that of 22-year-old actress Dominique Dunne, who played the eldest sister in the first film, Dana Freeling. Her character was mentioned in Poltergeist II as being off to college, but the reality was, any ideas screenwriters might have had for her character in the sequel had to be scrapped entirely due to Dunne's untimely death just months after the original movie was released. 

On the evening of October 30, 1982, Dunne was brutally strangled by an aggravated ex-boyfriend. The assailant, identified as sous chef John Sweeney, showed up at her West Hollywood home in hopes of repairing their relationship and moving back in with her. An argument erupted on Dunne's driveway, where the deadly attack took place. When police arrived at the scene, Sweeney was quoted as saying "I've killed my girlfriend!" 

At the time, Dunne was still alive; she was rushed to Cedar's-Sinai Medical Center, where she remained in a coma for five days and never regained consciousness. On November 4, 1982, just three weeks before what would have been her 23rd birthday, she was removed from life support and pronounced dead. Dunne was considered a rising star at the time and had just landed the role of Robin Maxwell in the 1983 science-fiction miniseries  V , which she was rehearsing for the night she was assaulted.

Julian Beck

Arguably one of the creepiest villains in horror history is Reverend Henry Kane, the human form of "The Beast" played by thespian Julian Beck. He's the gaunt, 19th century-looking cult leader who spends most of Poltergeist II trying to infiltrate the Freeling residence and abduct Carol Ann — and yes, he's also the same dude who possessed the aforementioned tequila worm. Even though he completed principal photography of the film, Beck would never live to see the theatrical release of Poltergeist II since he passed away on September 14, 1985 — during the film's post-production period and a full eight months before its premiere. 

Unlike Dominique Dunne's shocking murder, Beck passed away after a long battle with stomach cancer, something he had been diagnosed with in 1983 . So while his death is certainly unfortunate, it also definitely wasn't out of left field. Beck was dying of stomach cancer during the production and the entire crew was well aware of his diagnosis. Some believe it even influenced his chilling final performance in a film.

Will Sampson

Some remember actor Will Sampson as Chief Bromden from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest , but horror fans know him as Taylor, the Native American shaman from Poltergeist II . Sampson passed away due to post-operative kidney failure following a heart and lung transplant. Again, this is another death of a cast member that eerily occurred not long after the release of a Poltergeist movie. Sampson passed away on June 3, 1987 , but much like Beck's situation, he had a preexisting medical condition. Sampson suffered from scleroderma, a chronic degenerative condition that caused him severe malnourishment and other complications with his heart, skin, and lungs. He was only age 53 at his time of death.

Heather O'Rourke

The most well-known death that sparked and fuels the " Poltergeist curse" fire to this day was the shocking loss of Heather O' Rourke, who played Carol Ann — the young, angelic face of the entire franchise. During production of Poltergeist III in 1987, O'Rourke was undergoing treatment for Crohn's disease, which would turn out to be a misdiagnosis. In the third episode of  Shudder's   Cursed Films docuseries, director Gary Sherman shares several memories and speaks very fondly of the young actress, saying that, aside from O'Rourke's "chipmunk cheeks" — a side effect caused by the bowel inflammation medications she was taking at the time — she remained in high spirits and overall seemed physically fine and enjoyed her time on the set. Little did he know or anyone else know that something fatal was brewing within. 

Fast forward to January of 1988, when O'Rourke became severely ill and her health started deteriorating at an alarming rate. On February 1, 1988, she was rushed to the hospital, where she  ultimately died due to septic shock caused by undetected intestinal blockage. This blockage ruptured and the toxins released in her body proved to be too much. During an operation the 12-year-old O'Rourke was undergoing the same day of her death, it was also revealed that she did not have Crohn's disease, but an acute bowel obstruction due to a congenital stenosis — something that could've been surgically corrected had it been detected sooner. With only four months until the film's release, her death caused the studio to force Sherman to shoot an entirely new ending using a double, something the director was strongly against. He preferred that the movie not be released at all, but MGM ultimately had its way. O'Rourke's tragic end would be the fourth death of a Poltergeist major cast member in a six-year span.

Lou Perryman

While the deaths of Dominique Dunne, Julian Beck, Will Sampson, and Heather O'Rourke are seen as part of the supposed "curse," there is another death that some fans like to bring up to further pile on the evidence, but it happened 17 years after the release of the original movie and it's very likely someone you don't recall seeing. Actor Lou Perryman, who had a very minor role as a construction worker named Pugsley, was gruesomely murdered in his home by Seth Christopher Tatum — an ex-con with a history of mental health problems. On April 1, 2009 , Tatum was on the run after a violent altercation with his mother's ex-boyfriend when he randomly came across Perryman's home (the two had never met) and killed him. His reason? Just to steal his car. The case was settled two years later when the killer, who'd stopped taking his medication for bipolar disorder shortly before the murder, was sentenced to life in prison .

Oliver Robins is alive and well

It's apparent there's a lot of real-life death surrounding the Poltergeist movies, and while some like to believe it has to do with a curse, others believe it's simply a string of unfortunate coincidences. You might also hear other false or exaggerated Poltergeist myths, such as all three kids from the original film died, which is totally untrue. Robbie Freeling, played by Oliver Robins, is alive and well. In a 2015 interview with the Daily Mail , when asked about the strange deaths surrounding the franchise, he told them he believes there is no curse. "To be completely honest, I don't think anyone that was involved in the movie ever really took the curse seriously. There is no curse — it is just tragic coincidences," he said. "People may try and connect the dots and make something out of it, but they are possibly going to make connections that probably aren't there. They do make for great spooky stories, but at the end of the day, they really aren't true."

Did real human skeletons cause the curse?

If there is a Poltergeist  curse, what caused it? One widely-discussed theory is the fact that real skeletons were used by the effects crew in the first two movies, most notably in the muddy swimming pool scene from the original with Diane Freeling, played by JoBeth Williams. Desecration of human remains plays a big role in the first film as the probable cause of the Freelings' pesky poltergeist problem. How ironic would it be if these real skeletons somehow jinxed the cast? This theory doesn't exactly hold up, though — Williams is still alive and well, as is daddy Freeling himself, Craig T. Nelson.

One man who is strongly against the notion that these real skeletons led to the deaths of the actors is special make-up effects artist Craig Reardon, who worked on Poltergeist . "The subject of the skeletons that were used in Poltergeist , to my utter amazement has created sort of an online mythology, and not a pretty one," said Reardon when interviewed for Shudder's Cursed Films . "Apparently, there's a contingent of people out there who believe that the fact that real human skeletons were used are some kind of pretext to 'explain' why two actresses that worked in the film subsequently died, which is not only just conceptually ridiculous, but is personally offensive to me."

As Reardon went on to point out, "human skeletons have been used in movies for years and years." Examples cited in his interview include  House on Haunted Hill  and the 1931  Frankenstein.  "No low-budget B film is gonna pay anybody to sculpt a human skeleton when all you had to do was go to a biological supply house and get a human skeleton. You know, wake up and small the budget. That's really the way it worked," he added. "The idea of having a few of them on the set of Poltergeist and killing two lovely young girls is a pretty pernicious idea."

Zelda Rubinstein slams the curse

Perhaps one of the most famous Poltergeist characters of all, arguably only second to Carol Ann, is the clairvoyant ghost-vanquisher Tangina "This house is clean" Barrons, played to perfection by Zelda Rubinstein, who passed away at the age of 76 in 2010 due to complications that followed a mild heart attack. Most never consider her death part of the curse due to her age, cause of death, and how far removed it was from the close string of deaths between 1982 and 1988. And that's likely how she would want it. Much like Oliver Robins, Rubinstein always felt the idea of a Poltergeist  curse was just superstitious nonsense. In fact, you might even say she found it to be downright preposterous. 

In a 1988 interview during a Showbiz Today segment on CNN, she candidly spoke about the curse in her signature gracious manner but ended it on a classy yet blunt note. "I owe it to Heather to present her case, as most honestly and lovingly as I can. I loved this child very much and I am still very grieved at her passing," said Rubinstein. "Heather died because of an undetected, congenital, anatomical defect. Julian Beck died from cancer in his mature years. Will Sampson passed away after receiving a heart and lung transplant. It's my understanding he had an environmental disease. And Dominique Dunne died at the hands of an extremely ill-directed, passionate boyfriend. These are reasons, I do not call this a jinx. I think that it's pretty much a courtesy to put to an end this superstitious crap ."

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Screen Rant

The only poltergeist movie where anyone is actually killed.

The Poltergeist franchise is one of the most well-known in horror, but despite its scare factor, there's almost no body count to speak of.

The Poltergeist franchise is one of the most well-known in horror, but despite its scare factor, there's almost no body count to speak of. That fact may surprise some, as the air of death certainly surrounds the Poltergeist series, thanks to the so-called " Poltergeist curse." Of course, in actuality there's no real evidence to support the curse, which is centered on the multiple actors who've ended up dead after appearing in Poltergeist movies. Two of which were sick before they signed on, which always seems to be conveniently ignored.

Hypothetical curse aside, onscreen, the Poltergeist movies may have the lowest death count of any horror franchise. Despite the presence of a kid-eating tree, an evil clown doll, and "The Beast" stalking around, not a single person actually died in Tobe Hooper 's first Poltergeist movie. That certainly doesn't stop it from being frightening, but more than any other genre, horror plays on the risk of impending death to drive suspense and tension.

Related: 21st Century Paranormal Horror Movies Wouldn't Exist Without Poltergeist

One character technically dies in Poltergeist 2: The Other Side , but it's not the doing of the evil Reverend Kane . Instead, Carol Anne's grandmother passes away of natural causes, setting her up to save the supernaturally targeted girl during the afterlife climax. Even the 2015 remake of Poltergeist didn't see fit to add any casualties, despite Jared Harris' Carrigan Burke briefly venturing into the light.

The only Poltergeist movie in which anyone actually dies due to ghostly malfeasance is Poltergeist 3 , released in 1988. It's generally regarded as the black sheep of the franchise, moving the action to the big city, and ditching every member of the Freeling family besides Carol Anne. It's also much more like a 1980s slasher than the prior entries, which makes it appropriate that this one actually has a body count. Two people meet their grisly demise at the hands of Reverend Kane, with one being a welcome death and the other a sad one, were it not so oddly executed.

First there's Dr. Seaton, played by Richard Fire, Carol Anne's psychiatrist after she moves to live with her aunt and uncle in Chicago. Seaton is an intensely unlikable character, who sports a condescending manner, and even dismisses Carol Anne's claims about the supernatural after witnessing supernatural events, insisting she somehow instigated a kind of mass hypnosis. Seaton gets pushed into an elevator shaft by evil mirror images of Carol Anne's cousin Donna and her boyfriend Scott, as Kane is all about mirror manipulation in Poltergeist 3 .

The other death in Poltergeist 3 is popular recurring character Tangina Barrons (Zelda Rubinstein), a psychic who assisted the Freelings in recovering Carol Anne the previous two times. She gets killed in a truly bizarre scene, when Kane - disguised as Carol Anne - reaches through a mirror to grab her shoulder, somehow turning her into a desiccated corpse, through which the faux Donna emerges. It's a terribly unsatisfying death, but thankfully, her spirit returns later to finally guide Kane into the light, finally freeing Carol Anne.

More: Poltergeist: Why A Second Remake Is Unnecessary

  • Entertainment

Is the Poltergeist Movie Franchise Cursed? The Myth, Explained

Updated on 10/28/2022 at 1:25 PM

Poltergeist movie franchise curse

From " Halloween " to "A Nightmare on Elm Street," there's no shortage of iconic horror movies from the '70s and '80s that launched long-running franchises. Still, "Poltergeist" stands out among the rest because of its cult following — and many of those fans believe the Poltergeist franchise is actually cursed.

A reboot of the classic 1982 horror film "Poltergeist" came out in 2015, but let's be honest: nothing could compare to the original. While no horrific accidents occurred on the set of the most recent movie (that we know of, anyway), there are plenty of rumors of a curse on the original film trilogy's cast .

The movie revolves around a suburban family who moves into a new home and begins to notice strange things involving their 5-year-old daughter, Carol Ann. Turns out, menacing spirits are haunting the house, and while their interactions seem harmless at first, their true evil nature is soon revealed when Carol Ann goes missing, and her desperate parents turn to an exorcist for help.

Read on to find out about the mysterious events that have made people speculate that the Poltergeist movie franchise may be the most cursed series in Hollywood.

It All Began With Human Skeletons

One of the most famous scenes features JoBeth Williams's character, Diane, falling into the family's pool filled with skeletons. What you might not know is that those skeletons are actually real — at least the "Poltergeist" cast didn't. "In my innocence and naiveté, I assumed that these were not real skeletons," Williams said in a 2006 episode of TV Land's "TV Myths and Legends." "I assumed that they were prop skeletons made out of plastic or rubber . . . I found out, as did the crew, that they were using real skeletons because it's far too expensive to make fake skeletons out of rubber."

Months After the Release of the First Film, a Star Was Murdered

"Poltergeist" was released in June 1982, and in November of that year, 22-year-old Dominique Dunne, who played Dana (the family's older daughter), was murdered. Dunne was strangled in her own driveway by her abusive ex-boyfriend and was removed from life support five days later.

An Exorcism Was Performed on the Set of the Sequel

Concerned about the use of real skeletons on the set of the first film, Native American actor and "Poltergeist II: The Other Side" star Will Sampson performed an exorcism on the set of the second film in 1984. According to Williams, he went to the set late at night by himself to do it. The next day, the cast supposedly felt relieved.

2 Cast Members Died Within Years of the Sequel

Julian Beck, who starred as Kane in "Poltergeist II: The Other Side," died of stomach cancer at age 60. He was diagnosed before he accepted the role, and he died in September 1985, months before the film came out in theaters. In June 1987, Sampson, the actor who performed the exorcism, died of malnutrition and postoperative kidney failure at age 53. While their deaths may not seem so unusual, some fans still believe they're connected to the curse.

Poltergeist's Young Star Died at 12

Poltergeist's iconic young star Heather O'Rourke (aka Carol Anne, who said the famous "They're here" line) was incredibly young when she died of cardiac arrest and septic shock caused by a misdiagnosed intestinal issue. She died in February 1988 at 12, several months before the release of "Poltergeist III," the final chapter in the original series.

A Cast Member Barely Escaped Death

Richard Lawson was aboard USAir Flight 405 when it crashed into Flushing Bay in March 1992. A total of 27 people (out of the 51 on board) were killed. Lawson survived, but the event is yet another reason people claim the movie brought bad luck to its cast.

In 2009, a Second Cast Member Was Murdered

Lou Perryman played the small role of Pugsley in the original film. He was 67 years old when a recently released ex-convict killed him in his own home with an ax.

What do you think — is it a curse or simply a series of terrible events?

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