Poltergeist is a cult horror film released on screens in 1982 and straight out of Steven Spielberg and Tobe Hopper’s imagination. The film was an immediate success and remains one of the most terrifying films in American cinema, following two other films from the same franchise as well as a remake in 2015. But it was above all the succession of dramatic or paranormal events that made the three films of the horrific saga talk about them.
Poltergeist tells the story of the Freeling family, which is experiencing a haunting phenomenon linked to little Carolanne, which attracts stray spirits and whose family will gradually live an authentic nightmare, during three film segments…
The shooting was not without risk and one of the actors, Oliver Robbins who plays Robbie is the first to be the victim of a series of dramatic events. During the shooting of the most cult scene in the film where little Robbie fights against a puppet in the shape of a clown, the puppet in question suffers a failure and strangles the little boy. (MGM image credit)
The team thinks the little boy is really fighting the doll as expected in the scene but Steven Spielberg notices then that Oliver is really turning blue and he starts to lose consciousness. He stops the scene in extremis while the other members of the film crew seem hypnotized without understanding what is happening. Oliver remains traumatized by the shooting but refuses to believe in a curse.
Another striking incident of the first opus: in the scene where the mother of the family played by Jobeth Williams falls into the pool filled with corpses, they are not latex corpses but real bodies in decomposition. The director of special effects following the production’s request decided to take real bodies during the shooting because the creation of fake skeletons would have been too expensive and had not warned anyone of this, including the actress who remains traumatized by her swimming with decaying bodies. It is said that it is this decision that caused the curse, the spirits would have been stolen from a cemetery. In addition, in the film, corpses are the cause of hauntings: the builder of the city of Costa Verde had razed the cemetery to the ground and the bodies had not been moved, so the city is built on the cemetery. The actress Jobeth Williams and a few others reportedly had paranormal events at home on several occasions.
But what seems to be a curse strikes when actress Dominique Dunne, the daughter of the famous criminologist and journalist with the same name, is attacked outside her home by her ex-boyfriend Thomas Sweeney after a break-up he could not bear. Thomas had already been brutal with her until he tried to strangle her a few weeks earlier. After another argument, he assaulted the 22-year-old actress on September 26, 1982 in front of her house by strangling her, she died a few days later in hospital. Legend has it that the actress’ former companion turned the music on in her car and that at the time of the murder the music in the film was broadcast on the radio. The girl played Dana, the eldest daughter of the Freeling family in the film. (Image credit Will Sampson and Heather O’Rourke Poltergeist II, MGM)
Despite the murder of the actress and the shock of the team, the production company MGM is asking for a sequel to the film which was a big box office success. But during a scene in the film in which the family finds itself in a cave filled with corpses, they are once again real corpses and no one can find an explanation despite an internal investigation because the first incident caused a scandal. An exorcism is then requested by the technical team and it is the actor Will Sampson who sticks to it, the actor interprets in the second part an Amerindian shaman helping the family. Will Sampson is a real shaman which allowed him during the shooting to perform several exorcisms on the set but also with some members of the team who felt followed to their homes. The actor died shortly after the film’s release on June 3, 1987 of a kidney infection following a kidney transplant. He was 53 years old.
Another death was added shortly afterwards, during the shooting of the third part, when the actor Julian Beck, who played the terrifying and oppressive Kane, died of stomach cancer on September 14, 1985. The main actress of the three parts, Heather O’Rourke also died during the shooting of the last film at the age of 12 on February 1, 1988 following a complication of Crohn’s disease, the actress was diagnosed a few months earlier. She is undergoing treatment but falls ill during the shooting, after having been diagnosed with intestinal stenosis she was operated on urgently but dies of a septic shock following her operation. The production plans to cancel the film when it is almost finished, so they hire another little girl whom they film from behind to finish the film.
Then the director of the second part, Brian Gibson, died of bone cancer, Ewing’s sarcoma disease, on September 22, 2004 at the age of 59. Actor Richard Lawson, who plays one of the parapsychologists in the first part, miraculously survived the crash of his plane ten years after the filming of the first part. The actor was in economy class when people recognized him, the airline then offered the actor to go first class, which saved his life. Passengers in economy class did not survive the crash, with a total of 27 of the 52 passengers killed. Actress Zelda Rubinstein died on January 27, 2010, following a kidney infection at the age of 76, she played the medium Tangina Barrons in the films of the saga, while actress Beatrice Straight, who played the parapsychologist in the first part, died on April 7, 2002, following a complication of pneumonia at age 86, and director Tobe Hooper died on August 26, 2017 at age 74 of natural causes.
Image credit on the front page:
- JediMomTrix : Poltergeist