Poltergeist's Haunting Real-Life Curse Explained

There are many things you can do in life that may drastically decrease your life expectancy. Hanging out around nuclear waste or flavoring your dinners with lead-based paint chips are just a few examples. But one thing most people wouldn't put at the top of their "avoid at all costs" list is "star in a movie." After all, how dangerous could it be to stand in front of a camera and act for a living? Of course, there are plenty of examples in Hollywood that go against this assumption, and the cast members of the Steven Spielberg-written and Tobe Hooper-directed film "Poltergeist" might also feel differently about the riskiness of their jobs. After all, this famous supernatural flick has long been thought to be the subject of a very nasty — and deadly — curse.

The original "Poltergeist" came out in 1982. It tells the story of the Freelings, an average family who move into a new home in California. They quickly realize that the house is not as cozy and inviting as it first seemed, and their youngest daughter Carol Anne begins to communicate through the television with an otherworldly entity. This entity is, of course, a poltergeist (title alert!), and it starts to cause a whole lot of problems for the Freelings, eventually leading to the kidnapping (but safe return) of their daughter and total and utter destruction of their brand new home. There's a lot going on in the story involving cursed burial grounds and undeveloped swimming pools, but one of the most interesting and infamous things about the film is the curse that seems to have followed its cast and crew members from the moment Hooper yelled, "Action!"

Tragic Deaths

The most shocking thing about the "Poltergeist" curse is the number of deaths that occurred amongst the cast members. None of the deaths mentioned here happened during filming, but the simple fact that many of them happened at all is kind of hard to wrap your mind around. One of the most infamous deaths is that of Heather O'Rourke, who played the youngest daughter Carol Anne throughout the entire "Poltergeist" trilogy. Her death occurred after the third film wrapped. O'Rourke, who was 12 years old at the time, was wrongfully diagnosed and treated for Crohn's disease, but eventually succumbed to complications from an undiagnosed intestinal abnormality. Her death was tragic and unexpected.

A few years prior to O'Rourke's death, her co-star and older sister on screen, Dominique Dunne, was brutally murdered by her ex-boyfriend. Angry about their break-up, he went to her house one night to talk about the situation and ended up strangling her. She was 22 years old, and her death should never have happened. Dunne is not the only cast member to be murdered, however. Lou Perryman, who starred in the minor role of Pugsley in the original film, was murdered with an ax in his home by a young man recently released from prison. The killer had no previous connection to Perryman, and he claimed to be intoxicated and no longer taking his prescription medications at the time, which caused him to go into a murderous rage. 

Other cast members died from various pre-diagnosed illnesses. These deaths feel a little less "curse"-driven since they were known about before filming, but that doesn't change the fact that their lives ended shortly after working on the films. There were also a few near-death experiences by cast members. Ryan Lawson, who played the part of Ryan in the first film, was in a horrific plane crash that killed 27 of the 51 people on board, and Oliver Robbins, who played the brother Robbie Freeling, was nearly strangled to death by that terrifying clown that actually malfunctioned on set. If it wasn't for Steven Spielberg's quick thinking, Robbins may not be here to tell the story today. That's a whole lot of death and trauma associated with one spooky movie. Poltergeist or no poltergeist, this famous film franchise definitely seems cursed.

The Curse Lives On

Cursed film sets are more common than one might think. The sets of "The Exorcist," "Rosemary's Baby," and "The Omen," have all been said to harbor nasty amounts of bad luck. Usually, these "curses" tend to occur on the sets of horror movies, leaving one to wonder whether or not playing around with the stories of ghosts and possessions and death is really such a good idea. Of course, a lot of these so-called curses are probably nothing more than just really bad luck that also happens to have exceptional timing. But it is interesting to wonder about supernatural possibilities that may be at play. 

The "Poltergeist" curse is a tragic one — so many people lost their lives in brutal and devastating ways — and it also seems to have followed the franchise onto the set of the 2015 remake. Bloody Disgusting reports that while this version of the curse is mild compared to the one that terrorized the trilogy's original cast, it still had some spooky things up its sleeves. The house where filming took place was apparently haunted (and chosen by the director Gil Kenan for this particular reason, so, in some ways, he was asking for weird stuff to happen), and Kenan also claims to have lived in another haunted house for the duration of the shoot. In a Reddit AMA, he said that "the house that [he] rented during filming was straight-up legit haunted by a female spirit dressed in black." Take that along with everything that happened to the original "Poltergeist" cast and crew, and I'd say that the curse is still alive and waiting for its next big blockbuster to haunt.