Horror Movies and TV Terror Behind The Scenes: The Victims Of The Poltergeist Curse  

Melissa Brinks
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Poltergeist is one of the most beloved horror movies in American history. It's also rumored to be cursed. Many of its stars have met with unfortunate accidents after filming, and some have even died. While it's not the first movie in history to be followed by such rumors, the Poltergeist curse carries more weight because of its unique origins.

Horror movies are often connected with frightening circumstances, but the Poltergeist movie curse actually ties into its story. The film follows the Freeling family, who are assaulted by a collection of nasty spirits disturbed by their home because it was built on an old cemetery. But that's not the only place that the dead were being desecrated - according to people who worked on the film, the skeletons used in the iconic pool scene were actual human remains.

Because the story is explicitly about the problems that arise from disrespecting the dead, there's a pretty compelling argument for why Poltergeist would be cursed. With celebrity deaths, strange accidents, and even exorcisms taking place over the film's 30-year history, Poltergeist's curse is easily one of the most interesting rumors in Hollywood.


Dominique Dunne is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Terror Behind The Scenes: The Victims Of The Poltergeist Curse
Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Dominique Dunne (who played Dana, the older sister of the Freeling family) was the first of the cast to die in an untimely fashion. Dunne broke up with an abusive boyfriend, who later returned to her house to pressure her into getting back together with him. She refused, and an argument ensued. As the argument escalated, the ex-boyfriend choked her until she passed out and ultimately fell into a coma.

Even worse, the ex-boyfriend was released after serving only half of his prison sentence. Like Heather O'Rourke, Dunne's untimely death has made many people believers in the curse.

Age: Died at 23 (1959-1982)

Credits: Poltergeist, The Shadow Riders, The Day the Loving Stopped

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Heather O'Rourke is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Terror Behind The Scenes: The Victims Of The Poltergeist Curse
Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Heather O'Rourke, who played Carol Anne in the film franchise, is one of the people most commonly said to be a victim of the Poltergeist curse. She'd been diagnosed with Crohn's disease earlier in life, but that turned out to be a misdiagnosis. In fact, O'Rourke had a bowel obstruction that caused septic shock. Unfortunately, the symptoms were misattributed to the flu and not immediately treated, and she died at just 12 years old as the obstruction released toxins into her bloodstream.

O'Rourke's character was the one most frequently targeted by the film franchise's many spirits and demons. Though she wasn't the first person to die during Poltergeist's lifespan, the unexpected, shocking nature of her death made many believe that the curse was real.

Age: Died at 13 (1975-1988)

Credits: Poltergeist, Happy Days, Poltergeist II: The Other Side, Poltergeist III, CHiPs, + more

Also Ranked

#97 on The Greatest Former Child Stars

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Julian Beck is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Terror Behind The Scenes: The Victims Of The Poltergeist Curse
Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Like Will Sampson, Julian Beck's death is not usually attributed to the Poltergeist curse. Beck had been battling stomach cancer all through the filming of Poltergeist II, in which he played the evil preacher Kane.

Still, Beck adds to the number of untimely deaths. If he were the only person to die after appearing in the franchise, it wouldn't seem to be connected. But because he, like many others who acted in Poltergeist, suffered from an illness or incurred other misfortune, he's often counted as evidence nonetheless.

Age: Died at 60 (1925-1985)

Credits: Poltergeist II: The Other Side, 9½ Weeks, The Cotton Club, Candy, Love and Anger, + more

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Richard Lawson is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Terror Behind The Scenes: The Victims Of The Poltergeist Curse
Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Richard Lawson, who played Ryan in the original Poltergeist film, is believed to be another victim of the curse. Lawson is still alive and well, but in 1992, he boarded flight 405 to Cleveland. Many passengers on board reported feeling uneasy before the flight, including Lawson, who was bumped up to first class after a flight attendant recognized him.

The plane crashed into a bay after a failed takeoff, with its 51 passengers trapped in their seats. 27 of those people died, including someone in Lawson's original assigned row. If he hadn't been bumped up to first class, it might have been him in that seat instead.

Age: 71

Credits: Poltergeist, Dirty Harry, Wag the Dog, Streets of Fire, V, + more

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