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Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Poltergeist Curse - Does It Exist?

I can't believe that it's the weekend already.  Boy, does time fly when you're having fun.

And, that's what I hope to bring to this blog each and every day.  I usually try to make this blog as fun as possible, and I definitely make it a mission to stay mostly positive.  There's so much negativity on the Internet that I want to try and brighten it up a little bit.  If I can make that happen with "A POP CULTURE ADDICT'S GUIDE TO LIFE" with just a few people, then I'm happy. 

That being said, with today's SATURDAY NIGHT AT THE MOVIES POST, we're going to be continuing our month of spookiness by featuring movies of increasing intensity.  And for today's feature presentation, I thought that I would choose a movie that for its time period was quite scary.  But even more frightening is the fact that many people consider this film series to be cursed.

Would you believe that over the last thirty-two years, four people who worked on this trilogy have died?  Four lives taken way too soon.  Four souls stolen away because of tragic and sudden circumstances. 

Have I got you shaking in your shoes yet?

Now, in this particular film, I will be focusing only on the first part of the trilogy, but I will be briefly mentioning the other two films as well.  After all, some people find the story of the four cast members dying after appearing in this series of films to be much more fascinating than the actual trilogy itself.

So, sit back, grab a snack, and maybe take your television set and throw it out of a window because this is the day we are going to be discussing the movie "Poltergeist".

Now, I imagine that most of you probably know what a poltergeist is, but in case you aren't sure, I'll give you a brief definition.  A poltergeist (German for "noisy ghost") is a spirit that can cause a lot of havoc in a household or business.  Poltergeists are invisible spirits that can cause objects to levitate, bend, shift, short-circuit, or spontaneously combust with no warning whatsoever.  I know it might sound like something that I have made up, but all over the world, people have reportedly abandoned homes that they believe are haunted by a poltergeist.  Now, how poltergeists get inside houses can differ.  Some may be haunting the place that they called home when they were still alive and may just be protecting their turf, while in other cases, they move into places of their own free will to have some fun with the living.

That is if you believe in ghosts, and poltergeists, and spirits.

Well, on June 4, 1982, the world was introduced to the most famous fictional poltergeist ever shown on the silver screen.  That was the day in which "Poltergeist" debuted at the box office.  And I must say that "Poltergeist" did quite well in theatres, making almost twelve times its nearly eleven million dollar budget.  Of course, when you have a huge name like Steven Spielberg serving as the film's producer, it's hard not to imagine it being a box office success.

The Tobe Hooper directed film starred Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams as Steven and Diane Freeling, who have the life that many of us absolutely dream of having.  Living underneath the California sun in the planned community of Cuesta Verde, Steven makes a living as a real estate developer while Diane stays at home raising her three children, Dana (Dominique Dunne), Robbie (Oliver Robins), and Carol Anne (Heather O'Rourke).  Why, nothing could ever shatter the idyllic suburban dream that the Freeling family seemed to be living each day.

Well, that is until Carol Anne decided to watch static on television one spooky evening.

You see, back in the olden days of the early 1980s, not every household had cable television.  And even if they did have cable television, many channels didn't run 24/7 as they do now.  So at some point during the early morning hours (usually around two in the morning), broadcasting would cease.  And after the national anthem played, you'd either get the static picture, or you would get the test pattern signal (you know, the design with all the multicoloured bars).  Now, why Carol Anne was up at two o'clock in the morning, I couldn't tell you.  Maybe she had to go to the bathroom.  Maybe she couldn't sleep.  Maybe she was hungry and wanted to check and see if there was still some Count Chocula cereal left over from the previous morning's breakfast.  All I know is that when Carol Anne decided to watch static on television, crazy things began happening.

Somehow, Carol Anne's gazing into the television screen causes a spiritual apparition to blast through the screen, disappear into the wall, and causes the whole house to shake.  And, then Carol Anne makes the frightening announcement...

Yeah.  That still creeps me out even today!

So things begin happening around the Freeling house.  Minor things like glassware breaking, silverware bending, and furniture doing the do-si-do around the living room.  And then things intensify when a tree in the Freeling backyard tries to make a snack out of Robbie, and Carol Anne is abducted from her hiding spot in the closet and is sucked into another dimension.  Later investigation reveals that the Freeling house is built on a sacred burial ground, and a medium, Tangina Barrons (Zelda Rubinstein) is brought in to exorcise the poltergeists and to save Carol Anne from the poltergeist's clutches.

At any rate, I would definitely check out this movie.  It's very creepy, and I was quite frightened by it when I first watched it as a kid.  I was especially creeped out in hearing that the crew used real skeletons in the swimming pool scene, according to JoBeth Williams, as I'm sure a lot of other people were.  It was alleged that real skeletons were used because it was cheaper to buy real skeletons than plastic ones (which leads me to wonder how one buys a real skeleton), but some wonder if that decision was what lead to...


Yes, since the original "Poltergeist" debuted, two of the main cast members have met their maker.  Two more people associated with the "Poltergeist" sequels also met their end.  And while all four deaths were attributed to different causes, they all had one thing in common.  They all died way too soon. 

Perhaps the first victim of the so-called "Poltergeist" curse was Dominique Dunne, who played the Freeling's eldest daughter Dana in the first film.  By all accounts, Dominique should have had a really long career ahead of her.  Between 1979 and 1982, she had worked on several television series, and critics responded well to her performance in "Poltergeist", which was her very first role in a motion picture.  Sadly, it would end up being her last.

You see, Dominique's downfall came at the hands of the man she was seeing.  Her relationship with John Thomas Sweeney had always been stormy.  There were at least two separate instances in which he had inflicted physical abuse on Dunne before the couple split up.  On October 30, 1982, she was rehearsing for a role that she had just taken on (the 1983 miniseries "V") with one of her co-stars, David Packer when Sweeney showed up at her house unannounced.  Dunne stepped outside of the house to talk to him, and it was there that Sweeney attacked Dunne and strangled her to the point of unconsciousness.  Dunne was immediately taken to hospital, but there was nothing that doctors could do to revive her.  She passed away five days later on November 4, 1982 - just a few days before her twenty-third birthday.

John Thomas Sweeney was sentenced to seven years in jail for assault and manslaughter.  Many close to the case believe that Sweeney got off easy, and as far as I'm concerned, they aren't wrong.

The next victim of the "curse" was actor Julian Beck.  Although he didn't appear in the first film at all, he did take on the role of Henry Kane in the 1986 sequel "Poltergeist II:  The Other Side".  He accepted the role in 1983, and he filmed his scenes as planned.  But what people didn't know until later was that he was a ticking time bomb just waiting to go off.  You see, Beck had been diagnosed with stomach cancer prior to accepting the role.  Sadly, he did not live long enough to see his performance on the screen.  He passed away in September 1985 at the age of 60 - eight months before "Poltergeist II: The Other Side" was released in theatres.

Another casualty of the "Poltergeist" series also starred in "Poltergeist II:  The Other Side" was Will Sampson.  You might recall that he played the role of Taylor, the medicine man.  Sampson, unlike Beck, was alive when the second movie of the trilogy debuted in May 1986.  But like Beck, Sampson was a ticking time bomb.  He had underwent a lung and heart transplant at some point after "Poltergeist II" wrapped up in an effort to prolong his life, but he died of post-operative kidney failure on June 3, 1987 at just 53 years of age.

How interesting that he died one day shy of the fifth anniversary of "Poltergeist" being released.

Sadly the final death is probably the cruelest twist of fate, as she was still a child when she passed on.  You might recall that Heather O'Rourke was just six years old when she starred in the original "Poltergeist" series.  In fact, Heather was one of two actors who appeared in all three films (the other one was Zelda Rubenstein).  But sadly, Heather's fate was sealed while she was filming the third installment of the movie.

In 1987, Heather began feeling sick and was initially diagnosed by doctors as having Crohn's Disease (an inflammatory bowel disease), and she was given a prescription of cortisone to treat it.  The treatment appeared to work, as Heather managed to finish filming her scenes for "Poltergeist III", although one side effect was that Heather's cheeks became large and puffy.

But on January 31, 1988, Heather became violently ill, being unable to keep any food or drink down, and her parents made the decision to take her to the hospital the following morning to see if there was anything that could be done.  By that point though, it was too late.  The next day, February 1, 1988, Heather collapsed and was rushed to the hospital, but she passed away later that day at the tender age of 12.  The cause of death was cardiac arrest caused by septic shock brought on by a bowel obstruction.

The O'Rourke family later sued Kaiser Foundation Hospital in San Diego, California claiming that had Heather not been misdiagnosed, her life could have been spared.  The lawsuit was eventually settled out of court. 

So, what do you think?  Is there a "Poltergeist" curse, or is it merely just a series of coincidental deaths?

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