There’s an old tradition among thespians that asserts an actor never speak the name of Shakespeare’s Macbeth in a theater. Allegedly, the play is cursed and those who speak its name in a performance hall doom the performance, the performers, the venue, the audience, and themselves to boot. Out of fear of an ancient curse. Honestly, I think I’d rather shout the name of “the Scottish Play” in the middle of The Globe during a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream than even think of the movie Poltergeist while sitting in the cinema. Because there are curses, Billy Bard, and then there’s what happened to the actresses who played Carol Anne and her sister.
Soon after the release of the original Poltergeist flick, Dominique Dunne, who played eldest child Dana Freeling, died after he boyfriend choked her and left her in a coma. Dunne’s death, tragic though not improbable, was the first in a long series of random fatalities associated with the film.
Soon after completing the second film in the series, the man who played the evil preacher Kane in the second installment of the franchise, Julian Beck, died at 60 from stomach cancer. While this wasn’t entirely unexpected, it was never-the-less pretty tragic.
The third celebrity victim of the curse was Native American actor Will Sampson, who appeared in the second film. Sampson died later after receiving a heart-lung transplant, so his death isn’t terribly surprising.
The fourth victim of the curse was the lead herself, Heather O’Rourke, the little girl responsible for portraying Carol Anne. The actress died from septic shock as a result of a bowel blockage a season before the final film was released.
Others associated with the film–stunt people, directors, writers–have met premature ends.
But why would an entire film series be cursed?
One possible answer stems from the production’s use of REAL skeletons. Yes, folks, all of the skeletons you see in the first two flicks are, in fact, real. Given that the plot of the film deals with a family living in a house sitting on top of an abandoned graveyard, you’d think that the production company might be a little more cautious when it comes to disturbing the dead. But it’s Hollywood, and if there’s one thing I learned in LA-LA Land it’s that depth of character can be more difficult to find than a parking spot along Franklin Avenue when the Scientology Celebrity Center is parading Tom Cruise about the grounds.
So while this was less an analysis of the film Poltergeist, it’s interesting to note how the curse impacts our perception of the film series. Had this been another movie–maybe Rio Lobo–would anyone have noticed the pattern of deaths? Would anyone have put this elaborate “theory” together? Had the actors involved starred in any other type of motion picture, would we now be speaking of their deaths as being related, supernatural events tied to the film?
The answer, of course, is “Probably not.” Big productions hire lots of people. Actors and actresses die. People die. Given the crap we eat today and the fact that the crap we ate 30 years ago was way worse, is it surprising that people associated with the film have passed on?
So let’s be clear–It’s not a curse. But it becomes one by virtue of the film’s subject. Such the power of the ghost story. Caveat lector.