The Exorcist. Rosemary’s Baby. The Omen. Each of these classic horror films had rumors attached to them about the terrible fates that befell the cast—but few stories are as compelling as the supposed “curse” that haunted the production of the 1982 film Poltergeist.
Sign up to our newsletter.
History’s most fascinating stories and darkest secrets, delivered to your inbox daily. Making distraction rewarding since 2017.
Like the movies mentioned above, Poltergeist was an instant classic of the horror genre. The film followed the Freeling family as they battle with an invisible force that kidnaps their youngest, Carol Anne. Its box office success and critical accolades led to a demand for a sequel—but before filmmakers could even get started, tragedy struck.
Dominique Dunne, the young actress who played Carol Anne’s older sister Dana, died in hospital after a brutal attack by an ex-boyfriend at her home in late 1982. The filmmakers cut her planned part in the Poltergeist sequel and began shooting in 1985. Two actors who appeared in that film later died, but each suffered from serious health problems.
The rumors really began to take hold preceding the release of the third film in 1988, when young actress Heather O’Rourke, who played Carol Anne, unexpectedly died following an operation to treat a congenital illness. The suddenness of her death on the heels of the production of Poltergeist III caused the stories about a potential curse to go into overdrive, and some rumors claimed that she’d died during filming or that the filmmakers had needed to replace her with a double.
A number of other exaggerated stories about the Poltergeist curse spread through the years. While they were certainly compelling, there was little basis in reality to them. Sure, there was something of a high toll for cast members of the franchise, but two of the four deaths associated with it were not totally unexpected. Though the loss of two young, bright stars from one franchise was definitely shocking—a curse it is not.