Curses are a tale as old as time – we have evidence that the earliest civilisations, such as the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Persians or even Mesopotamians, actively tried to prevent their dead from cursing the living through the use of various rituals and items, like amulets and specially constructed tombs.
Independently of each other, living hundreds of years and thousands of miles apart, every civilisation somehow got the same idea: if you disrespect the dead, they will drag you down with them. It is actually quite a fascinating phenomenon, but perhaps it can be explained by a general fear of death, or more importantly, of a fear of being treated right after death. We have no control over what happens to our bodies after we leave this Earth, and as such, we need to leave some kind of warning to our families to ensure that they do not just toss our remains out somewhere and call it a day. Warning them of haunting from beyond the grave is the most effective way to do that, right? But as progress marches on, we gradually learned that there is no such thing as curses and we should be taking proper care of our dead out of pure human decency and not because of fear. But that only makes actual, real life examples of curses so much more frightening.
Most of us have at least heard of the 1982 movie ‘Poltergeist,’ which, alongside ‘The Exorcist,’ pretty much ushered in a renaissance of modern horror that we are still seeing the benefits of to this day. But as well as the movie turned out, in the end, it was not without its problems. Production was quite troubled, with a €10 million budget being nowhere near enough to cover everything that the filmmakers wanted to do. As a result, some corners had to be cut, and unfortunately, the best decisions were not always made during that process. Those of you who have seen the movie undoubtedly remember the disgusting pool scene in which Diane is thrown into a pool filled with rotted skeletons. What you may not have known is that, while it might be a bit hard to believe, the skeletons in question were entirely real. Indeed, the producers found it a lot cheaper to just “acquire” several real skeletons rather than commission rubber props, and so the remains of several human remains were thrown into the pool. The actress, or anyone else, was not told about this until much later.
Less than five months after the movie’s release, Dominique Dunne, one of its stars, was murdered by her boyfriend, strangled by him in her own driveway during a blind fit of rage. The boyfriend in question, John Sweeney, immediately turned himself in, making a full confession. According to him, he had no recollection of the accident – the only thing he remembered is suddenly finding himself on top of her, with his hands around her neck. While he immediately stopped himself, the damage had already been done and Dunne had to be pulled off life support five days later. Three years later, in 1985, Julian Beck – a star of the sequel, ‘Poltergeist II: The Other Side,’ passed away unexpectedly from stomach cancer. In 1987, Will Sampson, another sequel actor, suddenly died of malnutrition and kidney failure. But the most tragic example of the ‘Poltergeist’ curse comes from its youngest star, Heather O’Rourke, who was only seven years old when she starred as the youngest daughter of the haunted family. Five years later, the child passed away due to cardiac arrest from a misdiagnosed intestinal issue. But the stars are not the only ones who seemed to drop one by one – Lou Perryman, who had the small role of Pugsley, was killed by an ax-wielding ex-convict in his own home.
I guess you can argue that any franchise as old as ‘Poltergeist’ will have its fair share of tragedies. But then again, you do not really hear much about the ‘Ghostbusters’ curse, or the ‘Back to the Future’ curse. No matter how you look at it, it seems quite peculiar that so many of its cast members have died in these mysterious circumstances within such a relatively short time. Who knows, maybe it is all just a coincidence, or maybe ancient civilisations were right to fear the dead.