The Hollywood remake machine shows no signs of stopping — if this weekend’s latest big-screen retelling is any indication. A 3D remake of the horror classic Poltergeist, directed by Tobe Hooper and produced/co-written by Steven Spielberg, hit theaters. The film has garnered mixed reviews, but the movie’s presence recalls stories about the original Poltergeist, which has been dubbed cursed by fans and critics. Read on for the spooky real-life story behind the original film — and several other terror tales that were really haunted and cursed.
A young family’s lives are turned upside down when malevolent ghosts invade their home and their daughter is abducted by the evil spirits in Tobe Hooper’s classic horror film, Poltergeist. The movie is widely believed to be cursed due to several real-life tragedies involving the untimely death of co-stars Heather O’Rourke (who played little girl Carol-Anne) and Dominique Dunne (who played older sister Dana). O’Rourke passed away due to a medical misdiagnosis, while Dunne was murdered by her boyfriend. Many believe the curse was sparked by the use of real human skeletons as props (plastic ones were more expensive to make). In one scene in the film, brother Robbie (played by Oliver Robins) has a poster for Superbowl XXII in his room — which would take place six years later in 1988. O’Rourke died the day after Superbowl XXII in San Diego — the same city where the game took place.
Were the strange real-life deaths and accidents linked to Richard Donner’s The Omen the work of the antichrist — the subject of the Gregory Peck-starring horror film? Some fans believe so. Star Peck and screenwriter David Seltzer were aboard planes struck by lightning, while producer Harvey Bernhard was almost struck by lightning in Rome. Several people linked to the film were involved in a car crash, including the director. During filming, Donner’s hotel was bombed by the IRA. Peck almost boarded a flight during a trip to Israel (one of the locations during the shoot) that crashed and killed everyone. Several animal handlers were attacked and injured. Peck’s son Jonathan Peck committed suicide several months before filming began. Following the production, special effects director John Richardson and his assistant Liz Moore were involved with a serious car accident that decapitated Moore. The gruesome incident, which happened on Friday the 13th in 1976, mirrors one of The Omen’s most violent scenes — also a decapitation.
Anton LaVey was rumored to play the devil in Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, which never happened — but the Black Pope was friends with Mansonite Susan Atkins, who played a role in the murder of Polanski’s pregnant wife, Sharon Tate. Producer William Castle received threatening letters following the film’s release. One read: “Bastard. Believer of Witchcraft. Worshipper at the Shrine of Satanism. My prediction is you will slowly rot during a long and painful illness which you have brought upon yourself.” Castle suffered from debilitating health issues soon after, which convinced him the movie was cursed. During one emergency room visit, he reportedly screamed: “Rosemary, for God’s sake, drop the knife!” Composer Krzysztof Komeda died of a mysterious brain injury after filming.
Myra Jones (aka Myra Davis) was the uncredited body double/stand-in for Psycho star Janet Leigh during the making of Hitchcock’s 1960 film. A handyman named Kenneth Dean Hunt, who was supposedly a Hitchcock “obsessive,” murdered her.
Reports of audiences fainting and vomiting were a common occurrence during the release of William Friedkin’s chilling tale of a young girl possessed by the devil, The Exorcist. The movie made national news when a 16th-century church across the street from the theater where the film premiered was struck by lighting, causing the cross to fall to the ground. Actor Jack MacGowran played the doomed director in the film, Burke Dennings, and succumbed to the flu shortly after filming wrapped. There are at least eight other deaths associated with the production. The set for the MacNeil home burned down in a studio fire, but Regan’s (Linda Blair) room was supposedly untouched by the blaze.
Inspired by a true story that has been the subject of controversy and much legal drama, The Amityville Horror is based on the paranormal experiences of the Lutz family after moving into a reportedly haunted house on 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, New York. Prior to moving into the Dutch Colonial with ocular windows, previous resident Ronald DeFeo Jr. shot and killed his entire family. The Lutzes claim they were forced out of the home by an evil entity that terrorized them. A popular book was written, which was adapted for film in 1979. The ghostly aura surrounding the real-life tale pervaded the set, but much of that has been dismissed as invention to drum up publicity. Star James Brolin, who didn’t believe in the Lutzes story, experienced a fright while studying the novel for the film. Initially hesitant to take the part, he agreed to do it after his pants fell from their hanger causing him to jump and nearly crash his head through the ceiling.
From Entertainment Weekly on the real-life drama behind The Possession, where lights exploded on set and props were burned in a mysterious fire:
Lionsgate will release The Possession, a film produced by Sam Raimi (director of The Evil Dead and Spider-Man) that’s loosely based on the terrifying experiences endured by Haxton and the previous owners of the wine cabinet, which has become known in some circles as the Dibbuk Box. A ”dibbuk,” according to Dr. Jeremy Dauber, an associate professor of Yiddish language, literature, and culture at Columbia University, is the Jewish term for a restless spirit that finds refuge in a living creature. Dauber says the idea of possession has long been a part of Jewish lore, just as it has with Christianity.
For almost a decade, the 12½” by 7½” by 16¼” box has fascinated paranormalists and paranormal debunkers alike. Now it’s about to reach the masses in cinematic form, with Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Kyra Sedgwick starring as the parents of a young girl (Natasha Calis) who acquires the box. Raimi, who was raised in a conservative Jewish home, says he had a ”natural curiosity” about the subject. ”You don’t hear about dibbuks when you go to synagogue,” he explains. ”I know the demonic lore of The Exorcist. But what does my faith believe about demonic possession?” The other thing was, ”it scared me something horrible,” he says. ”The stories chilled me to the bone.” They certainly gave Morgan pause for thought. ”In the research I did, I started getting creeped out,” the actor says. ”My girlfriend was like, ‘Let’s just make sure that we don’t actually go near the real Dibbuk Box.”’
Real-life ghost hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren, who aided the real-life Amityville Horror case, investigated the haunting of the Perron family home — a farmhouse plagued by generations of death, disaster, and a possessed doll. The case inspired James Wan’s supernatural film, which left some audiences in the Philippines with such a fright there were priests available at screenings to bless viewers and provide counseling. On and off-set paranormal incidents — including strange claw marks on star Vera Farmiga’s computer, Wan’s tormented dog growling at invisible intruders, a strange wind (that apparently put Carolyn Perron in the hospital), and fire — were reported.
Dexter star Jennifer Carpenter reported that during the making of The Exorcism of Emily Rose — in which she played a big-screen version of German woman Anneliese Michel, whose poor health and subsequent death was blamed on a failed exorcism — her radio would mysteriously turn on and off. From an interview with Dread Central:
Q: A common question when making a film like this; did anything weird happen during filming?
JC: I thought about that when it happened, and two or three times when I was going to sleep my radio came on by itself. The only time it scared me was once because it was really loud and it was Pearl Jam’s “Alive” (laughs). Laura’s TV came on a couple of times.
Q: At 3:00 a.m.?
JC: Mine wasn’t 3:00 a.m. I was born at 3:00 a.m. but it hasn’t happened to me. I did check.
The Innkeepers (2011)
Filmed at the reportedly haunted hotel the Yankee Pedlar Inn in Torrington, Connecticut, The Innkeepers director Ti West was skeptical about the strange occurrences during the making of his movie. Still, creepy stories from the set became the focus in the press. From an interview with West:
I’m a skeptic so I don’t really buy it. But I’ve definitely seen doors close by themselves; I’ve seen a TV turn off and on by itself; lights would always burn out in my room. Everyone on crew has very vivid dreams every night, which is really strange.
The one story that is the most intriguing to me — In the film the most haunted room is the Honeymoon Suite. That’s where the ghost stuff started in the hotel. The only reason I picked the room that I picked to shoot in, was because it was big enough to do a dolly shot. No more thought went into it other than pure technical reasons. So when we’re finishing the movie, I find out that the most haunted room in real life, is the room I picked to be the haunted room in the movie. It could be a coincidence. It’s weird that it happened that way. . . . [Star] Sara Paxton would wake up in the middle of the night thinking someone was in the room with her. Everyone has stories, but I was too busy saying, “Let’s shoot this! We have 17 days!”