Poltergeist was released in 1982, and has been considered a horror classic ever since. Although largely a work of fiction, it is said that the movie, cast and crew, were cursed. Were the deaths of several key cast members the result of this curse? And what of the stories told of real human skeletons being used on set?
It is not long before strange events occur within the Freeling house, including objects moving and breaking, strange sounds and lights, and of course, communication between young Carol Anne Freeling and the television set.
I don't want to go much deeper into the movie’s plot, on the rare chance that you may not have seen it, however there will be some spoilers in the remainder of this text, so understand that as you read on.
Some supposed ‘cursed’ movies only have the label of ‘curse’ thrown onto them after the production is finished. Poltergeist was labelled as cursed quite early in filming, as quite a number of strange events took place.
Strangeness and Tragedy During and After Filming
Oliver Robbins (who played the son/brother Robbie) had his own strange event on the set, when a mechanical clown prop malfunctioned and started to strangle him. What is interesting is that the whole idea for the clown scenes in the movie came from Steven Spielbergs own fear of clowns when he was a kid.
Dominique Dunne, who played Dana Freeling (the older sister), suffered a tragic, early death soon after the film was released. Not long after finishing the movie, she met and moved in with a Los Angeles sous-chef John Sweeney. However, he was abusive, and Dominique soon left him.
After Dominique refused to reconcile the relationship, Sweeney strangled her into a coma, and she died 4 days later. She was just 22 years of age. Sweeney was sentenced to six years prison for voluntary manslaughter, but only served three and a half
Two other actors died soon after working on the films. Julian Beck, who played the rather creepy Kane in Poltergeist 2 and William Sampson who played Taylor, also in Poltergeist 2.
The above deaths can, of course, be chalked up as terrible coincidence, and I am not here to convince you for or against the curse. The main reason for writing this is in regards to another legend that surrounds the Poltergeist films, the use of actual human remains in some scenes...
Human Remains on Set
As Diane tries to get to her son and daughter, the beast is there to block her way into her children's bedroom. After a fall down the stairs, she makes her way towards her neighbours house, but slips into the large hole, that was to be her families swimming pool.
Coffins begin to burst their way through the dirt, and corpses begin to fall into the pool, all around Diane.
It is said that the movies prop department had purchased actual human skeletons to be used in this scene...
Although the skeletons were partially sculpted over, in order to give a rotten flesh look and bedraggled hair, the underlying bones were meant to have been the real deal. Is there any proof to this claim?
First of all, a few facts are in order here.
Purchasing a human skeleton was a lot cheaper than buying a good quality one made from plastic, or another material. Many schools, primary, high school, college of all forms had actual skeletons as their anatomical models for biology and other classes. This was because the equivalent in plastic could cost up to five times as much.
Also, what many people do not realise, is that the buying, selling and keeping of human bones is not illegal in most of the states over in the US. Prior to 1987 a majority of human bones were imported from India, but after India stopped exporting human remains, skeletons were sourced from China. This stopped in 2008, after China ceased their exportation of human remains.
So really, there is no reason why the props department would have not used human skeletons. It would have saved money, and there was no legal issue. There may have been a perceived moral issue, that still keeps the question up in the air however.
As for where the rumour came from regarding the use of real human skeletons in Poltergeist?
As for Diane, well she was not really worried about the use of the real skeletons, but was rather worried about shooting a scene in the water, with so many electrical hazards around!
'Poltergeist 2: The Other Side' also has its legend in regards to human remains. There are some scenes early in this film where a cave is discovered and contains human remains.
Human remains were either discovered in the real cave the scenes were filmed in, or the props used for the remains were real. This is a little hard to discern, but either way legend has it that human remains were present.
One final Story...
A blessing (some say exorcism) was requested, and Sampson, who was a real life shaman, instructed that security should leave the set unlocked and unattended, so he could return and perform some rites/ the blessing.
One final story, and this is to leave a nice ending to what is otherwise a article full of tragedy and horror.
When William Sampson died, a year after the release of Poltergeist 2, Craig T. Nelson, who played Steve Freeling (the father) wanted to visit and pay his respects to his friend and co-star. He drove 5 hours out to the Creek Indian Reservation where Sampson was buried, but had trouble finding the grave, so he stopped at a corner store.
He asked the first person he could find if they knew the directions to the grave. That person happened to be Sampson's cousin, who said he would show him the way.
As they approached the grave, the cicadas where causing an overwhelming buzzing and chirping. However, when Nelson approached his friend’s grave, and said a greeting, the cicadas instantly fell silent, and Nelson could say his goodbyes.