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The Tragic Death Of Poltergeist Actress Dominique Dunne (grunge.com)
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Before we dive into the movie poltergeist, lets talk about what a poltergeist actually is. The word poltergeist comes from the German Language and is broken up into two words Poltern (to make sound and to rumble) and Geist ( meaning Ghost or Spirit). So what makes a poltergeist different from a spirit is that a poltergeist makes disturbances that make things move. A spirit is just a spirit. While you may on occasion see a spirit make a light flicker or you may see it out of the corner of your eye, its nothing compared to a poltergeist. Poltergiests usually are associated with rotten smells that seem to come from no where, they are angry spirits who knock on walls, make doors open, violently shove things off of countertops and make things move across the floors. They even open cabinets and they love to pinch people, bite them, touch them, hit them and trip them. They aren’t pleasant which makes them completely different then a spirit.
While people may not believe me, because lets face it, not everyone believes in the paranormal, Ive had my very own experiences with the poltergeist. My childhood home was plagued by a poltergeist and also a series of benign spirits. The poltergeist used to do all kinds of freaky shit to the point I had to barricade my bedroom door to keep it out. We are talking pacing back and forth down the hallway, climbing into my bed and seeing hand prints as its moving across the bed, shaking my bed violently, whenever the fan was on I would hear whispers through the fan which would send shivers down my spine. I even had guests stay over that claimed they were attacked in the middle of the night. One night I was smoking some of that sweet mary jane and I was watching a movie. I hear this screaming noise that sounded like nails on a chalk board. Im searching around the room with my eyes to see where the noise is coming from and BOOM I see a solid oak ottoman sliding across the floor very slowly until it hit the side of my television stand. Then it stopped. I was shookith, shookith to the core. I mean my heart was beating a mile a minute but I was so used to this poltergeist that when I realized it wasn’t an intruder I was like “ ehhhh its just Steve” ( yeah I named the poltergeist)
See me and steve came to an agreement. I don’t stay in his favorite bedroom anymore and he leaves me alone. I put salt in every door way, well because im wiccan, and I also saged the whole house, hung besoms up on the walls and have pentagrams everywhere. So he stays the fuck out of my space now.
Anywho, Poltergeists are traditionally described as troublesome spirits ( we all have trauma man) who haunt a particular person or location. Folklore suggests variations of poltergeists and most of the information on poltergeists dates back to the First century but they didn’t become commonplace until the 17th century. Psychologists describe poltergeists as a persons delusions, schitzophrenia or hallucinations brought on by psychological factors. There are many skeptics and psychologists look at poltergeists as a hoax or the figment of ones imagination. But that doesn’t explain group sightings unless everyone is psychotic. Haha. I mean I know im a bit crazy but fuck man, my mom saw the same shit too and heard them. So explain that to me, mind mediator!
Alan Guald and Tony cornell did an experiment to see if Guy Lamberts theory that poltergeist phenomena could be explained by the movement of underground water. He also proposed water can cause stress resulting in vibrations and those vibrations moved the objects. So Guald and Cornell placed specific items in different moves and subjected it to mechanical vibrations. The structure of the house had been damaged but a few items moved a short distance so the theory wasn’t a complete wash but it still couldn’t explain fast movements of objects without destroying the integrity of the structure. Some others theorized that seismic activity could cause the phenomena and also ball lightning might cause the “spooky movement of objects blamed on poltergeists”.
But one guy named William Roll suggested that poltergeist activity can be explained by psychokinesis. Which means Soul Movement. So basically its like telekinesis but made by a spirit. Because this cant be repeated during experiments over and over again, it is reguarded as a pseudoscience.
So now that we have an understanding of what a poltergeist is, lets get into the CURSE OF THE POLTERGEIST.
Poltergeist was an iconic film produced by Stephen Spielburg and released in 1982. It was part of a film trilogy and all three films were brilliant. The urban legend surrounding poltergeist had to do with the deaths of four of its cast members between the years of 1982-1988
Spoiler alert! Im going to describe the events of the first movie so people who haven’t seen it get a feel for what it was about. I am not going to reveal the ending though. So if you are one of the people who have been living under a rock for the last 39 years and haven’t seen it, well I recommend fast forwarding if you don’t want to hear about the film.
Poltergeist revolves around the Freeling family which consisted of steve (played by Craig T. Nelson), Diane (played by JoBeth Williams), Dana (played by Dominique Dunne), Robbie (played by Oliver Robbins) and Carol Anne (played by Heather O’rourke) . They are a very regular family in a very regular house with some very regular children. That is, with the exception of Carol Anne. The movie gets right to the point in the first scene. It’s the star spangled banner, and unless you’re an 80’s child, that ment that all your regularly scheduled programs were about to go off air. After the cable cuts out for the night, the television goes completely static. And it made that awful noise… qqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqq.
So the dog starts tearing through the house looking for food and wakes up carol anne. Dad’s passed out in front of the tube and carol anne comes down and sees the static and starts talking to the television set. She gets annoyed because she doesn’t understand what its trying to say to her and she goes full blown nerd rage on the tv and starts screaming at it. Everyone wakes up and comes down stairs all confused about who she talking to. The mother gives her the look like she thinks maybe her daughter is sorta psychic but maybe not and her father brushes it off as sleepwalking.
After it finds Carol Anne its fixated on her. So it decides to come out of the television set and burst through into the world of the Freelings, LITERALLY, this thing comes out of the television, hovers over the family and goes into the foundation of the house. Carol anne is awake at this point and witnesses the whole thing. And that’s when she says one of the most famous horror movie lines in the history of cinema “ THEY’RE HEEEEERRREEEEEEEEEE” The family is jolted awake by all of this noise and they just shake it off the next day like eh, the house violently shaking must have been an earthquake. Again the mother is suspect of dismissing it so quickly and she again is suspicious theres some paranormal activity at play.
This movie has everything in it. From creepy clowns to portals into other dimensions. The family brings in paranormal teams and at the end you get to see satan’s anus.
But during this journey into the unknown, Carol Anne gets kidnapped into the in between. This badass Little Psychic played by Zelda Rubinstein comes in and tries to help the family navigate with her through the unknown to save carol anne. Shes one of the best parts of the movie. She was a bite sized little badass who also played a very small role in 16 candles.
While the family is in the moment and waiting for some action to happen there are some pretty cool little scenes in between. There isn’t a lot of cgi in this movie but it didn’t lack it either. Id say its about 50/50 which makes for some cheesy but really cool hand made special effects. During these smaller scenes you get to see a bunch of weird gory scenes that tap into our own personal fears about the unknown.
Im not going to give the ending away and I left a LOT of stuff out. Like how I found craig T Nelson really hot even though he was old enough to be my dad. He was like the quintessential dad bod type that was kind in the eyes but still a little masculine. Yum… but he was the all American regular guy. I think that’s why I liked him so much. Like you knew he wouldn’t cheat on you.
The other two movies were good too and I usually don’t say that about trilogies because a lot of trilogies are shit. But this one was pretty good. All three had very interesting characters introduced throughout the movies. Especially KANE (played by Julian Beck)
The main four deaths that surrounded the Poltergeist films that caused such a huge urban legend around the film resulted in murder and some were just benign deaths due to illness and natural causes. A lot of the people involved in the film were furious that people were taking this and running with it. The first incident happened during the recording of the first film. During the clown scene, Oliver Robbins who played Robbie, was actually strangled by the mechanical clown they used during recording. A lot of people said his performance was Incredible. That’s because he almost died from a malfunctioning prop. They kept the scene in the movie which added to its authenticity.
The second incident was with Julien Beck who played Kane in poltergeist 2. During the filming of the movie he was on last stage chemo treatments for his stomach cancer. If you have ever seen the movie he was so creepy because he resembled a corpse because of his weight and sickliness. It was ashame though because he was just dying OF CANCER. And unfortunately he passed away on September 14th 1985 after losing his battle to stomach cancer.
Another member of the cast of the second film died two years after Julien Beck. His name was Will Samson, age 53. Following a lung and heart transplant his body rejected his organs. Samson had Scleroderma (which I also have. It’s a rare auto immune disease that affects your skin, soft tissues and internal organs. Basically your body tries to kill itself because it thinks you are a disease and literally tries to kill you.) He passed away on June 3rd 1987.
During the filming of the last installment of the trilogy the main character Carol Anne (played by Heather o’Rourke) died following 2 cardiac arrests and sepsis after congenital stenosis of the intestine. The last few scenes of the movie they used a stunt double because she was gone before the end of the filming of poltergeist 3. She died on February 1st 1988 at 12 years old.
All of these circumstances are very sad but very reasonable reasons as to how someone would die. These are very unfortunate circumstances but are due to health related reasons and none were very unusual. So where does the curse come from? Well for one during the filming of the first movie speilberg thought it would be cheaper to use real human remains for the last few scenes of the movie and there were a LOT of bodies. They looked more realistic and it would have cost a fortune to create and mold all of those fake skeletons. What really creeps me out is Diane is trying to escape the pool and there are literally real human remains floating all around here with skin and muscle still attached, SOAKING WET! I imagine they must have given off an odor and decomposing bodies floating around in muddy water must have made the skin slip a bit. They had better have paid her well to do that scene because umm grosss….
The biggest and most well known reason for the curse of Poltergeist is the death of Dominique Dunne. She was the sister of an actor and her father was a writer and a producer. So she was born to be in show biz.
Dunne was a rising star at the time who appeared in TV shows such as “Fame” and “Lou Grant”. Her first successful film was poltergeist and in 1982 she was taking off in her career. While she was trying to excel in parts of her life, in other parts it was failing. She had broken up with her boyfriend, John Sweeney, who worked as a chef in LA. He was a typical narcissist who was extremely possessive and always made sure he knew where what and who Dunne was doing. Dunne and Sweeney had arguments that started escalating into physical abuse. One incident almost left Dunne pretty shaken up when he ripped out a chunk of her hair during a fight.
In 1982 Dunne was done with Sweeney. During an altercation with Sweeney he grabbed her by the throat and started strangling her. A friend of theirs was staying with them at the home and came in the room when he heard the assault. He stopped it and Dunne left the house and stayed at an unknown location for a series of days. Eventually she was able to kick Sweeney out of her LA home. But unfortunately for Dunne, Sweeney was obsessed with her and was stalking her. A month later, on mischief night, 1982 he went over to Dunne’s LA home and knocked on the door. He was hoping he could weasel his way back into Dunne’s life, hoping to reconcile with her.
She was inside rehearsing with DaviD Packer for a role in the science fiction miniseries “V” in which she already 2 episodes in. So this was episode three she was rehearsing for. When she answered the door to see what Sweeney wanted he asked to speak with her. She went out onto her porch to hear him out but she refused to get back together with him. He grabbed her and dragged her into the drive way. He strangled her for over five minutes until he thought she was dead. Packer was confused and left the house to see where Dunne was. At this point he ran into Sweeney who told Packer “ I killed my girlfriend”.
It was rumoured that Dunne’s friend who was present during the argument was listening to the poltergeist soundtrack to block out the noise of them fighting outside.
At Cedars Sinai Medical Center in LA, Dunne remained in a coma but showed no signs of brain activity. Dunne died on November 4th 1982 the year of the release of Poltergeist one. Dominique dunne was just 22 years old when she died.
After her death her father Dominick wrote in Vanity Fair, “ She played a battered child. (in hill street blues). What we would not know until the trial was that the marks on her neck were real, from John Sweeney’s assault on her.”
Sweeney was charged with murder and the case went to trail in 1983. The defense was that the crime was a crime of passion. The defense blocked sweeney’s other ex girlfriend from testifying that he had assaulted her over 10 times so the jury never knew about the history he had with domestic violence. The defense also attacked Dunne’s character. The jury found sweeney guilty of Voluntary Manslaughter and the law was at the time that the sentence for that crime was a maximum of 6 years in jail. He only served 2 and a half years. Dunnes mother, ellen griffin, established a victims rights group called Justice for Homicide victims.
Another incident that made people think the film was cursed was during the clown scene in the first movie. When Robbie was drug underneath the bed he was almost murdered by the animatronic arm of the clown when it had malfunctioned an almost strangled him to death. The actor playing Robbie recalled to Icons of fright, “ The way they shot te sequence, they didn’t really have the special effects the way they do today. So, the clown doll had this extended arm and they had me backwards, in a tight confined space under the bed” it was then that the dolls arm began to chock his neck “ the contraption caught around my neck. Stephen saw that, probably in the video assist, and h pulled me away from it. Who knows what might have happened otherwise. It was very fast. Maybe I wouldn’t be here today”.
There was also a near miss on one of the cast members of Poltergeist. Actor Richard lawson who played one of the paranormal team members in the film would have been in a plane crash in 1992 that claimed the lives of 27 of the 51 passengers on board. That is if he wasn’t given a first class seat after giving a fan his autograph. The person in his original seat died in the plane crash. Very final destination if you ask me.
Then we get to the paranormal hauntings reported by cast members after the filming of the movie.
JoBeth Williams ( diane) was experiencing some paranormal activity in her temporary home during the production of Poltergeist. The picture in her apartment kept shifting to different angled whenever she left to shoot the movie. When she would come home it would be in a different position. She said it may have been because she was slamming the door when she was leaving to film. It could be, or maybe it’s the CURSE!
Author James Kahn who was writing a novel of the movie also had been experiencing some unsavory paranormal experiences. A lightning bolt struck the building he was in when finishing up the project and the front of his air conditioning unit flew across the room and struck him in the back. After that the lights came back on and his video games started playing themselves. I wonder if the ghost beat the level?
According to grunge.com,
Director Gil Kenan had the biggest paranormal experience surrounding the Poltergeist series while filming the remake in 2015. In his Reddit AMA he wrote that the house he rented for production was the site of some minor inexplicable phenomena, like the lights flickering on and off for no reason. And other equipment only working in certain portions of the property. “ I used a lot of aerial drone photography in the film, and the drone pilots were never able to lock in the GPS signal in this field. We would have to move 10 feet away to launch the craft”, he added.
“ the house that I rented during the filming was straight up legit haunted by a female spirit dressed in black.” HE wrote, “ and I became aware of her within the first few days of staying in the house. And only after I left did I receive a call from the previous owner, who had moved back in. Who was terrified of the goings on in the house, and wanted to see if I had experienced any of it. She definitely was there, it didn’t follow me back to LA but it followed me from the set back to where I was sleeping during filming”
Will samson who was a real life shaman, in the sequel, he performed an actual exorcism on the set of the film to rid the site of alien spirits. Which even added to the over all weirdness of the original film.
During the filming of Poltergeist 3 Zelda rubinstein had a paranormal experience herself when she was upset by a photographic light blur that happened during a photo sesh. She believed that pic was taken at the exact moment her mother passed away.
Also during the production of Poltergeist 3 some weird shit started happening on set. The garage that was used for filming burst into flames after fake plastic ice poured onto prop cars ignited and injured three crew members. The fire chief responding to the scene said “ a ball of fire chased everyone out there. There was black smoke all over the place. This was all supposed to be done with the best of taste, but somehow it got away.”
Whether or not the poltergeist movies were really cursed, haunted, or just a bunch of coinkidinks, we shall never know.
But what I do know is that Zelda Rubinstein had a lot to say about the accusations that the movie was cursed. In a segment on CNN she went balls to the walls about how she felt about everything. “I owe it do heather to present her case, as most and honestly and lovingly as I can. I loved this child very much and I am strill very grieved at her passing. Heather died because of an undetected, congenital , anatomical defect. Julien beck died from caner in his mature years. Will sampson passed away after receiving a hear and lung transplant. Its my understanding he had an environmental disease. And Dominique dunne died at the hands of an extremely ill directed, passionate ex boyfriend. These are reasons, I do not call this a jinx. I think that it’s pretty much a courtesy to put an end to this superstitious crap”
So im going to leave it there Guys and ghouls.
Remember to put your jackolanterns out for Samhain to help those spirits go from the realms of the living back into the slumber of their afterlives. We don’t want any lingering souls about this Halloween.
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The Tragic Death Of Poltergeist Actress Dominique Dunne (grunge.com)