Movies and TV
The Insanely Dark Story Behind “Poltergeist” and its Young Star Heather O’Rourke
The unexpected death of the child star Heather O’Rourke at age 12 cemented an urban legend that was circulating for years: The movie “Poltergeist” was cursed. However, the real cause of her death might be infinitely more disturbing: Hollywood depravity.
The 1982 movie Poltergeist is widely considered a horror classic whose influence still reverberates today. Indeed, if nobody wants to live anywhere near an ancient burial ground to this day, it is because of that movie.
While there have been tons of horror movies released in the past decades, Poltergeist stands out from the crowd. It is certainly one of those movies people seem to remember more vividly than others. Why is that?
For one, Poltergeist is not your typical horror flick with a dark atmosphere and adult theme. It was written and co-directed by Steven Spielberg who was simultaneously working on E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial at that time. In fact, the summer of 1982 was dubbed “The Spielberg Summer” because E.T. and Poltergeist were released one week apart.
At first glance, Poltergeist has a similar look and feel to E.T. However, Poltergeist quickly turns into pure nightmare fodder for children. In fact, the movie appears to be specifically made to terrify young viewers.
And millions of children ended up watching that movie because, astoundingly, it was rated PG – despite the fact that there’s a scene where a guy literally peels his face off. How did that happen? Was it a gross oversight? Not at all.
A 2001 article in The New Yorker revealed that Poltergeist was initially given an R rating by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) through a unanimous vote. However, after intense pressure by the movie makers (including Spielberg himself), the movie ended up getting a PG rating … by unanimous vote. In other words, the system got corrupted.
This caused countless parents to believe that the movie was OK for children to watch. It wasn’t.
The author of this article goes as far as calling Poltergeist a “betrayal of Spielberg’s audience”. He argues:
“This movie is jam-packed with stuff to specifically and intentionally terrify children. It’s not limited to the clown, the tree (Spielberg is said to have taken inspiration from one that creeped him out as a child), and the bedroom closet. The evil is in the TV! There’s one in every room to take you straight to hell! You’re not safe inside your own home, especially at night (which is always strobe-lit by lightning).”
– Polygon, Poltergeist’s PG rating was a crime against kids of the ’80s
In short, Poltergeist contains scenes that sadistically poke at children’s most visceral fears, anxieties, and insecurities. In fact, according to IMDB, the star actress Shirley Maclane actually turned down the role of the mother in Poltergeist because she “objected to the terrorization of children”. She said that.
Maclane clearly realized that there was something wrong with that movie. And, boy was she right. Not only did it insidiously prey on children, but a bizarre number of actors who worked on the three Poltergeist movies ended up dead. These bizarre events lead to an urban legend about Poltergeist being cursed.
Either that or the movie industry is sick.
Preying on Children
Poltergeist is about a 5-year-old girl named Carol Anne Freeling (played by Heather O’Rourke) who gets abducted by demonic spirits who communicate with her through the TV. Carol Anne calls them “TV people”.
The TV people exist with an evil entity called The Beast.
The terror in Poltergeist does not take place in a dark forest or an abandoned warehouse. It takes place in a regular house, in the children’s room, at bedtime.
Feeling frightful at nighttime is a visceral instinct for children. It’s programmed in our genes for survival. While parents do everything they can to quell those fears, Poltergeist does the exact opposite.
While filming the scene above, Heather O’Rourke had to hold on to the headboard of the bed while a wind machine blew toys in the closet behind her. The scene reportedly terrified her to the point that she “fell apart”.
The actor who played Robbie also had a terrible experience filming Poltergeist.
Here’s a strange anecdote about that scene:
When Robbie is being strangled, the clown’s arms became extremely tight and Robins started to choke. When he screamed out, “I can’t breathe!” director Steven Spielberg and Tobe Hooper thought that the boy was ad-libbing and just instructed him to look at the camera. When Spielberg saw Robbins’s face turning purple, he ran over and removed the clown’s arms from Robbins’ neck.
Other than Carol Anne and Robbie, there was the big sister – Dana Freeling.
In the scene above, Dana gets catcalled by grown men working in the backyard. Another example of preying on the young.
After getting sucked into the closet, Carole Ann is missing. Her parents discover that they can communicate with her through the television and they quickly realize that the TV people are not nice at all. In a harrowing scene, we hear Carole Ann screaming through the TV:
“Mommy there’s somebody coming! Mommy help me please! Get away from me! Leave me alone!”
Completely powerless against the TV people, her mother yells out:
Then, a medium called Tangina comes in to save Carol Anne from the spirits.
Tangina explains that a “terrible presence” is with Carol Anne. She says:
“It keeps Carol Ann very close to it (..,). It lies to her. It says things only a child can understand. To her, it is simply another child. To us, it is the Beast. She’s under restraint. There are so many arms about her. She thinks it’s safe”.
Sadly enough, these same exact words could be used to describe Hollywood child predators who lure children into their TV people realm.
At the end of the movie, all hell breaks loose.
Disturbing fact: The movie makers used REAL dead bodies in these scenes.
And, yes, that movie was rated PG. Some believe that the use of real dead bodies caused the movie to be cursed.
Curse or Hollywood Insanity?
Only a few months after the release of Poltergeist, Dominique Dunne (who played the role of the big sister Dana Freeling) was murdered by her ex-boyfriend.
Dunne met John Thomas Sweeney, a sous-chef at the restaurant Ma Maison, at a party in 1981. The two began a relationship, which turned stormy. Sweeney was uncontrollable and abusive (so abusive that Dominique did not need makeup to play the role of an abuse victim on Hill Street Blues). Dominique ended the relationship on October 30, 1982. That same night, a distraught Sweeney raced to her house, where she and actor David Packer were rehearsing a scene from V: The Final Battle, dragged her outside, and strangled her, leaving her brain-dead.
On November 4th, 1982, Dunne was removed from life support and passed away. To make things worse, the trial of John Thomas Sweeney ended up being a travesty. He was acquitted of second-degree murder and was only found guilty of voluntary manslaughter for which he served merely three years in jail. After his release, he changed his name and started a new life on the Pacific North West.
In the following years, two sequels to Poltergeist were released – each of which was followed by the death of an actor which intensified the “Poltergeist curse” rumor. While the death of some of these actors was due to an illness or old age, the untimely death of Heather O’Rourke shocked the nation.
What Happened to Heather O’Rourke?
The bizarreness surrounding O’Rourke began right when she was chosen for Poltergeist.
Heather O’Rourke was chosen for the film when she was eating lunch with her mother and sister at an “MGM” commissary. Producer Steven Spielberg came up to them and wanted O’Rourke for the part of Carol Anne. She initially failed the screen test because she kept laughing her way through the audition, even when she was supposed to be afraid. Spielberg thought she was too young to take the part seriously, but he still recognized something special in her, so he asked her to come back for another audition, and this time, bring a scary storybook with her. He also asked her to scream, so she screamed and screamed until she started crying. This audition got her cast as Carol Anne.
A few years later, on February 1, 1988, O’Rourke died following two cardiac arrests at 12 years old. She was filming Poltergeist III. While the official cause of death was “congenital stenosis of the intestine complicated by septic shock”, doctors could not explain why this young girl died so suddenly. Daniel Hollander, the doctor who treated O’Rourke’s, stated that the death was “distinctly unusual”.
A 1988 article by the Associated Press article titled Doctors: Unusual Circumstances Surrounded Actress’ Death describes the mystery surrounding O’Rourke’s death.
The death of 12-year-old ″Poltergeist″ actress Heather O’Rourke was ″distinctly unusual″ because she lacked prior symptoms of the bowel defect that reportedly killed her, gastrointestinal doctors say.
″I would have expected a lot of (digestive) difficulties throughout her life and not just to have developed a problem all of a sudden,″ said Dr. Daniel Hollander, head of gastroenterology at University of California, Irvine, Medical Center.
Other specialists, also unconnected with the case, said Wednesday it was possible she died as the resulted of a birth defect, but added that the circumstances of her death were extremely unusual. (…)
Terry Merryman, spokeswoman for Children’s Hospital of San Diego, said Heather died Monday of septic shock due to congenital stenosis of the lower intestine, or bowel. That means she died of shock caused by infection in the blood, which in turn was caused by a birth defect that made a section of her intestine abnormally narrow.
Such narrowing typically reduces bowel diameter to one-eighth inch instead of the normal half inch, impeding movement of food and fluid through the bowel. The defect usually is apparent at birth because it causes severe abdominal pain, vomiting and nausea, Hollander said, adding that it is very rare for the disorder to kill an older child who lacked prior symptoms.
Mike Meyer, the actress’ manager and lawyer, said Heather didn’t suffer chronic digestive problems, and the bowel narrowing wasn’t discovered until she underwent surgery and died on the operating table after suffering cardiac arrest en route to the hospital.
Hollander speculated that Heather’s bowel narrowing might not have been congenital but could have developed suddenly due to inflammation. (…)
Moderate bowel narrowing at birth might not cause symptoms, but a lack of symptoms before age 12 ″would be distinctly unusual,″ said Dr. Paul Hyman, chief of pediatric gastroenterology at Harbor-University of California, Los Angeles, Medical Center. (…)
″I cannot understand what precipitated the death because it’s usually clear when they’re born they have an important disease,″ said Dr. Carlo Di Lorenzo, a University of Southern California pediatrician.
″It just doesn’t seem to quite make sense,″ said Dr. Hartley Cohen, a USC gastroenterologist.
″It’s weird,″ Meyer said. ″She was completely healthy Saturday, they thought she had the flu on Sunday and she was dead on Monday.″
In short, O’Rourke’s death had something to do with her intestines. However, if she had been born with this issue, O’Rourke would have displayed severe symptoms. So what happened?
In 2017, “Enty”, the anonymous entertainment lawyer behind the famed Hollywood gossip site Crazy Days and Nights provided a highly disturbing explanation. In the blind item titled “Molesters Killed Her” (which was later revealed to be about O’Rourke), Enty writes:
Back in the mid-80’s was peak child molesting time in Hollywood. There was no internet. There were very very few mobile phones. Children came to the set where they were left alone by their parents. For the next 8 hours they were subject to every kind of horrible thing you can imagine. Drugs were commonplace. They were used to try and get the kids to not be so hysterical when being assaulted.
Producers loved casting shows with kids and tweens. If someone pitched a show that involved a handful of tweens with a dozen tween extras per week, it would get a green light. Even if the show was going to suck, and everyone knew it was going to suck, if you got the right pedo at a studio he would say yes just to come for the casting and taping of the pilot. As sad as it is to say, there were a lot of parents who told their kids to go off with the nice man in the suit and do what he says. It was a sick sick time.
It was just past the mid 80’s when a producer came up with the idea of a tween show that not only would feature a rotating cast of extras, but would make the studio a bunch of money because they would film quickly and not hire any adults. Further, the faster they filmed, the more time they would have to molest all the kids that would be hanging around.
From the first day, it was the worst place on earth if you were a kid. The studio where the show was filmed also had several other shows being filmed there, most of which featured lots of children. Executives would drive over to Hollywood right before lunch and would stay at the studio for several hours each day.
Anyway, on this particular show, there was a special guest star. A very special guest star. Still not a tween, everyone knew who she was. Executives flocked to the studio that day to see her. She was first molested when she was 5 or 6 and had continued to be molested throughout her hit movies and also on a previous show.
One of the stars of the show who has spent her life bouncing in and out of rehab because of what she saw, and who was actually nominated for awards from the show, described the atmosphere that day.
“A bunch of f**king pigs. I had just turned 12 or 13. I was the same age as the actress coming in. Maybe a little older. We had been shooting for months and I was old news. They knew I would do what they wanted, but they always wanted someone new. This was someone new and someone they all knew. They had it set up like a peep show almost. She had finished shooting that morning and they brought her out on a stage. The stage was used most of the time for a game show that was taped there. That game show is still on today. I can’t watch it knowing what happened to her there.
They brought her out and the front four rows of this theatre were filled with guys who were already rubbing themselves. The girl was wearing a bikini. The show took place around a beach just so they could make these girls wear next to nothing. They had her walk around under the lights. The lights were focused on her and she couldn’t really see out to the audience. She was squinting. It must have been blinding for her. They had her walk back and forth. Then they had her start dancing. All of these guys were doing what another star at that same studio got busted for. This went on for about 20 minutes. Then three of the guys took her to a different area of the studio.”
The actress didn’t see what happened, but about 45 minutes later, one of those three guys came running out and needed a set medic. Apparently they had inserted something inside the girl and things were bad. The medic came and the ambulance came. The parents of the girl were told some crap story. That crap story ended up killing the girl because the parents believed the executives. Two weeks later, the show finished shooting six episodes all at once and then everyone was sent on their way forever. No one wanted the kids around or any witnesses to what happened.
Inquisitive minds pieced together the clues in this post and determined that the TV series in question was Rocky Road. O’Rourke appeared in the episode titled Moscow on Boardwalk which aired in May 1987. The actress of the same age would be Marcianne Warman.
Naturally, one should take this story from a gossip site with a grain of salt. Honestly, I’d much rather it be a complete fabrication. However, since the creation of his site in 2006, Enty earned widespread recognition in media due to his correct predictions. Indeed, Enty published stories about Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and Matt Lauer years before their abuses were exposed in mainstream media.
And, sadly, Enty’s explanation makes sense. It would explain why O’Rourke suddenly developed issues in her intestines.
In 2020, Enty posted another blind item about O’Rourke. And it was equally disturbing. It revealed that the young girl could not even find peace after death.
For nearly a decade, the things that occurred at the tomb of this deceased A- list child star actually resulted in her body being permanently moved to an unmarked grave in 2001.
She was originally placed in an above-ground mausoleum, which is still marked with her name and at which people still leave flowers and teddy bears. The weird stuff began happening the day after her interment. A man was seen after sundown taking a bouquet of flowers from her grave, but he fled before he could be identified.
In the summer of 1988 someone used red spray paint to write “ALL WORN OUT – RR” across the marble face of her vault. The family was notified, it was photographed, and then over the course of five hours the vault was cleaned. The police were called, but they didn’t think it was important. For whatever reason the photograph didn’t develop properly.
Sometime in the fall of 1988 another man (probably the same as before, but there is no way of knowing) was spotted kneeling in front of her tomb after dark. He also fled when spotted.
On the anniversary of her death in 1989, her family (mom, dad, stepdad, sister, grandparents) gathered at the tomb to remember her. It was very somber, they held hands, the sister placed a little stuffed Dumbo in front of the grave. As they were about to leave a man approached them and said something which frightened the mother. Her dad and stepdad each took her by an arm and led her away, back over to their car. Then they left. The unidentified man stayed behind and picked up the little Dumbo that the sister left and stuffed it in his pocket before leaving.
Now here’s where things get really strange.
There wasn’t much activity around her grave for several years. Then, in about 1991, her body was exhumed. It was done in the dark, so no one would notice. Her body was returned to the tomb three days later.
In 1992, her body was exhumed a second time. One of the police present was asked why they were exhuming her again. He said, “What do you mean, ‘again’?
Turns out the first exhumation wasn’t legal even though they had what looked like real police and really good paperwork. Why did they want with the body of a deceased 12 year old?
Surely it would warrant an investigation, right?
Anyway, the coroner’s office kept her for about a week before she was brought back and we reinterred her.
In 1994 somebody had smashed the face of her tomb, removed her body, cut some hair from her head, and (fortunately) placed her back in the crypt. A worker there saw the corpse and he said she looked remarkably well-preserved. He started to float the possibility that her body had actually been replaced with an exact replica.
The police investigation went nowhere. In 1999 there was another vandalism of the tomb. It wasn’t another smashing, but red spray paint had been used again to write “BK KILLED ME”. In the summer of 2001 her family had her body moved to an unmarked below ground grave.
Crazy Days and Nights readers deduced that “RR – All worn out” was probably a reference to the show Rocky Road. “All worn out” could have been a reference to O’Rourke’s being “worn out” by the abuse. “BK KILLED ME” could refer to Bruce Kane, the producer of Rocky Road.
Poltergeist was all about preying on children. The movie even got a PG rating which tricked countless children into watching this nightmarish thing.
The movie itself was about a young girl getting abducted by “TV people” who are controlled by “the Beast”. I don’t see a better way of summing up the short life of Heather O’Rourke. She entered the industry as a toddler. From then on, she was controlled by it. However, unlike Carol Anne in Poltergeist, nobody saved her these real-life TV people.
When pondering on what might have happened to Heather O’Rourke, one quote from Poltergeist immediately comes to mind:
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