The E! True Hollywood Story - Curse of the Poltergeist   View more episodes

Aired at 12:30 AM on Friday, Oct 30, 2009 (10/30/2009)      View all transcripts from this day

Transcript

00:00:00Under the bed.
00:00:04They're here.
00:00:05In the summer of 1982, the horror flick "poltergeist" became the ultimate frightfest.
00:00:11But the real terror was behind the scenes.
00:00:13He was white as a ghost, and we just were, you know, like, " in the next two hours, we'll explore the tales and myths surrounding the "poltergeist" films and expose a reality that is stranger than fiction.
00:00:27He felt that there was some alien spirits that were upset and he detected it in the skeletons.
00:00:34Woman: And I began to get very creeped out about this.
00:00:38Is somebody trying to send me a message that I shouldn't be doing this film?
00:00:42We'll unveil the strange and bizarre events that happened on the set.
00:00:46He came to me sweating, very uncomfortable, " finally, we'll reveal how the filmmakers coped with tragedy.
00:00:54One of the worst moments of my life, carrying a box with that beautiful little girl in it.
00:00:59Some say the casts and crews of the "poltergeist" movies were simply unlucky.
00:01:04But others believe the movies were hexed.
00:01:07This is the story of the curse of "poltergeist," " hollywood has enjoyed a long love affair with horror movies, mysteries, and ghoulish tales.
00:01:31But sometimes what happens behind the scenes is more bizarre than anything hollywood dreams up.
00:01:39[ Screaming ] no one knows that better than the casts and crews of the hit "poltergeist" films.
00:01:46The freak accidents, untimely deaths, and acts of violence that occurred off-camera led to speculation that the movies are somehow cursed.
00:01:55Some dismiss the curse of "poltergeist" as an urban myth.
00:02:00Many don't.
00:02:02You be the judge.
00:02:04The movie "poltergeist" was the brainchild of steven spielberg.
00:02:06In 1982, the 35-year-old director was already a major force in hollywood.
00:02:12His resume included blockbusters like "jaws" " spielberg was fascinated with all things frightening.
00:02:22Even as a kid growing up in suburban scottsdale, arizona, steven enjoyed terrorizing his three younger sisters.
00:02:30It seems like he-- steven's always been trying to scare us.
00:02:33It started, probably, I can recall, in about-- when I was about in second grade, and my little sister and i were sharing a room.
00:02:40And he-- I had a new blackboard, and he came in and drew a skull face with big, scary eyes, bloodshot eyes, in chalk on my blackboard.
00:02:49And he said, "which one of you can " and so this thing's staring at us, and the two of us are like-- neither one of us wanted to chicken out, you know.
00:02:59" and we ran out of bed and got my mom, and she erased it.
00:03:03As steven became older, his pranks became more diabolical.
00:03:06He used to do some pretty incredible things, such as he created a monster out of an old skull he had and he dripped red wax over it and put weird flashlights and gels shining on it.
00:03:17And then he threw us one at a time in the closet, making us wear special sunglasses to help the effect.
00:03:23And then he'd lock the closet door and wait for our screams.
00:03:26Spielberg learned an important lesson-- his victims loved to be scared.
00:03:30We'd sit in our rooms going, "what's he gonna " you know?
00:03:34And a part of us just couldn't wait, like, " but at the same time, as a kid, you just-- I had butterflies.
00:03:42It wasn't long before spielberg combined his love of horror with his other passion, making movies.
00:03:48Oh, he was always filming everything.
00:03:50He would take my barbie dolls and he'd put on music from "spartacus" and he'd walk-- like the death march, he'd walk barbie up to the scaffold and film her hanging, you know?
00:03:59So he did very macabre things with our toys, but we all thought this was normal.
00:04:04You know, growing up, we all thought everybody did this in their houses.
00:04:08I guess that wasn't the case.
00:04:10By the spring of 1980, spielberg was in the middle of filming his next movie, " that summer, the director became obsessed with an idea for the ultimate haunted house movie.
00:04:21E! online film critic, andy jones: Setting the film in a suburban location sort of intensifies the scare factor because you know what?
00:04:32Most horror movies and scary haunted house movies, they're set like, you know, in spooky castles you shouldn't be going into anyway.
00:04:39Don't go in that building!
00:04:41You know, these are the buildings that you want to stay away from.
00:04:44But, you know, a neighborhood like in the suburbs, where every building is beige and the kids all look the same and, you know, everyone goes to the same pta meeting and the high school is right down the block, that's not the place where you expect to find, you know, ghosts and scary things.
00:04:57You feel very safe in these communities.
00:04:59And I think that's exactly where spielberg kinda got us.
00:05:03While finishing "raiders of the lost ark," spielberg knocked out an outline for "poltergeist," a story about an ordinary suburban family terrorized by ghosts.
00:05:13Spielberg and "raiders" producer frank marshall took the project to mgm and sold it on the spot.
00:05:20There was one problem: Spielberg was committed to direct another project.
00:05:25When spielberg signed on for "poltergeist" with mgm, he was already under contract with universal ," which sort of forbade him to direct another movie, " obviously universal didn't want to have these two movies competing.
00:05:39Spielberg wasn't thrilled, but he found a solution.
00:05:42Steven's deal at universal " name directors clamored for the job.
00:05:49But spielberg picked 37-year-old tobe hooper, whose 1974 low-budget shocker "the texas chainsaw massacre" was considered a horror classic.
00:06:00[ Chainsaw buzzing ] but he still needed a script.
00:06:06In 1980, steven met with two up-and-coming screenwriters, mark victor and michael grais.
00:06:13The director actually had the duo in mind for another project.
00:06:17We were at his house and he was showing us "a guy named joe," which later became a movie, and wanted to know if we wanted to write that.
00:06:24And then we were talking about ghost stories, I think, during the night, " when spielberg revealed he was developing his own ghost story, the writers wanted in.
00:06:34Steven had some notes for an idea.
00:06:38When michael and I walked outside, we both kinda looked at each other and said, " so we called steven and said, "hey, you know that ghost story?
00:06:48" we didn't know that calling steven and telling him that we didn't want to do one movie and that we wanted to do a different one was something that most people don't usually do.
00:06:59We hadn't been in the business that long.
00:07:02But spielberg liked their moxie.
00:07:04Grais and victor got the job.
00:07:06The director demanded realism.
00:07:09Steven had us meeting with psychics and ghost hunters and all kinds of the most bizarre people we'd ever imagined.
00:07:18There was some guy up in the hills we met with who supposedly could see ghosts.
00:07:23And we were wandering around some old mansion, " and we'd look up and there'd be-- you know, there would be nothing there, you know?
00:07:32" for true inspiration, spielberg and his writers reached back to their own childhood fears.
00:07:38We just thought about everything that scared us as kids-- you know, nightmares, fantasies, dreams, whatever.
00:07:45And we all contributed stories about, you know, the usual things kids are afraid of, you know, the dark closet, what's under the bed.
00:07:55Steven was afraid of a lot of things and he was really, really, frightened of clowns.
00:07:59And not only clowns, but trees.
00:08:01Steven was very much afraid of a tree, a particular tree that grew in our backyard.
00:08:07And this tree, when it would storm or there'd be wind, would scratch on his window.
00:08:12And he was just deathly afraid of this tree.
00:08:14And in "poltergeist," there is an incredible image of the tree coming and grabbing the little boy.
00:08:19And it's-- I mean, when I saw that, " he captured the fear that he had and really put it into the film.
00:08:25But the writers wanted to go way beyond clowns and scary trees.
00:08:29We had a lunch with steven and we sat him down, we said, "steven, in order for this "to really have impact--" and be different.
00:08:37"And be different, " " " " and he stopped and he said at the end of the meeting-- it was a nice compromise-- he said, "only " and we looked at each other and went, "the " [ laughing ] obviously it was the beginning of the process.
00:08:59Victor and grais later changed their minds about killing the little girl.
00:09:04They turned in their completed script in the fall of 1980.
00:09:07Steven spielberg and director tobe hooper needed to find a group of actors who looked like no harm could ever come to them, your typical next-door neighbors.
00:09:16THE FIRST CALL WENT TO 32-YEAR-OLD JoBETH Williams.
00:09:20The actress was best known for her role in the 1979 academy award-winning film " my agent called me and said, '" and I went, "oh, you know, a horror movie.
00:09:35"No, I'm not interested" in my snobby little way.
00:09:40And then they said, " and I went, "oh, well, then I guess I'll " the actress loved the script and signed on to play the role of a housewife terrorized by ghosts.
00:09:51Williams was already a believer in the supernatural.
00:09:55I was doing summer stock in new hampshire, and a bunch of the actors were living in this boarding house.
00:10:05And I had a dream or what I thought was a dream one night that the bed was shaking.
00:10:10And I thought, well, maybe we're having an earthquake.
00:10:14And I woke up in the morning and I went down to breakfast.
00:10:16And the lady who owned the house, you know, serving breakfast.
00:10:20And I said, "wow, I had the weirdest dream.
00:10:21"I thought we were having an earthquake " she said, "oh, no, dear, that's just our " " she said, "oh, yes, been here for years.
00:10:30" JoBETH HAD AN ACTOR IN MIND TO PLAY HER HUSBAND, 35-Year-old craig t. nelson.
00:10:37JoBETH AND I HAD WORKED IN "STIR CRAZY," And then she got a part in "poltergeist," the first one.
00:10:46And she, I think, suggested me to steven spielberg.
00:10:51And I came in and read for it and auditioned for it and got it.
00:10:56To play the film's mysterious exorcist, spielberg looked for someone more unconventional.
00:11:0245-Year-old zelda rubinstein auditioned for the part.
00:11:06LIKE JoBETH WILLIAMS, Zelda had firsthand experience with the unknown.
00:11:11I had been living in london for a very long time.
00:11:15And one night, I was having a dream, like a little cartoon image of my dog back in california, it said, "i have to go now.
00:11:31"I'm so tired.
00:11:32" and he went out the right side of my vision.
00:11:38And I woke up immediately, screaming 'cause I knew my dog had died.
00:11:43And in just a couple hours, my mother called from california to say the dog had died very mysteriously.
00:11:52Rubinstein had the goods. she won the role.
00:11:5521-Year-old dominique dunne and 7-year-old oliver robins signed on to play two of the family's children, but spielberg and hooper still needed to find carol anne, the youngest child and the poltergeist's special victim.
00:12:11The film promised to be a monster hit, but little did the filmmakers know there were monstrous surprises right around the corner.
00:12:22Coming up, life imitates art.
00:12:25I was like, oh, my god, I don't know if I can take months of this.
00:12:30..
00:12:30He delivered the line the way he did because he knew that he was going to die.
00:13:20In the spring of 1981, producer steven spielberg " he had his script, director, and most of his cast.
00:13:29But spielberg still hadn't found the right child to play the ghost's innocent target.
00:13:37Spielberg searched far and wide for his carol anne.
00:13:41One of the actresses he considered was 6-year-old drew barrymore.
00:13:45I remember that so vividly. I met with steven.
00:13:49I originally went in for "poltergeist," actually.
00:13:52And he took one look at me and said, "you're wrong for that movie," and I was sort of like, oh, god, I'm in the wrong place.
00:13:58And he was like, "but I think you're right " " spielberg kept looking for the ideal girl for "poltergeist" and found her in an unlikely place.
00:14:09Agent bob preston represented 5-year-old heather o'rourke.
00:14:13Heather's older sister, tammy, was working on a feature film at the mgm lot " in the mgm commissary, kathy o'rourke, heather's mother, asked heather to sit down and save the seats for them.
00:14:27So while heather is sitting there by herself, this stranger came up, glasses, beard, sorta long hair, " and she said, "well, my name is heather o'rourke, "but you're a stranger, " and he said, "well, do you mind if I sit here " and she said, "well, she didn't say anything about that, "but, yes, "you can sit down until she comes, " " so this man sat down, talked to heather while they're waiting for the food to come.
00:14:54Sure enough, mom comes back with a tray full of food and the sister.
00:14:58The man gets up and said, "i'd like to introduce myself.
00:15:00" that pnt, mom drops the tray on the table, everything spills.
00:15:05Steven asked how old she was.
00:15:06" " she said, "okay," and just proceeded to eat her sandwich.
00:15:11And then a day or so later, he came up and says-- in the commissary again, he said, " next thing we know, we were given a card to be interviewed.
00:15:21They met with heather by herself, spielberg said, "would you mind taking the script outside "and have your mom "sort of read the lines to you " " and he goes, "well, sure," just sorta joking along with her.
00:15:36" and she picked up the script and started reading it.
00:15:39They related back and forth, and she screamed and cried and followed his direction.
00:15:43She said, could she go home now?
00:15:45She was done screaming.
00:15:46" and next thing we know, she had the job.
00:15:50Filming began in may 1981 in simi valley, california, a quiet suburb 40 miles north of los angeles.
00:15:58No one anticipated any major problems, but right from the start, production was grueling.
00:16:05Actor, james karen: It was a very hot day, a new crew, and it was-- it was a rough, rough day's shoot for a first day.
00:16:17It would be rough for any day.
00:16:18Even the neighbors were exhausted.
00:16:21George rakowski lived across the street from the "poltergeist" house.
00:16:25The main complaint of most of the neighbors was that the shooting was going around-- 00 in the morning, and there were explosions and noises and sounds, and you couldn't sleep, and lights were blaring.
00:16:37And-- and it was just-- it was a distraction.
00:16:41Things didn't get any easier for spielberg and company when they moved into an mgm soundstage.
00:16:47In the summer of 1981, the writers guild went on strike.
00:16:52Mark victor and michael grais went with them.
00:16:55We were ordered by our guild to be picketing while the movie was shooting inside.
00:17:02It was a very strange situation for us.
00:17:05We were outside of mgm picketing our movie " and someone came out and found us, said, "come on.
00:17:16" so they came out and got us and brought us in the back door so that we could go to the set and spend a few hours on the set and see what was going on.
00:17:26And we were escorted back out to the picket line and continued our protest.
00:17:31Steven spielberg was on set every day, but he couldn't give "poltergeist" his undivided attention.
00:17:38" " it was in preproduction.
00:17:46And I can remember him talking about it and how maybe it was gonna be a pretty big film, something that he was excited about.
00:17:55Despite the chaos, the cast seemed unaffected, at least for the moment.
00:18:00Oh, dominique was just a delightful young woman.
00:18:04I mean, dominique was 21, I think, playing 16, full of life, full of energy.
00:18:11You know, a lot of jokes about her playing a teenager when she was really a young woman.
00:18:16Nelson: Oli, he's so tiny.
00:18:17I mean, he was just a little guy, you know?
00:18:20And he was fun.
00:18:21He was a pro and ready to go to work.
00:18:24Unlike her character, heather o'rourke wasn't fazed by the movie's eerie plot.
00:18:28If I cried in a scene, she would cry.
00:18:31If I seemed scared in a scene, she would totally take her cue off me and she would become scared to the point where I began to get worried.
00:18:42And I said, "you know, heather, I'm just " " " for the children, the movie was fun and make-believe.
00:18:56BUT FOR JoBETH WILLIAMS AND CRAIG T. NELSON, It was a different story.
00:19:00It was physically very hard, just a lot of running and screaming and dirt being thrown at us and skeletons being thrown at us.
00:19:10And it was-- I was like, oh, my god, I don't know if I can take months of this.
00:19:16It just seemed like we were consistently wet and cold all the time.
00:19:20That's what I remember as being difficult.
00:19:23Or covered in gel, which was the afterbirth of something.
00:19:29Whatever it was, it had a lot of alcohol in it, and so it made your body very cold.
00:19:34And, you know, little heather and i had to be covered in this for long hours while we were shooting in the bathtub.
00:19:42It was pretty uncomfortable.
00:19:43But not nearly as uncomfortable as one of the film's elaborate sets, a rotating bedroom.
00:19:48I was really scared about getting on that ride because I'd never done anything like-- I mean, few people have done anything like that.
00:20:01And, you know, the way it worked was that the cameraman was strapped-- he and the camera were strapped to the set so that they rotated.
00:20:12And basically I stayed in place, but I had to slide with the set.
00:20:17And we did it over and over and over again.
00:20:20And the people who had built the set had so faithfully re-created the bedroom set that they had even re-created the cottage-cheese ceiling, which scraped and scratched me every time I went around.
00:20:35So after about the 20th take, I was-- I had sort of scrapes and some blood on my elbows and my knees, which were exposed because of what I was wearing.
00:20:45And I remember I got off and I said, " and he said, "it's okay.
00:20:50" and I said, "well, I really appreciate your " as life on set became more difficult, life at home became more bizarre.
00:21:04Dominique had a weird experience while she was making the movie.
00:21:07You know, soon after the production started on the film, she was staying in a house, a bookshelf falls over, throws books all over the room that was bolted into the wall.
00:21:13I was living in an apartment in l.a.
00:21:16'Cause I was from new york.
00:21:18And I would come home every evening, and the pictures in the apartment would be crooked.
00:21:24And I would straighten them and I would go to bed and I'd get up really early and go to work the next day.
00:21:31And I'd come home late at night after a long, exhausting day, and the pictures would be crooked again.
00:21:36And I began to get very creeped out about this.
00:21:40I began to think, is somebody trying to send me a message that I shouldn't be doing this film, you know, that there's something wrong with me dealing with this subject?
00:21:54..
00:21:55The lights flickered and went on, and then all the video games in the room started playing themselves.
00:22:53pickthis applebee's two for twentygame time line-up.
00:22:56Let's breakit down.
00:22:57One appetizerto share.
00:22:59Two entrees.
00:23:00Final score.twenty bucks.
00:23:01.. the... way!
00:23:05(crowd cheering) 2 For $20. onlyat applebee's.
00:26:09By june of 1981, steven spielberg was in the second month " but a string of mysterious episodes was already pushing his cast and crew to the edge.
00:26:23The long days on the "poltergeist" set and the disturbing incidents at home WERE CLEARLY CATCHING UP WITH JoBETH WILLIAMS.
00:26:29We were so tired because the days were so exhausting.
00:26:33We all began to get hypersensitive to noises, sounds, you know, jumpy lights that-- see things sort of flash by.
00:26:43And I think people were more susceptible to being creeped out because of the material that we were dealing with.
00:26:47You know, when you sort of have to put yourself, especially as actors, in a state of terror all the time, you begin to overreact to things.
00:26:59The actors constantly wondered what would happen next.
00:27:03Shooting the movie's last scene was a terrifying ordeal for williams.
00:27:07The muddy swimming pool was actually on a set.
00:27:10It was at mgm in the old esther williams tank.
00:27:15They had built the pool and then they put these huge lights, giant lights around it to light it, and then huge what they call ritter fans that are like 16 feet across to blow and create the sort of wind and the atmosphere.
00:27:29And I've always been very sort of-- one of my fears is electricity and water.
00:27:37And so I would see these huge fans and these huge lights, and it would make me very scared to get into the water because I thought, well, what if one fell in, someone bumped into it accidentally?
00:27:49'Cause there's, you know, a million crew members around.
00:27:51But producer steven spielberg didn't let his leading lady down.
00:27:55Steven spielberg put on waders and waded into the pool and stood, you know, out of camera range on the side in the water.
00:28:04And he said, "i want you to know "that if a light falls in "and it's going to electrocute you, " and I felt much better.
00:28:16And fortunately, neither of us fried.
00:28:18Cast members weren't the only ones dealing with stress.
00:28:21Director tobe hooper had his own issues.
00:28:25My recollections of tobe was that I believe he had a vision as director slightly different from that of steven spielberg as producer, and very frequently steven made adjustments to the shots that tobe set up.
00:28:46I'm sure it was hard for tobe at times because steven is very strong.
00:28:50He's a very strong personality.
00:28:52His knowledge is just sort of breathtaking.
00:28:54And he was there all the time.
00:28:56I think you could really feel that steven was very actively involved, and I'm sure sometimes that-- you know, that was frustrating.
00:29:05It was also frustrating for the rest of the crew.
00:29:08Special effects makeup artist craig reardon was in charge of creating a ghostly piece of meat.
00:29:15In the script, the steak became cancerous.
00:29:17That's the actual word that was used.
00:29:19And so tobe saw that as something that had been deformed with tumors.
00:29:24So because that's the way he saw it, I actually sculpted something and I brought it to the set for his approval.
00:29:32And he liked it. he approved it.
00:29:34Steven spielberg walked up, " " " he said, "i think-- I think we better "keep it looking like a steak, " and I could see his logic, but I thought, hmm.
00:29:51You know, a lot of work just went into this, which is now ashcan.
00:29:57So from that point on, I made certain that everything got run through steven spielberg.
00:30:01Spielberg's influence was palpable.
00:30:03There's a scene where a man is hallucinating that his face is dissolving, and that was vintage steve.
00:30:08He'd come in to tell us a bedtime story.
00:30:10He'd first take wet toilet paper, plaster it on his face, and he'd come in and just scream, and these claws, " you know, and ripping his skin off and throwing it towards us.
00:30:20With spielberg standing on the sidelines, craig reardon wasn't going to take any chances.
00:30:26It was necessary for a pair of hands to come up and actually tear into this face.
00:30:31Now guess whose hands? steven spielberg.
00:30:36And the reason for that was very simple.
00:30:39I wanted him to look at it in dailies and not say, "who the hell was pulling that apart?
00:30:45" spielberg's hands-on involvement fueled rumors that he had taken over hooper's directing duties.
00:30:53But cast members insist this was not the case.
00:30:56I saw tobe there every day and I saw spielberg there every day.
00:31:01And on any picture, the producer talks to you and the director talks to you.
00:31:07I didn't think anything odd about it, about the arrangement.
00:31:13Williams: I mean, tobe certainly had his fair share of input, too.
00:31:17We're clear that we were working with both of these people.
00:31:20It didn't affect me.
00:31:20I was happy to have both of them around, so, you know, if there were resentments, they were kept away from me.
00:31:30In august 1981, tobe hooper called "cut" for the last time.
00:31:34The cast left the set exhausted and happy to put the project behind them.
00:31:39But there was more drama.
00:31:41Mgm executives hired author james kahn to write a "poltergeist" novel as a promotional tool for the release of the movie.
00:31:49I didn't have an office per se, but steven's office on the then-mgm lot was open because he was-- that's where he was filming " so I just ensconced myself in his office for that month and wrote 15, 18 hours a day to get the book done.
00:32:04So by the end of the month, it was the day after thanksgiving, I was getting close to the end.
00:32:09Marcy the typist came in late that afternoon and we were writing into the night.
00:32:1200 at night, and I was just writing the line, " and just as I finished writing it, this intense blast of lightning and huge thunderclap just whammed into the building.
00:32:29The facing on the air-conditioning unit blew off the unit, flew across the room, and hit me in the back.
00:32:36And all the lights flickered and went out.
00:32:39And marcy jumped up and screamed, and we didn't know what was going on.
00:32:47After about half a minute or a minute, the lights flickered and went on and then all the video games in the room started playing themselves.
00:32:56Meanwhile, spielberg was up against another kind of scary force, the motion picture association of america.
00:33:02The ratings board was concerned about the movie's graphic violence.
00:33:06The first rating for "poltergeist" was an "r," WHICH WAS THE KISS OF DEATH BACK IN THE '80s.
00:33:13Steven spielberg and frank marshall knows where their money comes from during the summer blockbuster season, you know, and that's from young kids who are willing to go see movies over and over and over again.
00:33:22Mgm really needed to have a pg rating.
00:33:24Spielberg and mgm executives weren't about to give in.
00:33:29There's no nudity in it, you know, there's no horrific language.
00:33:33Even the violence that happened is-- you know, it's scary, but it's not-- but it's tame.
00:33:39So frank marshall and steven pleaded with the ratings board to get a pg.
00:33:42The producers got their wish, and "poltergeist" was rated pg.
00:33:46But spielberg's problems were far from over.
00:33:48In april 1982, the trailer for "poltergeist" hit movie theatres all over the country.
00:33:54The ad campaign promoted the film " director tobe hooper was furious.
00:34:01Because of this ensuing controversy over who really directed the film, you know, obviously tobe felt, you know, a little short-shrifted.
00:34:09Spielberg responded with a full-page ad in "daily variety," complimenting hooper's work as the director of the project.
00:34:15" the movie opened on june 4, 1982, and the weekend box-office take was almost $7 million.
00:34:27The reviews were equally impressive.
00:34:296-Year-old heather o'rourke was thrilled.
00:34:32And she predicted even then, she goes, "preston, this is gonna be a huge hit.
00:34:35" ..
00:34:40Sweeney beat the crap out of her.
00:34:42She thought she was gonna-- gonna die.
00:35:22Are Amy and Heather starting a New York trend?
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00:35:56He goes out like every night.
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00:35:59..
00:36:01 - that's true.
00:36:04He really made an effort.
00:36:05But there really is a fine line between romance and stalking.
00:36:09..
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00:38:27On june 4, 1982, the film "poltergeist" released its terror on audiences nationwide.
00:38:34That weekend, steven spielberg's ghost story ruled at the box office.
00:38:39But the movie's success would soon be overshadowed by tragedy and violence.
00:38:45"Poltergeist" turned heather o'rourke into a celebrity.
00:38:48With the popularity of "poltergeist," there was nowhere that heather could go or not go where she would not be recognized.
00:38:55Well, one thing heather told me, she says, "i don't know why "people want my autograph.
00:38:59" so she just-- and I had to explain to her-- well, she was in love with-- she liked sylvester stallone.
00:39:06So I said, "well, if you got someone's autograph " " I said, "well, that's how you are " she never refused an autograph.
00:39:14And she could understand all that.
00:39:16She was never rude or anything.
00:39:17But she didn't think she was anything special.
00:39:20The movie hit home with audiences.
00:39:21Victor: The strangest people were the people after the movies who kept saying, "well, that happened to " "what happened in the movie "happened to me.
00:39:29"Really, thank you " they recognized me in the street.
00:39:36They stopped me in the aisles of the supermarket and said, " " "poltergeist" seemed on track to be the summer's biggest hit ," was released one week later.
00:39:55The picture shattered box-office records and put "poltergeist" in its place.
00:40:01"E.t." just kind of trumped it, you know.
00:40:03But it trumped everything in its path.
00:40:04" was one of those, you know, spectacular blockbusters for the ages.
00:40:10Although "poltergeist" was no longer number one at the box office, the movie put its young stars on the map.
00:40:16The career of 22-year-old dominique dunne was taking off.
00:40:20She was set to appear in the upcoming tv " she was really brilliant, smart, you know, talented, easy to get along with, full of enthusiasm 'cause she was just starting her career.
00:40:37Dominique's love life was also moving full steam ahead.
00:40:41Her boyfriend, 26-year-old john sweeney, was a successful chef.
00:40:45The couple appeared happy, but they were dealing with demons of their own.
00:40:49Michael fieg worked with sweeney at ma maison restaurant in west hollywood.
00:40:53First impression of john was high-energy.
00:40:58He was always moving.
00:40:59A bit of a temper, you know, and you didn't really want to set it off or aggravate him or anything.
00:41:04Sweeney had a short fuse.
00:41:05When a fan complimented dominique on her performance in "poltergeist," sweeney reportedly attacked him.
00:41:11Just a few months later, dominique became the victim of one of sweeney's jealous rages.
00:41:17Dominique's friend, actor miguel ferrer: Sweeney beat the crap out of her.
00:41:22She thought she was gonna-- gonna die.
00:41:25He choked her unconscious, banged her head on the floor, did all this.
00:41:28I was absolutely blown away.
00:41:29One month later, dominique and sweeney fought again.
00:41:33This time, the young actress took action.
00:41:36Friend, gloria gifford: He tried to hurt her, and she knew he was really doing something bad.
00:41:42And it was after that that she told me-- that she said she was separating from him, that they were gonna take a time away from each other.
00:41:50But sweeney didn't take no for an answer.
00:41:53According to police reports, on the night before halloween, the chef carved a chocolate mask in dominique's likeness and delivered it to her door.
00:42:00Dominique was rehearsing lines with actor david packer when sweeney made his surprise visit.
00:42:05Former lapd detective, harold johnston: John sweeney came up, knocked on the door, asked her to let him in so he could talk to her.
00:42:16She declined.
00:42:16She then came outside with him to talk to him.
00:42:20 packer said he then heard loud noises and loud conversation coming from the front porch.
00:42:27Packer later testified that he tried to ignore the argument.
00:42:29He turned on the "poltergeist" soundtrack to drown out the noise.
00:42:34Then he heard dominique scream.
00:42:36 packer said he went to the telephone and telephoned a friend.
00:42:42And he left a message on the answering machine that had said, " in a panic, packer phoned the police.
00:42:51Police personnel who answered the telephone told him that if he was any kind of a man that he would go out and help miss dunne.
00:43:01But packer didn't go outside.
00:43:02A few steps away, dominique was fighting for her life.
00:43:06Prosecuting attorney, steven barshop: Sweeney grabbed dominique dunne by the neck.
00:43:14He grabbed her, pulled her off the porch, pulled her to the side of the house, and was strangling her.
00:43:22It took approximately four minutes.
00:43:24When the sheriff's deputies first arrived, sweeney walked out to them with his hands up.
00:43:31He then walked back here and lay down beside miss dunne.
00:43:37Dominique was rushed to cedars-sinai hospital in los angeles, where she slipped into a coma.
00:43:42Our emotions were-- would swing from absolute despair to "come on, she's still here.
00:43:49"As long as she's still here, "there's still a chance.
00:43:52" but it wasn't going to be okay.
00:43:54After four days, dominique dunne was taken off life support and declared officially dead.
00:44:00Family and friends were devastated.
00:44:02She was a wonderful up-and-coming young star.
00:44:07And when she was killed, we were stunned.
00:44:13We were just stunned because that had been such a life force.
00:44:19So that was really a tragedy.
00:44:22John sweeney faced murder charges.
00:44:25His trial began on july 19, 1983, in the santa monica superior court.
00:44:31Author, mikita brottman: John sweeney came into court looking very, very contrite.
00:44:35He was wearing a black suit and clutching a bible, looking like a student in a catholic seminary.
00:44:42He looked down.
00:44:42He was very-- just very pensive and contrite throughout the whole trial.
00:44:48Sweeney testified that he strangled dominique dunne in the heat of passion.
00:44:52He put on a tearful display.
00:44:54On november 10, 1983, after a six-week trial, the jury returned with its verdict.
00:45:02Sweeney was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to six years in prison.
00:45:08He served, in the end, two and a half years.
00:45:10And that was a very, very controversial-- you know, for someone who killed-- strangled his girlfriend with his bare hands.
00:45:16After dominique's tragic death, " to a certain extent, there were close similarities between events in the film and events outside the film.
00:45:28So I think that really began to fuel the curse.
00:45:35Coming up, an actor's last rites.
00:45:38And I said that he needs to do this for his soul.
00:45:42I knew he wasn't gonna live long.
00:45:57..your tire's all flat and junk.
00:45:58Oh, did I do that?
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00:46:04...Oh shoot...i got no phone ...cuz I'm a pothole...so....k, bye!
00:46:12Anncr: accidents are bad.
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00:48:23lovesfor the neighbor.
00:48:24I mean you're brad garrett. aha!
00:48:26Mr. curmudgeon.
00:48:27Mr. grumpers.
00:48:28("Windy by The Association kicks in.) (Singing.) WHO'S SKIPPIN' DOWN THE STREETS ..
00:48:33...Smiling at everybody he sees...
00:48:36...Who's reachin' out to tickle a horsey...
00:48:40...Everyone knows, it's bra-ad...
00:48:43..brad...why are you so bubbly?
00:48:45I do not know who he is right now but he needs to stop it.
00:48:47CRISP, CLEAN, 7UP. ("Windy" kicks back in.) In the summer of 1982, the movie "poltergeist" became a box-office hit.
00:50:07But the picture's success was tainted by the vicious killing of one of the film's young stars, dominique dunne.
00:50:14Despite rumors that the film was cursed, mgm executives rushed to put a "poltergeist" sequel into production.
00:50:23Producers steven spielberg and frank marshall and director tobe hooper " but nothing could keep screenwriters mark victor and michael grais away, " we had heard of the "poltergeist" curse and we knew of the tragedy that had occurred on the first film.
00:50:45We did not really believe that it had to do with the subject matter of the movie or that the movie was itself cursed in any way.
00:50:54So we were very upset about what had occurred, but we didn't feel that it was gonna follow us, you know, from one movie to the other.
00:51:03Little did we know.
00:51:05The-- in "poltergeist ii," there were some pretty strange moments, as it turned out.
00:51:11Victor and grais also signed on as producers of "poltergeist " they finished their screenplay in the spring of 1983.
00:51:19There was just one hitch.
00:51:20What we realized was nobody in the first movie had been signed to do a second movie.
00:51:28There was some question WHETHER JoBETH AND CRAIG T.
00:51:31Would come back and do the sequel, so it took a lot of politicking and our will and persuasiveness to get them back 'cause they had thriving careers.
00:51:43Mgm gave the actors a very good reason to sign on.
00:51:47Well, the money. I mean, it was great.
00:51:51And, you know, I'd never made a check like that in my life.
00:51:55They made me a financial offer that I couldn't refuse.
00:51:58And I read the script, and it was craig again and the kids again.
00:52:04And read the script and thought it was actually very interesting, so I agreed to do it.
00:52:13Victor and grais accounted for dominique dunne's absence by sending her character away to college.
00:52:18But they knew that they needed heather o'rourke.
00:52:21Preston: Heather o'rourke was really excited " she was older. she was 7 by then.
00:52:27She understood the business much better.
00:52:29She had already had a lot of credits under her belt.
00:52:31So at this point, it was going back to work with old friends and continue in a role that is a part of history.
00:52:37Oliver robins and zelda rubinstein were back as well.
00:52:40Now all the producers needed was a director.
00:52:43In 1984, brian gibson was a young filmmaker looking for his big break.
00:52:49Psychic jill cook told the director he wouldn't have to wait long.
00:52:54I went to new york and I read this young producer named brian gibson, and I said, "you're gonna get your first movie "and it's not what you think.
00:53:02" he didn't believe me.
00:53:06He-- you know, he's like, " I met jill cook some months earlier through a producer in new york called jill paperno.
00:53:17And then I kinda forgot about it.
00:53:23In the spring of 1985, jill cook's prediction came true.
00:53:26Brian gibson had been recommended to us as a director to look at by the studio, and we saw he had done one small film, "breaking glass," for the bbc.
00:53:39And brian came in, and we just hit it off with him.
00:53:43I think he told us in his initial interview that he had been told by a psychic that he would get the job of director " and we-- we didn't trust him when he said that.
00:53:55We thought, okay, he's just crazy enough to do this.
00:53:57Gibson got the job and immediately called jill cook.
00:54:01He said, "i got a movie and I want you to " I'm like, "oh, that's great.
00:54:05" " " I absolutely loved the movie, the original, the first one.
00:54:11Cook was signed as the film's official psychic advisor.
00:54:14She began consulting with the filmmakers over the phone.
00:54:17Gibson:I THINK WHAT WE'D LIKE TO DO IS GET Guidance on this idea that we've just started to talk about.
00:54:29But do you think it would be a good idea to kinda just do a reading?
00:54:32Cook: I'm going to begin with a prayer because I believe in the power of prayer.
00:54:36And I believe if you ask, you shall receive.
00:54:39And if you knock, the door shall be opened.
00:54:42And if you seek, ye shall find.
00:54:44What I would do is mostly concentrate on the spiritual side of it, how realistic that is.
00:54:51When I received the original script, the ending was they killed the spirit with a baseball bat, and I laughed.
00:54:56And I said, "well, the ending's no good.
00:54:58"You can't kill a spirit " so we worked on the ending.
00:55:03Cook may have hated the ending, but she loved a new character who was added to the "poltergeist" mix, a mystical shaman named taylor.
00:55:12The writers based the role on a friend of actor craig t. nelson.
00:55:16The character of the indian was really inspired by craig's relationship with an indian that he had met when he lived in mt. shasta.
00:55:25The guy had revealed to him quite a bit spiritually and that he had grown a bit from it.
00:55:31Creating the character of taylor was easy.
00:55:33Finding an actor that fit the part was a bit more difficult.
00:55:38I wanted an authentic american indian.
00:55:41I wanted someone who is a good actor, who had a sort of power, personal and spiritual power about them.
00:55:49I know brian had a hard time casting that role, and they looked at a ton of people.
00:55:55Well, we had a lot of people come in for the part of the indian " just about every actor in town was coming in, claiming that he was at least part indian, including dennis hopper, who claimed he was an apache or something.
00:56:11Gibson called upon his psychic advisor for help.
00:56:14Brian talked to me about hiring the actors.
00:56:17He'd give me a list of names of actors to pick.
00:56:21I really didn't know who the actors were.
00:56:23I don't know what-- at the time, when they'd say a name, who this person was.
00:56:26I'd just write them down " and then I would say, " I'd give comments on some of the people, and some of them, I'd just say, "no," and go on.
00:56:35Cook zeroed in on one candidate, will sampson.
00:56:37The actor was best known for his role in the 1975 movie "one flew over the cuckoo's " I picked him 'cause he's a spiritual master.
00:56:48I knew his heart.
00:56:49When I read people, I read their heart.
00:56:51The filmmakers were skeptical until they met sampson in person.
00:56:55When will sampson came in, HE WAS THE real McCoy.
00:56:58And he was in fact the shaman for several tribes, I've been told.
00:57:04And he just was the character.
00:57:07And it wasn't even a question.
00:57:10The psychic made believers out of the filmmakers.
00:57:13They were so thrilled, they asked jill to find an actor to play the part of the evil minister, kane.
00:57:19The psychic picked julian beck.
00:57:22Author, mikita brottman: Julian beck was a very well-known actor.
00:57:26In fact, he was most well-known for his work in theater.
00:57:29He and his wife, judith malina, had started this very famous theater group called the living theater.
00:57:35But jill wasn't interested in the actor's resume.
00:57:37I said that he needs to do this for his soul.
00:57:41I knew he wasn't gonna live long.
00:57:43And I didn't even know who he was.
00:57:44I mean, I had no pictures, nothing.
00:57:46And so that was sort of, you know, something I knew spiritually was right for this man.
00:57:50I knew that this would be the last movie he did-- would do.
00:57:54I know these kinda things.
00:57:56He was very ill.
00:57:58He, I don't think, would normally have done something like that if he hadn't been so ill, but he was saving a little for posterity, I think.
00:58:05I talked to him a little about why, being so ill, he wanted to do this very taxing role, 'cause he knew he was dying.
00:58:16And he said it was to rid himself of certain things, that in playing the role of-- the epitome of fear, the epitome of death, the epitome of evil, that it would give him a kinda courage.
00:58:35I'll never forget the first reading, when everyone was sitting around, casually reading their parts and their lines, and all of the sudden, julian beck spoke out.
00:58:44And the level of everything and everyone around it all of a sudden just went up.
00:58:49It was like, uh-oh, we better get into this seriously now and pay attention 'cause this guy is really powerful.
00:58:55Just before filming of "poltergeist ii" kicked off, psychic jill cook made one final prediction.
00:59:03I made the prediction there would be three "poltergeist" films and no more.
00:59:07Little did I know why, but I just knew there'd be three.
00:59:11But now I know why.
00:59:19Coming up, cameras roll and the curse continues.
00:59:24He said, "i think these skeletons somehow contain something.
00:59:27" Hang on, honey, it's gotta be in here somewhere.
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01:03:52Strange occurrences and bizarre accidents seemed to haunt " but the producers of the sequel were convinced the so-called curse of "poltergeist" was nothing more than a silly urban legend.
01:04:07The cast and crew weren't so sure.
01:04:12In the summer of 1985, " the movie's budget was $19 million, nearly twice as much as the original.
01:04:21Director brian gibson was tense.
01:04:23On the first day of filming, I'm always nervous because there's a lot going on and a lot of pressure.
01:04:30We arrived on the set and there was like a crew of 150.
01:04:33I mean, it was amazing.
01:04:34And he was white as a ghost.
01:04:36And we just were, you know, like, "brian, it's gonna be okay.
01:04:39"Just get that first shot, " but getting the first shot took much longer than expected.
01:04:46Actor and real-life shaman will sampson delayed production for hours by performing a muskogee indian blessing on the set.
01:04:54The movie's paranormal advisor, kevin ryerson: From what I understood is that it was an invocation for best performances.
01:05:03It was less the idea of chasing away negative spirits than it was the invoking of the positive spirit that is universal in each and every person.
01:05:14Will sampson did a lot of blessing on our set, and all of it helped because it was a big production.
01:05:20And we appreciated all the blessings we could get.
01:05:24We were rookie producers, and a blessing from anywhere was a good blessing.
01:05:29The blessings worked, and production moved along smoothly for a while.
01:05:33But all that changed when it came time nelson's scene with a creature named the vomit monster.
01:05:40The monster was gonna grow inside of me, then come out.
01:05:47And they had an air hose and they had some kind of a plasma system that was gonna be injected.
01:05:53And I was supposed to, as it came out and blew up inside of my mouth, let it out.
01:05:59Victor: It wasn't a scene that craig was looking forward to doing, I can tell you that.
01:06:02There was a lot of reluctance about it and conversation about it.
01:06:08Some guy who's 14 years old comes and says, you know, "this is really gonna work.
01:06:13"We've practiced it in the trailer " and then they turn it on-- you know, and it's not working.
01:06:22"Well, that's not supposed to happen.
01:06:26"Guess we'll have to reevaluate.
01:06:28"Are you sure that you're holding your tongue " I remember everybody trying desperately to keep a straight face because he was so funny.
01:06:42And they had a thing that was coming out.
01:06:44" and we'd all go, "no, craig, no, it looks " [ laughing ] but the stunt became less and less entertaining as problems continued.
01:07:00You're there, you know, six hours later, wondering, why are we-- we're doing this again?
01:07:07You know, and it just didn't work and it didn't look right.
01:07:12Brian didn't like it.
01:07:12And one thing led to another, and finally the thing, you know, did something.
01:07:16I mean, it did what it was supposed to do, kind of.
01:07:19Late that night, director brian gibson finally decided he had his shot.
01:07:23The exhausted crew wrapped for the day.
01:07:26But the next morning, the crew received some bad news.
01:07:30Director of photography, andrew laszlo: Something did go wrong with the camera.
01:07:36And the film got scratched and exposed by light.
01:07:40And we had to redo that scene again, much to the consternation of everybody involved, including craig nelson, who had to go through this whole gross situation.
01:07:54There were more problems to come.
01:07:56In the summer of 1985, the cast and crew prepared to shoot the movie's dramatic finale.
01:08:02For the scene, an mgm soundstage was transformed into an enormous underground cavern.
01:08:09Frightening.
01:08:10It must have been very authentic.
01:08:13It's the kind of thing I have no intention of investigating.
01:08:17I would never in nature go into such a cavern.
01:08:23The set was more than just uncomfortable; it was dangerous.
01:08:27 it was a very difficult set.
01:08:31And I remember it had very low ceilings, and people kept running into things and banging their heads, and cameras falling.
01:08:38People were tripping and falling.
01:08:39People were getting sick.
01:08:41There was a lot of electrical stuff going on, I remember.
01:08:43 there was camera jams.
01:08:46The film was somehow demagni-- I don't know what it was doing, but it was blanking out when they were like processing it.
01:08:55The first day we shot footage, the footage turned-- didn't turn out at all.
01:08:59..
01:09:01The studio was really happy about that.
01:09:03Skeptics argue that it could've been a pre-- you know, exposure to sunlight.
01:09:08Given the professionalism on the set, I'm not certain that those explanations could have occurred.
01:09:13That type of fogging is very typical of poltergeist phenomena.
01:09:17No one could figure out why the problems were occurring.
01:09:20Anything that happened was immediately assigned some kind of a supernatural explanation.
01:09:27Production slowed to a crawl.
01:09:28The filmmakers were afraid that they wouldn't be able to finish the scene or the movie.
01:09:33Actor will sampson had fears of his own.
01:09:37So we were on that soundstage for a long, long time, and things were not going well.
01:09:44We were getting way behind.
01:09:45And so will went in and he detected-- he felt that there was some alien spirits that were upset.
01:09:58And he detected it in the skeletons that were there.
01:10:02The special effects department then revealed a shocking fact: The skeletons used in the movie were real.
01:10:10Even the producers were surprised.
01:10:12What we do is ask for skeletons to be, you know, around the set.
01:10:18And where they get the cadavers from, we hadn't investigated.
01:10:22But I guess we were told that at a point that some of them were real and that they weren't happy.
01:10:31We weren't happy either.
01:10:32Neither was craig t. nelson.
01:10:34He was very, very uncomfortable.
01:10:36He came to me, sweating, very uncomfortable, and he said, "there is a peculiar energy in this-- "in this set, "and I can't go in-- on much longer.
01:10:45"I need an exorcism.
01:10:46"I think these skeletons somehow contain something.
01:10:49" Grais: And will said, "well, just make sure "they leave the stage door open "for me tonight, "and I'll come back " and he says, " " and when we told the, you know, the security that they had to leave the stage door open for will sampson so he could come and, you know, do a blessing on the set, they rolled their eyes, but they accommodated us.
01:11:1700 in the morning, sampson entered the "poltergeist" soundstage and performed an exorcism.
01:11:24Whatever it was, it worked, and there wasn't any problem after that.
01:11:29Now, that's what happened. so I don't know.
01:11:34You got me, you know.
01:11:36I just know that nothing happened and it was good.
01:11:45..
01:11:45He delivered the line the way he did because he knew that he was going to die.
01:12:34In 1985, the production of "poltergeist ii" proved to be another nerve-racking experience for cast and crew.
01:12:41Special effects didn't work, fake skeletons turned out to be real, and the actors demanded an exorcism to clear the set of evil spirits.
01:12:50But the worst was yet to come.
01:12:54Two months into production, everyone on the "poltergeist ii" set was exhausted by the grueling schedule.
01:12:59One cast member in particular was growing weaker by the day.
01:13:03Julian beck played the role of the minister who comes back from the dead and comes to haunt the freeling family.
01:13:15He was terminally ill at the time when we did the filming with him, and he looked like he was terminally ill.
01:13:25It was clear that he was ill because he-- I think he had stomach cancer, and he couldn't really take in solid foods, so he was being fed like, you know, a number of times during a day.
01:13:37He'd go and have-- I don't know if it was an i.v.
01:13:39Or if they fed him through a tube.
01:13:40And yet his spirit was extraordinary, just extraordinary.
01:13:44And his wife-- I remember his wife saying to me that it was so great for him to do this because he loved being around actors, he loved making movies, and that even though he was ill, it was wonderful that he could still work.
01:14:00Despite his failing health, beck was a major force on the set.
01:14:04He was great at creating terror, you know.
01:14:08The moment through the wire mesh of the door when he wants to get into the house is a very scary moment because you feel the power of his need.
01:14:21" let me in.
01:14:28You're gonna die in there, all of you!
01:14:33You are gonna die!
01:14:36You know, we looked at this man who looked like he was about to die, " and some of the people claim that they were very affected by it.
01:14:52But it might be that he delivered the line the way he did because he knew that he was going to die.
01:14:59In the fall of 1985, "poltergeist ii" wrapped, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
01:15:06There were some strange things that happened.
01:15:09And they were-- there were more strange things that happened than happen on most movies.
01:15:14So it was a marvelous kind of end of school, end of task feeling about the last day of shooting.
01:15:21Brian gibson wrote me a beautiful thank you letter, wanting to verify that I am gifted and that I am truly helpful and I got a good heart.
01:15:35Sadly, another of jill cook's premonitions came to pass a few months after filming wrapped.
01:15:41On september 17, 1985, actor julian beck succumbed to cancer.
01:15:47As cook predicted, julian survived only long enough " I just remember being over on the lot, and somebody came over and said he had passed away.
01:15:59And you're immediately sad because you spent a lot of time together in a very intense situation.
01:16:06And at least with us personally, he was just lovely and incredibly professional and, you know, and a rare talent.
01:16:18He was gifted.
01:16:19Julian beck's funeral was held on september 20, 1985.
01:16:23But the veteran actor still had some earthly affairs to wrap up.
01:16:28I was on the phone to this psychic, jill cook.
01:16:33She suddenly said, "there's someone on the phone right now " and she said, "his name is julian " " and she said, "the message is, " and I said, "well, thank you.
01:16:55" I had to talk to judith malina, julian's wife, a few days later.
01:16:58So I said, "do you believe in the hereafter, " and she said, "what?
01:17:05" and I said, "well, yeah," and I told her the story.
01:17:10And I said, "you know, he sent this message, " and there was a sort of chilling silence.
01:17:17And she said, "well, that's what's on the frontispiece " beck won rave reviews from the critics.
01:17:26But they found little else to praise when "poltergeist ii" premiered in may 1986.
01:17:32"Poltergeist ii" is really a really bad imitation of the first one, you know, just a bad xerox.
01:17:38You know, it's not necessarily a copy.
01:17:40I mean, obviously, it's sort of set, you know, in a different place and what have you.
01:17:44Movie audiences, however, didn't care about reviews.
01:17:47"Poltergeist ii" eventually took in a respectable $41 million at the box office.
01:17:53Mgm executives were pleased.
01:17:55Meanwhile, 10-year-old heather o'rourke was struggling with a mysterious ailment.
01:18:02The doctor said, " well, she'd gone to school the first day, come home, and her legs and feet were swollen twice the size.
01:18:12I took her back to kaiser, and kaiser says, " so we came back home again.
01:18:19They finally, after the second day, they admitted her to the hospital.
01:18:23Agent, bob preston: Everyone was concerned with heather's health.
01:18:26So every doctor that was a specialist we would send her to.
01:18:31And the studios were concerned with her, and the parents were concerned with her health.
01:18:36But no one could put their finger on what it really was.
01:18:39They thought of a couple things and they subscribed-- prescribed a couple things that they thought would fix it, but it didn't.
01:18:44Despite her illness, heather continued to work.
01:18:47The young star was signed to appear in a tv movie " manager, mike meyer: She had worked through it.
01:18:54She was the kind of person who would never complain and would always bring her most professional attitude no matter what she was facing.
01:19:05But heather wasn't the only cast member who fell ill.
01:19:08On june 3, 1987, the cast of "poltergeist" suffered another loss.
01:19:12Will sampson, who played the role of the shaman, died from complications during a heart and lung transplant.
01:19:20When I had heard that he had passed, I was deeply saddened and very shocked 'cause he had seemed like, you know, a big, strapping guy, not that ill.
01:19:31He was buried in the reservation, and so I happened to be in the area and I wanted to pay my respects to him.
01:19:39And so they had given me directions how to get to the place where he was, but I couldn't find it.
01:19:46I'd been out there for four and a half, five hours, looking.
01:19:48I finally just stopped off at this store and I said, "you know, I'm looking for will sampson, " and the guy next to me is his cousin, in line.
01:20:01The cousin led nelson to sampson's gravesite.
01:20:04I can remember vividly, there was the reservation burial ground, and will had been interred maybe two days.
01:20:12And the cicadas were like-- just it was a cacophony of sound.
01:20:21And I walked up and I said, "hey, will, it's " and immediately it was this still, just went really still.
01:20:30" I kinda laughed, and it was pretty amazing.
01:20:39Man: Roll camera!
01:20:41..
01:20:41Man:AND, ACTION!
01:20:43We're back!
01:20:46Man:AND CUT.
01:20:54By the end of 1986, "poltergeist" one and two Are Amy and Heatheting a New York trend?
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01:24:55By the end of 1986, "poltergeist" one and two were both successful at the box office.
01:25:00Mgm execs didn't care about the curse of "poltergeist," just the bottom line.
01:25:06"Poltergeist iii" was about to materialize.
01:25:09The studio brass had no idea what they were in for.
01:25:15Mgm executives approached producers mark victor and michael grais " both of our heads hit our desks.
01:25:24The thought of going back into "poltergeist" land again, that quickly, was something that we weren't able to do.
01:25:32So studio execs turned to gary sherman, a veteran writer and director dead or " mgm approached me about coming in to write, produce, and direct "poltergeist " you know, the rumors and legends about the curse of "poltergeist," it really didn't bother me a lot.
01:25:53Sherman focused on the cast, not the curse.
01:25:57The first cast member they wanted, made the offer to return, was heather o'rourke.
01:26:02As far as the other cast members, they said, you know, "there could be a cost factor involved.
01:26:07"But if we get heather, " heather signed on, but the rest of her onscreen family passed.
01:26:13Desperate to secure at least one more original cast member, sherman hunted zelda rubinstein down at a los angeles movie premiere.
01:26:22He said, "i'm gary sherman and it would be my pleasure '" I didn't even know " and he was so utterly charming, " the director then cast tom skerritt as carol anne's uncle and nancy allen as her aunt.
01:26:45There was a rumor.
01:26:45It was really kind of creepy in a way.
01:26:48There was something about that people had died.
01:26:51There were certain people associated with the movies.
01:26:54I remember hearing something about that and I didn't think about it too much.
01:26:5818-Year-old newcomer lara flynn boyle won the role of carol anne's cousin, donna.
01:27:04But sherman didn't just change the main characters " he also moved the action from the suburbs to the city.
01:27:12A lot of times, you take horror films and thrillers and people will move them into isolated places 'cause they feel they can build fear with isolation.
01:27:25I think it's more frightening to know that something is going on on the other side of a wall and that nobody cares.
01:27:32Chicago's landmark skyscraper the john hancock tower became carol anne's new home.
01:27:39Heather o'rourke was eager to start the movie, but her family was concerned about her health.
01:27:45Manager, mike meyer: She'd been sick for two years, and when they went to chicago for "poltergeist iii," they were in fact dealing with stomach specialists.
01:27:57And they had gone through a series of possible diagnoses, and for each step of the diagnosis, there'd been a different remedy that was suggested.
01:28:05They determined that she had crohn's disease from the symptoms of throwing up.
01:28:09So they put her on a cortisone, and she seemed to be okay.
01:28:12Well, the results of the cortisone was the chipmunk cheeks.
01:28:15In the spring of 1987, heather o'rourke arrived on the set of "poltergeist " heather o'rourke started production on "poltergeist iii," there was a sadness, where the other cast members were not returning.
01:28:30But yet this was a job, and she went forward with it.
01:28:33Heather o'rourke loved to act.
01:28:35We're back!
01:28:38The set was unlike anything the actors had ever seen before.
01:28:44Gary sherman planned to do all of his special effects live, using a complicated system of mirrors, body doubles, and duplicate rooms.
01:28:51Every set that was built with a mirror in it, the set was duplicated in reverse, through the mirror.
01:29:01Everyone had a double, and the doubles would be doing exactly what the principal characters were doing.
01:29:07The intricate shots were difficult to pull off.
01:29:10The actors and the crew were constantly struggling to get it right.
01:29:14A lot of times, there'd be mirrors to wherever we were, and then there'd be the doubles, the body doubles, so-- and you'd all-- all these moves were choreographed, so it was just-- it was a very eerie kinda thing.
01:29:31Soon enough, cameraman george kohut noticed a disturbing coincidence.
01:29:36The 666 thing is strange because our-- at that time our union local number was 666.
01:29:42So I was sort of used to that.
01:29:45During production, gary lived at 666 north lakeshore drive.
01:29:48And then the strange accidents began again.
01:29:52Early in production, stuntman corey eubanks was testing an underwater catapult designed to launch actors out of a swimming pool and into the air.
01:30:01Stunt coordinator, ben scott: He pressed the button, and the thing didn't go off, so he's starting to float.
01:30:09Your body starts to float.
01:30:10And he tries to swim out of the way, and the thing went off and, bam, hit him right in the shins, sliced his shins up.
01:30:15It was a pretty bad deal.
01:30:17The engineer at the john hancock building who was assigned to help us on the show was sitting in the lobby one night when we were shooting, and sitting very still, and ended up that he had passed away.
01:30:29I feel very guilty about gary breaking his leg 'cause, in fact, I fell into gary and drove his foot under the dolly, and that's how his leg go broken.
01:30:36Things only got weirder for sherman and company.
01:30:39While shooting publicity photos before one of her scenes, zelda rubinstein was overcome by a strange premonition.
01:30:46She said, "like a bolt of lightning went through me.
01:30:50" " " so we start setting up to do the scene.
01:30:59And barry bernardi, the producer, comes down out of the production office and pulls me aside on the set " you're gonna have to lose zelda because we just got a call that her mother just passed away.
01:31:16I've always had an unusual connection with my mother.
01:31:22And when I was called out of-- from the set to go to the business office, I knew that my mother had died.
01:31:32Proof sheets come back from the gallery shoot, and we're looking through them.
01:31:40In the middle of all of this, there is one photograph that has light everywhere.
01:31:48And it's all out of focus and it's all weird and it's like multiple images.
01:31:53And we're trying to figure out what this is.
01:31:55And we're all looking at it anyhow, it looked like a light leak in the camera or something.
01:32:03We had the negative analerything.
01:32:05Nobody could ever figure out what it was.
01:32:07It just was like this cosmic thing that happened.
01:32:11Obviously this was the moment that zelda's mother had passed away.
01:32:17Coming up, the set becomes a living hell.
01:32:21Smoke's pretty bad and it's starting to, you know, burn your throat and your nose and your eyes.
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01:36:18The production of "poltergeist iii" was plagued by accidents and strange occurrences.
01:36:24But the cast and crew didn't give up.
01:36:26Still, no one was prepared for the real-life disaster about to take place.
01:36:33On set, director gary sherman continued to push tom skerritt and nancy allen.
01:36:39Every time they'd say, you know, "okay, "it's time for you to go to the set," and it was like going to my execution.
01:36:44It was so horrible!
01:36:45Running, being chased by cars, screaming, crying.
01:36:50You know, it was just very effective, but it wasn't fun to shoot.
01:36:55Sherman even asked his cast and crew to stand on a window-washing rig suspended from the top of the john hancock building.
01:37:02Tom skerritt found the idea terrifying.
01:37:06He says, "unless you are within two feet of me "at any given time, I'm not going.
01:37:12"'Cause if you're not gonna do it, " I said, "you're not really-- "you're not gonna put us out there, are you?
01:37:19"You're not really gonna put us out--" you know, whatever it was, 100 stories up in the sky.
01:37:23Stuntman ben scott was worried, too.
01:37:26He knew that the building had its own deadly legacy.
01:37:30When I met the guy that ran the window-washing rig, he said that when they were building the hancock tower, a man died for every floor that was put up.
01:37:39I mean, like, 109 guys died building that thing.
01:37:42Sherman and his cast and crew got on the rig and prepared themselves for the worst.
01:37:47We first started going out towards that edge, and I started hearing it.
01:37:50The wind was coming full on, like you're standing in front of a huge fan.
01:37:54Everybody, you know, would look at me and go, "are you sure this is okay, ben?
01:37:59"This is safe?
01:37:59" and he just said, "don't look down.
01:38:02" of course I had to look down, you know.
01:38:05It's like you have to.
01:38:06It was just horrible, absolutely horrible.
01:38:09The filmmakers pulled the scene off without a hitch, but they weren't so lucky with the next scene.
01:38:16In the summer of 1987, the crew prepared to shoot the most difficult and dangerous stunt of the movie.
01:38:23We were shooting the frozen garage scene when caine's car explodes.
01:38:30This was gonna be a very big explosion in a confined space with lots of combustible materials around.
01:38:37"Dangerous" was stamped all over it.
01:38:39Every possible safety precaution was taken for the shoot.
01:38:43Everyone was moved out except the four or five special effects guys.
01:38:47We had the firemen all in there with their hoses primed at every exit.
01:38:53They were only inches off-camera at any point.
01:38:57And the idea was, is that once the explosion went and the fireball came, as soon as the fireball hit camera, " they were supposed to move in with the fire hoses and put out the fire.
01:39:08Simple.
01:39:08It was rehearsed, it was rehearsed again, and it was rehearsed again.
01:39:12Assistant cameraman, peter kuttner: All safety had been taken care of.
01:39:17We felt safe.
01:39:18We didn't think we were in any danger.
01:39:19So, here we go, we're doing it.
01:39:23" the explosion goes off and it is beautiful.
01:39:28And that fireball just comes rolling right towards the cameras, absolutely obscures everything, " all the doors that led down into the garage open.
01:39:38And who comes running out? the firemen.
01:39:40The explosion scared the hell out of them and they just dropped their hoses and ran.
01:39:46Stuntman ben scott was inside the parking garage and witnessed the explosion firsthand.
01:39:52That cloud was full of fire and smoke and it was black and ominous and big and scary.
01:39:59I mean, my first reaction was duck.
01:40:01Here it comes. get underneath it.
01:40:03I saw the firefighters' legs over there and the cars burning over there and the hose sitting in between them that was charged and ready to put out the fire, but nobody to man the hose.
01:40:15Scott followed the firefighters out of the garage.
01:40:18I mean, the fire department was there.
01:40:19They were just standing there watching it burn.
01:40:21And the mayor's standing there.
01:40:23And he says, "just let it burn.
01:40:24"Just let it burn. it'll go out.
01:40:26"It'll go out.
01:40:27" sherman realized that a maintenance worker was still in the parking garage.
01:40:32The director yelled at the firefighters to help, but the men didn't move.
01:40:38Ben scott did.
01:40:39My wheels started spinning, and my adrenaline was pumping, so I ran back the way I'd come out and went down and find the maintenance man.
01:40:47He"what happened?
01:40:48" " and the smoke's pretty bad and it's starting to burn your throat and your nose and your eyes.
01:40:54So I took off my t-shirt and wrapped it around my face, and he had a jacket he wrapped around his face.
01:41:00Scott rescued the maintenance worker.
01:41:02Then he went back for the cameras.
01:41:05Took both cameras upstairs and handed them to the camera guy, " and that's when gary sherman thought I was a hero for saving the camera and the film.
01:41:14Ben scott was really a hero that night.
01:41:16The fire burned out and I think it was like a million and a quarter dollars worth of damage or something.
01:41:22But the best part of the story was the next morning.
01:41:24I'm in my office, and heather comes in.
01:41:28And she comes running into my office and says, "i saw on the news about the fire.
01:41:34" and I said, "well, yeah, thanks, heather.
01:41:37" " then she looks at me and says, "did you get " coming up, "poltergeist" claims another victim.
01:41:49One of the worst moments of my life, carrying a box with that beautiful little girl in it.
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01:46:12By the fall of 1987, the film "poltergeist iii" was almost finished.
01:46:18The cast and crew couldn't wait to hear the director yell, " sadly, one cast member never got the chance.
01:46:26In october, director gary sherman had a business obligation he needed to fulfill.
01:46:31"Poltergeist iii" went on hiatus for four months.
01:46:35The cast and crew took the opportunity to relax with friends and family.
01:46:4012-Year-old heather o'rourke went home to see her parents in san diego.
01:46:44But during breakfast on the morning of february 1, 1988, heather's mother realized that something was terribly wrong.
01:46:52" " and I said, " " " " " the paramedics came and they said "heather, what's wrong?
01:47:07" " " and they said, "well, heather, " heather was rushed to kaiser permanente hospital for emergency surgery.
01:47:19In the waiting room, her mother saw an apparition.
01:47:22Here's heather in her nightgown, and I'm going-- you know how you feel.
01:47:29" " I said, " " that morning, doctors were finally able to diagnose heather's condition.
01:47:44Author, mikita brottman: What had happened is that she had a congenital abnormality in the intestine which was a kind of blockage called a stenosis.
01:47:56And what happened was her inteines burst, and she died of septic shock associated with that.
01:48:04Later that afternoon, gary sherman received a call from one of heather's agents, david wardlow.
01:48:11David said, "i'm sorry to have to tell everybody this, "but heather passed away this morning.
01:48:17"And I wanted everybody to hear it at the " I called kathy, her mother, a few weeks after 'cause I couldn't talk to her right after she had died.
01:48:27And, you know, kathy said something to me that was so-- it's always stayed with me.
01:48:33We had always commented when we were filming with heather that she was not a complainer.
01:48:38AND KATHY SAID, "YOU KNOW, JoBETH, "If she had been more of a complainer, "maybe we would have realized earlier " she was a lovely, lovely youngster, just couldn't wait to get to be an adult.
01:48:55ON FEBRUARY 5th, GARY SHERMAN FLEW TO LOS Angeles to attend heather's funeral.
01:49:02Heather's mother, who knew how close heather and I had become, asked me to be a pallbearer at the funeral.
01:49:08And-- one of the worst moments of my life, carrying a box with that beautiful little girl in it.
01:49:19It was in the small chapel on the premise of the cemetery.
01:49:24It was completely bulging with people.
01:49:27It was a sad ending, but it was truly a celebration of a special person's life.
01:49:33In what seemed an eerie coincidence, heather o'rourke was entombed just a few yards away from her co-star dominique dunne.
01:49:41Brottman: Heather o'rourke's mausoleum marker reads star of "poltergeist" i, ii, iii.
01:49:47And that was what she wanted to be known for.
01:49:51She loved being an actress and she wanted to be a director and she was-- she wanted to be commemorated as star of the "poltergeist" movies.
01:49:59Well, the strange thing was, right before she passed away, we talked.
01:50:03And she had told me she-- anything happened to her, she'd be buried with her dumbo.
01:50:07I said, "why are you telling me this?
01:50:08" it was very strange when you think back on it after I lost her, the things that had happened.
01:50:14It's like almost like she knew.
01:50:17After the funeral, cast and crew gathered to complete the film.
01:50:20Well, we still had quite a bit to shoot when heather passed away.
01:50:23Our immediate gut reaction was to not finish the film.
01:50:28But unfortunately or whatever, money rules, and there had been a lot of money spent.
01:50:36And basically we were told by the financial powers that be that either we finish the film or somebody else finished it.
01:50:45So I had to write a whole new ending for the picture.
01:50:49Sherman used a double to replace heather and shot his new ending in one day.
01:50:54The effect that it had on the film-- which, I guess, is almost irrelevant compared to the tragedy of her dying.
01:51:03But the film ended up to be a totally different film than we originally planned to make.
01:51:08On june 10, 1988, "poltergeist iii" premiered.
01:51:12Gary sherman was glad the experience was over.
01:51:16Sherman: One of my favorite things to do is go up and sit in the front row of the theater and watch the audience.
01:51:21But I don't think I did that with "poltergeist " I don't think I wanted to sit through a screening of that with an audience.
01:51:28Gary sherman wasn't the only one who stayed away from the theater.
01:51:32Critics viciously attacked the film, and "poltergeist iii" was a box-office flop.
01:51:38The news was out-- the "poltergeist" series was considered dead.
01:51:43But was it?
01:51:47..
01:51:48People want to have this mystery, this little extra fear in their lives.
01:56:171988 Wasn't a good year for "poltergeist" fans.
01:56:21Heather o'rourke passed away, and the series' latest installment, "poltergeist iii," was a big disappointment.
01:56:27Miraculously, "poltergeist" came back from the dead for one more round.
01:56:33In september 1996, "poltergeist" was resurrected for the small screen.
01:56:38 the legacy" aired on the cable network showtime.
01:56:43Director gary sherman was hired to write and direct.
01:56:46But he didn't stick around for long.
01:56:48I think the series had an opportunity to be something that it didn't become.
01:56:53And I signed on to try and help move it in the direction that I thought would make it better, but my ideas and some other peoples' ideas were not the same.
01:57:07"Poltergeist: the legacy" lasted four seasons.
01:57:10There may never be another reincarnation of "poltergeist," but the film made a lasting impact on fans and cast members.
01:57:17I get approached all the time by people that have seen it and it's made an impression on them, which is one thing that you realize the impact that something like that has had.
01:57:29We had no idea it would be the phenomenon that it was.
01:57:32We thought it might be one of those movies that went right to drive-ins, you know?
01:57:37You just-- we had no way of knowing.
01:57:40As for the curse of "poltergeist," there are those who believe it isn't over yet.
01:57:44In 1994, the northridge, california, earthquake rocked the quiet suburban street where the original film was shot.
01:57:52The only home that sustained any major damage was the "poltergeist" house.
01:57:56You need a scorecard to tally the catastrophes, accidents, and deaths that haunted the "poltergeist" series.
01:58:03The debate rages on: curse or coincidence?
01:58:06As far as the curse of "poltergeist" is concerned, I think that it just means that here are a series of uncanny coincidences and synchronicities and accidents that seem so unusual and so out of place that we can't really work out how to fit them into our own sense of reasoning.
01:58:24I think that a movie can just feel wrong.
01:58:27Bull [bleep].
01:58:29People want to have this mystery, this little extra fear in their lives.
01:58:36Listen, life is so scary these days, you don't need things like mysteries on the set of "poltergeist" to add to it.
01:58:48I think, when you're making a film, even when you're writing a film, there's a certain kind of thought and energy that's put out.
01:58:57And that has power, has some kind of power.
01:59:00When you decide to create fiction, you need to take care about where it might drag your thinking and where it might drag your reality.
01:59:17" is that hurting anywhere, heather?
01:59:23Nope.
01:59:23Are you pushing it the wrong way?
01:59:25Kathleen O'Rourke: No, it's on telephoto.
01:59:27I got your mouth and your eyes and your nose.
01:59:33Sherman: You all right?
01:59:34Yeah.
01:59:35Okay, here we go.
01:59:36 networks]

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