carrie anne poltergeist

In 1988, Heather O’Rourke starred in Poltergeist. Age 12, she died in mysterious circumstances.

Helen Vnuk

As an angelic little blonde girl in 1982, Heather O’Rourke spoke one of the most famous horror movie lines ever: “They’re here.” 

The movie was the mega hit Poltergeist . Heather would go on to star as Carol Anne in the sequel, where she declared, “They’re back.” But in 1988, at the age of 12, before Poltergeist I II came out, Heather died in mysterious circumstances.

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Heather had a classic Hollywood story of being discovered. She was eating lunch with her mum Kathleen, while waiting for her older sister Tammy, who was a dancer in the movie Pennies From Heaven . Steven Spielberg, who was looking for a “beatific” four-year-old to star in his upcoming horror movie Poltergeist , spotted her. He asked her into his office, and tested her acting ability. 

“He wanted me to be afraid of this pink fish and this purple pig and all that,” Heather later explained . 

The next day, Heather was signed on to star in Poltergeist , scoring the role over Drew Barrymore. The movie is about a couple with three children who move into a house inhabited by spirits. The youngest child, Carol Anne, can hear the spirits through the TV set. She is sucked into a portal to another dimension, but later rescued. 

Oliver Robbins, who played Carol Anne’s brother Robbie, says he and Heather were like “brother and sister” on set. 

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“She was precocious and a very intelligent girl for someone who was only five years old,” he told Daily Mail Online in 2015. 

Following the massive success of Poltergeist , Heather was offered other roles, guest-starring in classic '80s shows Webster and CHiPs and scoring an ongoing role in Happy Days as the daughter of Fonzie’s (Henry Winkler) girlfriend. Her manager, Mike Meyer, said she had the ability to memorise a 60-page script in an hour. Heather’s earnings meant that her family could move from a trailer park to a three-bedroom house in the woods in Big Bear, California. 

Poltergeist II came out in 1986. It was in 1987 that Heather started getting sick. After numerous trips to the doctor, she was told she had the parasite giardia, probably picked up from the well water at her house in the woods. She was treated for that, but later diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and put on cortisone. It gave her a “chipmunk cheeks” look that she was self-conscious about. 

That same year, Heather shot Poltergeist III . Director Gary Sherman tells the Shudder documentary series Cursed Films that he “absolutely adored” her.

carrie anne poltergeist

Once Heather had finished shooting, the family went on a road trip to Disney World. Kathleen described it as “the vacation of a lifetime”. 

On February 1, 1988, Heather woke up feeling unwell but insisted she wanted to go to school. Her symptoms worsened. She couldn’t swallow, her fingers and toes started turning blue and her breathing became heavy and fast. She collapsed on the floor, and Kathleen called an ambulance. She was in septic shock. 

Kathleen told Heather, “I love you,” and Heather replied, “I love you, too.” 

Those were the last words she spoke. She suffered cardiac arrest in the ambulance. At the hospital, doctors resuscitated her, but she had suffered brain damage. They performed surgery and found she had a bowel obstruction caused by a birth defect, rather than Crohn’s disease. But it was too late to save her. She was pronounced dead that afternoon. 

Dr Daniel Hollander, head of gastroenterology at the University of California medical centre, told AP that Heather’s death was “distinctly unusual” because she hadn’t shown prior symptoms of the bowel defect. 

“I would have expected a lot of [digestive] difficulties throughout her life and not just to have developed all of a sudden,” he explained. 

Another gastroenterologist, Dr Hartley Cohen, also found Heather’s death unusual. 

“It just doesn’t seem to quite make sense,” he said. 

Heather’s funeral was held three days later. Her Poltergeist and Happy Days  co-stars attended. Reverend Dennis Estill told the mourners there were two things Heather had wanted in her life. 

“She wanted an Academy Award. She wanted a Rolls Royce.”

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Heather was buried in an open casket, wearing a chain that said “friend” around her neck. Kathleen wore the matching chain that said “best”.

“Heather gave me these for Christmas,” Kathleen told People . “She used to tell her friends that I was her best friend and not just her mum.”

Kathleen said after Heather’s death she had to force herself to get up and to eat. 

“I couldn’t cook in the kitchen anymore. Heather loved pies, cakes and cookies, and I used to make them for her. In the beginning I didn’t know if I was going to make it. I thought, ‘Why go on?’”

In May that year, Kathleen filed a wrongful death suit, claiming that Heather would still be alive if she had not been misdiagnosed.

Meanwhile, Sherman had been planning to re-shoot the ending of Poltergeist III . But without Heather, he felt her couldn’t – and he didn’t want to, anyway. 

“I can’t go back into the cutting room or watch this film with this dead 11-year-old in it,” he remembers thinking. 

But he tells Cursed Films that he had to. 

“Afterwards, the board at MGM just said to us, ‘You’re going to finish the film. We’ve got a lot of money invested in the film.’”

He had to come up with an ending that didn’t involve Heather.  

“So we came up with the idea for the stupid ending that’s on the film now and used a double for Heather. That was the creepiest thing I’ve ever gone through in my life.”

The rumours that the  Poltergeist  films were cursed had started long before Heather’s death. Dominique Dunne, the 22-year-old actress who played Carol Anne’s older sister Dana, was strangled by her ex-boyfriend in her driveway just months after Poltergeist  was released. She never regained consciousness and died five days later. 

Two stars of Poltergeist II passed away not long after they finished shooting. Julian Beck, who played Kane, died of cancer before the film was released, while Will Sampson, who played Taylor, died of post-operative kidney failure the following year.

When Heather died, the rumours went into overdrive. Someone came up with the theory that the curse was caused by real skeletons having been used in the making of Poltergeist , and that theory took off.  

Craig Reardon, the makeup special effects artist for Poltergeist , tells Cursed Films that this is “conceptually ridiculous” and “personally offensive”. He says human skeletons have been used in movies for years. 

“The idea of having a few of them on the set of Poltergeist and killing two lovely young girls is a pretty pernicious idea,” he says. “It’s an insult to the memory of a very sweet little girl, Heather O’Rourke, and it’s worse that than to Dominique Dunne, who was strangled to death by her [ex-] boyfriend, which had f—k-all to do with a skeleton.”

Feature image: Getty.

Screen Rant

Poltergeist 4 almost recast carol anne - why it didn't happen.

Before Poltergeist's 2015 remake materialized, a proper Poltergeist 4 almost happened, which would've reportedly recast Carol Anne Freeling.

A Poltergeist 4 came close to happening, with someone new in the iconic role of Carol Anne Freeling. A new Carol Anne would've certainly drawn outraged reactions from many, as the character lives close to the hearts of those who love the Poltergeist films. That's especially due to the sad fate of young actress Heather O'Rourke, who passed away due to illness in 1988 at only 12-years-old. O'Rourke is and will forever be Carol Anne in the eyes of most, and it's almost impossible to imagine anyone else playing her.

While Poltergeist and Poltergeist 2: The Other Side did feature the entire Freeling family as main characters - along with cutting-edge practical effects - Carol Anne was at the center of the stories. It was her "light," the immense energy emitted by her soul, that attracted the spirits residing at the Cuesta Verde subdivision to the Freeling house in particular. Although as famously revealed, these ghosts were only hanging around due to Cuesta Verde being callously built over a Native American burial ground.

Related: Why Pizza Hut Forced Poltergeist to Edit a Scene

Poltergeist 2 zeroed things in on Carol Anne even further, with the reveal that "The Beast," was in fact the spirit of evil religious cult leader Reverend Henry Kane. Kane wanted to use Carol Anne's light to hold the souls of his followers under his sway, as opposed to them walking into the light coming from the afterlife. Due to O'Rourke's death, Carol Anne's story ended with Poltergeist 3 , with her again escaping Kane's pursuit. In 2005 though, it was widely reported that a fourth movie, entitled Poltergeist: Kayeri , was in the works, and would bring back Carol Ann as an adult, albeit with Steven Freeling as the central protagonist.

The script for Poltergeist: Kayeri was written by Clint Morris, who's primarily known as an entertainment writer and movie publicist, and had also written a 1999 episode of the largely unrelated Poltergeist: The Legacy TV series. Kayeri would've ignored Poltergeist 3 and been a direct sequel to the first two Poltergeist movies, which makes sense since most people tend to dislike the third. Craig T. Nelson was in talks to return as Steven Freeling, who now lived alone in the mountains away from his family, being drawn into a final battle with Reverend Kane . JoBeth Williams was also being considered to make a brief supporting return as Diane Freeling, with Carol Anne also playing a smaller role in the story.

The biggest headline to come out of anything related to the Poltergeist: Kayeri project involved Carol Anne's casting, as former Disney Channel star Hillary Duff was said to be signed on to take over the role. While that possibility freaked a lot of longtime Poltergeist devotees out, it didn't matter in the end, as by 2006 it seemed fully confirmed that Poltergeist: Kayeri was dead. Sony had purchased MGM in the time between Poltergeist: Kayeri first entering development in 2003 and its existence being publicly revealed in 2005, and Sony turned out to be much more interested in remaking Poltergeist or rebooting it than it did in continuing the established franchise with a Poltergeist 4 . Poltergeist did eventually get remade in 2015, although with the ghosts' new target no longer named Carol Anne.

More: Poltergeist: Tobe Hooper & Steven Spielberg Director Controversy Explained

‘Poltergeist’ Star Heather O’Rourke Dies at Age of 12

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Heather O’Rourke, the terrified youngster sucked into a spectral vacuum by supernatural spirits in the “Poltergeist” films, has died on an operating table at a San Diego hospital, it was reported Tuesday.

The 12-year-old ingenue, who finished filming “Poltergeist III” last June in which she starred as the angelic Carol Ann Freeling for the third time, died late Monday afternoon.

A spokeswoman for Children’s Hospital of San Diego identified the cause of death as intestinal stenosis--a severe bowel obstruction that the girl evidently had from birth. The obstruction caused an infection that, in turn, brought on septic shock. The shock prompted full cardiac and pulmonary arrest, the spokeswoman said.

Her agent, David Wardlowe, said she had been rushed to the hospital after complaining of abdominal pain.

Heather’s parents, who live in Big Bear but are also believed to have a home in San Diego, were too distraught to comment, Wardlowe said.

Ron Pennington, a spokesman for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc., where the “Poltergeist” films were produced starting in 1981, said the studio “extends its sympathy to her parents and family.”

What proved to be her final film will be released this summer, he added.

Heather, who was also seen regularly on television’s “Happy Days,” “Webster” and “Still the Beaver,” brought two catch phrases into the language with the first two “Poltergeists.” The first was, “They’re heeeere!” which she said with eerie calm after coming into contact with strange forces while peering into an apparently blank TV screen. The second was, “They’re baaaack!” which was featured in the sequel.

The “Poltergeist” films, first released in 1982, told of a mid-America family living an idyllic life in the suburbs, whose young daughter begins communing with creatures she sees on her television screen, but only after regular programming ends and the screen has become a series of eerie dots.

Soon family pets begin to die and trees, blown by hurricane-force winds, come smashing into the home of the terrified Freeling family.

Carol Ann is sucked into a light source coming from a closet, and her helpless parents are left only with her screams.

Finally the family turns to a parapsychologist to exorcise the demons.

Heather came to films in a tradition that dates back to Lana Turner when that actress was supposedly (but wasn’t really) discovered at a drugstore counter.

Spielberg’s Discovery

Heather was 5 and sitting in the MGM commissary, said her former manager, Mike Meyer. Steven Spielberg, who co-wrote and produced the first of the “Poltergeist” series, saw her and asked if he could talk to her. He was told that she did not talk to strangers.

But she got permission, and that eventually led to her role in the film.

Heather is the second actress from the “Poltergeist” movies to die young. Dominique Dunne was strangled in October, 1982.

Miss Dunne, then 22, who played Heather’s older sister, had tried to break off her relationship with her boyfriend. Los Angeles chef John Sweeney was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced in November, 1983, to the maximum 6 1/2 years in prison.

Heather “always looked like ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and could memorize a 60-page script in about an hour,” Meyer said.

“Of all the things she was proud of,” he added, “(she was proudest of) being elected president of her fifth grade class at Big Bear Elementary School.”

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  • Carol Anne Freeling : They're here.
  • Steve Freeling : [ shouting in Teague's face ] You son of a bitch! You moved the cemetery, but you left the bodies, didn't you? You son of a bitch, you left the bodies and you only moved the headstones! You only moved the headstones! Why? Why?
  • Tangina : There is no death. There is only a transition to a different sphere of consciousness. Carol Anne is not like those she's with. She is a living presence in their spiritual earthbound plane. They are attracted to the one thing about her that is different from themselves - her life force. It is very strong. It gives off its own illumination. It is a light that implies life and memory of love and home and earthly pleasures, something they desperately desire but can't have anymore. Right now, she's the closest thing to that, and that is a terrible distraction from the *real* light that has finally come for them. You understand me?
  • [ Diane shakes her head ]
  • Tangina : These souls, who for whatever reason are not at rest, are also not aware that they have passed on. They're not part of consciousness as we know it. They linger in a perpetual dream state, a nightmare from which they cannot awake. Inside the spectral light is salvation, a window to the next plane. They must pass through this membrane where friends are waiting to guide them to new destinies. Carol Anne must help them cross over, and she will only hear her mother's voice. Now... hold on to yourselves.
  • [ brief pause ]
  • Tangina : There's one more thing. A terrible presence is in there with her. So much rage, so much betrayal. I've never sensed anything like it. I don't know what hovers over this house, but it was strong enough to punch a hole into this world and take your daughter away from you. It keeps Carol Anne very close to it and away from the spectral light. It *lies* to her, it tells her things only a child could understand. It has been using her to restrain the others. To her, it simply *is* another child. To us, it is the Beast.
  • [ long pause ]
  • Tangina : Now, let's go get your daughter.
  • Tangina : This house is clean.
  • Tangina : Help me tie this around my waist.
  • Diane Freeling : What do you think you're doing?
  • Tangina : I'm going in after her.
  • Diane Freeling : She won't come to you. Let me go.
  • Tangina : You've never done this before.
  • Diane Freeling : Neither have you.
  • Tangina : You're right. You go.
  • Tangina : Now clear your minds. It knows what scares you. It has from the very beginning. Don't give it any help, it knows too much already.
  • Carol Anne Freeling : [ burying the canary, Carol Anne says a prayer ] Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
  • Dana Freeling : [ sarcastically ] Oh brother!
  • Diane Freeling : [ to Dana ] Stifle it.
  • Carol Anne Freeling : If I shall die before I wake...
  • Dana Freeling : [ whispers to Diane ] It did.
  • Carol Anne Freeling : ...I pray the Lord my soul to take.
  • Carol Anne Freeling : [ puts a twizzler in the Tweety's coffin ] For when he's hungry.
  • Carol Anne Freeling : [ puts a picture in Tweety's coffin ] For when he's lonely.
  • Carol Anne Freeling : [ puts a piece of cloth in Tweety's coffin ] For when it's bedtime.
  • [ breaks down in tears in Mom's arms ]
  • Dana Freeling : Are you gonna do something about this?
  • Diane Freeling : About what?
  • Dana Freeling : Your new gray!
  • Diane Freeling : Oh! You don't like it? You don't think it's kinda punk?
  • Dana Freeling : [ screaming ] What's happening?
  • Tangina : Cross over, children. All are welcome. All welcome. Go into the light.
  • Steve Freeling : No! No, you said no!
  • Tangina : There is peace and serenity in the light.
  • Steve Freeling : You said don't go into the light!
  • [ first lines ]
  • Carol Anne Freeling : Hello? What do you look like? Talk louder, I can't hear you! Hey, hello! Hello, I can't hear you! Five. Yes. Yes. I don't know. I don't know.
  • Tangina : Y'all mind hanging back? You're jamming my frequency.
  • Dr. Lesh : Would your family welcome a serious investigation of these disturbances by someone who can make firsthand observations?
  • Steve Freeling : Look, Dr. Lesh. We don't care about the disturbances, the pounding and the flashing, the screaming, the music. We just want you to find our little girl.
  • Diane Freeling : Sweetheart, last night, when you said "They're here'...
  • Carol Anne Freeling : Can I take my goldfish to school?
  • Diane Freeling : Sweetheart, do you remember last night when you woke up, and you said "They're here'?
  • Carol Anne Freeling : Uh huh.
  • Diane Freeling : Well, who did you mean?
  • Carol Anne Freeling : The TV People.
  • Robbie Freeling : She's stoned.
  • Dana Freeling : Oh yeah? What do you know about it?
  • Robbie Freeling : More than you. Ask Dad.
  • Diane Freeling : TV people?
  • Carol Anne Freeling : Uh-huh.
  • Diane Freeling : Do you see them?
  • Carol Anne Freeling : Uh-uh. Do you?
  • Diane Freeling : Uh-uh.
  • Diane Freeling : Carol Anne - listen to me. Do *not* go into the light. Stop where you are. Turn away from it. Don't even look at it.
  • Dr. Lesh : Some people believe that when you die there is a wonderful light. As bright as the sun but it doesn't hurt to look into it. All the answers to all the questions you want to know are inside that light. And when you walk to it... you become a part of it forever. Now, some people die, but they don't know they're gone.
  • Tangina : [ offscreen upstairs ] Why is this door locked, Mr. Freeling?
  • [ Steve Freeling closes his eyes, clasps his hands, and appears to be concentrating for several seconds ]
  • Diane Freeling : [ quietly ] Answer her, Steven!
  • Steve Freeling : [ sotto voce ] I *am*.
  • Tangina : [ steps out to the top of the stairs ] I am addressin' the living!
  • Steve Freeling : I'm sorry. Sorry. That's the room my son and daughter used to occupy.
  • Dr. Lesh : We believe it's the heart of the house.
  • Tangina : This house has many hearts.
  • [ Tangina steps away from the stairtop. Diane approaches Steven ]
  • Diane Freeling : [ quietly ] What is the matter?
  • Steve Freeling : [ with laughter ] "What's the matter"?
  • Steve Freeling : [ he composes himself, whispers ] I was trying to answer her with my mind and she couldn't hear me.
  • Steve Freeling : [ to Dr. Lesh, whispering even softer ] Now, I thought you said this Tangina Barrons was an *extraordinary*...
  • Tangina : I *am*!
  • Steve Freeling : ...clairvoy...
  • Tangina : [ steps out again ] I just don't like trick answers.
  • Steve Freeling : You know Teague, he won't take "Go to Hell" for an answer.
  • Diane Freeling : What are you going to do?
  • Steve Freeling : I'm gonna give him directions.
  • Robbie Freeling : I got beat up once by three kids. They took my lunch money. Maybe they got hit by a truck, and they're upstairs right now.
  • Diane Freeling : You were saying about poltergeists.
  • Dr. Lesh : Poltergeists are usually associated with an individual. Hauntings seem to be connected with an area. A house usually.
  • Marty : Poltergeist disturbances are of a fairly short duration. Perhaps a couple of months. Hauntings can go on for years.
  • Diane Freeling : Are you telling me that all of this could just suddenly end at any time?
  • Dr. Lesh : Yes, it could. Unless it's a haunting. But hauntings don't usually revolve around living people.
  • Diane Freeling : Then we don't have much time, Dr. Lesh, because my daughter is alive somewhere inside this house.
  • Steve Freeling : Tomorrow I'm going to call someone.
  • Diane Freeling : Like who? I looked in the Yellow Pages. "Furniture Movers" we've got; "Strange Phenomenon", there's no listing.
  • Diane Freeling : Ahhh... this is probably going to be seem a little strange. We hear better on this channel. Don't ask me why. Well... ah... I guess I will call her. Carol Anne. Ah... it's mommy, sweetheart. Ah, we want to talk to you. Please answer me, baby. Please answer me. Please talk to me, bunny.
  • Marty : Look at the dog.
  • Diane Freeling : Are you with us now? Can you... can you say hello to daddy?
  • Carol Anne Freeling : Hello, daddy.
  • Steve Freeling : Hello, sweet pea.
  • Diane Freeling : It's mommy, sweetheart.
  • Carol Anne Freeling : Hello, mommy.
  • Diane Freeling : Hello, baby. Can you see me? Can you see mommy?
  • Carol Anne Freeling : Mommy? Where are you? Where are you?
  • Diane Freeling : We're home, baby. We're home. Can you find me? Can you find a way to us, baby?
  • Carol Anne Freeling : Mommy, where are you? I can't find you. I can't. I'm afraid of the light, mommy. I'm afraid of the light.
  • Tangina : No, no, no... Go down stairs and wait by Ryan and pull. Only when I say so. Only When I say.
  • [ Steve opens the window next to the neighbor's house ]
  • Steve Freeling : We've got a good game going on here.
  • Ben Tuthill : My kids wanna watch Mr. Rogers.
  • Steve Freeling : I don't care what you're watching, Ben, just show a little mercy with that thing!
  • Ben Tuthill : Move your set.
  • [ Ben flicks remote ]
  • Steve Freeling : Move yours, Ben.
  • [ Steve flicks his remote ]
  • Steve Freeling : [ Steve and Ben flick each other off ]
  • Carol Anne Freeling : [ her first words after being rescued ] Hi, Daddy.
  • Dr. Lesh : Some people believe that when people die, there's a wonderful light, As bright as the sun. But it doesn't hurt to look into it. All the answers to all the questions that you ever want to know are inside that light. And when you walk to it, you become a part of it forever. And then, some people die but they don't know that they've gone.
  • Robbie Freeling : They think they're still alive?
  • Dr. Lesh : Yes. Maybe they didn't want to die. Maybe they weren't ready. Maybe they hadn't lived fully yet or they'd lived a long, long time and they still wanted more life. They resist going into that light, however hard the light wants them. They just... hang around. Watch TV, watch their friends grow up feeling unhappy and jealous and those feelings are bad. They hurt. And then, some people just get lost on the way to the light, and they need someone to guide them to it.
  • Robbie Freeling : So some people get angry and throw things around - like in my bedroom?
  • Dr. Lesh : Yes. Just like in school. Like some kids are nice to you, some kids are mean.
  • Robbie Freeling : I got beat up once by three kids. They took my lunch money. Maybe they got hit by a truck and they're upstairs right now!
  • Diane Freeling : So you better get Brian to bring you home right after dinner because Dad wants us to stay at the Holiday Inn on I-74.
  • Dana Freeling : Oh, yeah. I remember that place.
  • Diane Freeling : She just moved through me. My God. I felt her. I can smell her. It's her. It's her. Smell my clothes. It's her. She's all over me. It's her. She's on me. It's her. I felt her. It's her. It is. It's... it is... it's my baby. It's my baby. She went through my soul.
  • Dr. Lesh : Diane, the determination is to whether your home is haunted is... is not very easy. I... what I meant to say was it might very well be a poltergeist intrusion instead of a classic haunting.
  • Steve Freeling : Not much room for a pool is there?
  • Mr. Teague : We own all the land. We have already made arrangements for relocating the cemetery.
  • Steve Freeling : Oh, you're kidding. Oh, come on. I mean, that's sacrilegious, isn't it?
  • Mr. Teague : Oh, don't worry about it. After all, it's not ancient tribal burial ground. It's just... people. Besides, we have done it before.
  • Diane Freeling : [ the canary has died ] Oh... Oh shit, Tweety, couldn't you have waited until a school day?
  • Robbie Freeling : Hey Mom! When it rots can we dig up the bones?
  • Diane Freeling : Look, I'm the one who has had to live with this freaky thing all day. It's like another side of nature, that you and I aren't qualified to understand. When you overreact, it makes what happened much too important.
  • Steve Freeling : No one is going into the kitchen until I know what's happening.
  • Carol Anne Freeling : Mommy didn't cook any dinner.
  • Diane Freeling : We'll go to Pizza Hut, all right?
  • Tangina : You can't choose between life and death when we're dealing with what is in between. Now tell her before it's too late.
  • Diane Freeling : Run to the light, baby. Mommy is in the light.
  • Tangina : Tell her you're waiting for her.
  • Diane Freeling : Mommy's waiting for you in the light.
  • [ under her breath to Tangina ]
  • Diane Freeling : I hate you for that.
  • Diane Freeling : You bastard. She's just a baby. Help her. Help her. Can you hear what's happening? Help her.
  • Diane Freeling : We were wondering if you had experienced any... disturbances?
  • Ben Tuthill : What kind of disturbances?
  • Diane Freeling : Oh, you know... dishes or furniture, moving around by themselves.
  • Dana Freeling : I'll go check the kitchen!
  • Steve Freeling : No! No, I'll do it! I'll check the kitchen, you check your room!
  • Steve Freeling : Carol Anne!
  • Dana Freeling : Carol Snne!
  • Diane Freeling : Carol Anne! Sweetheart!
  • Steve Freeling : Diane!
  • Diane Freeling : Did you find her?
  • Steve Freeling : No, I looked everywhere! This is crazy!
  • Diane Freeling : Oh my! My God! She is in the swimming pool, the swimming pool, the swimming pool!
  • Dr. Lesh : Well, I'm off. I'm taking these back to the lab along with the tapes. I'm going to have to display these, you know.
  • Steve Freeling : Please, not on "60 Minutes".
  • Diane Freeling : Or "That's Incredible!".
  • Robbie Freeling : [ destroying the clown ] I hate you, I hate you, I hate you, I hate you, I hate you!
  • Marty : There's been some ionization flux. I'd like to make sure it's not caused by humidity coming from structural leakage, but I'm not goin' up there to find out.
  • Ryan : We have got much more than the paranormal episode taking place here.
  • Marty : There's measurable physical science in this house that goes far beyond any of the creaking doors or cold spots I've ever experienced.
  • Dr. Lesh : The voice source on television, where is it coming from?
  • Ryan : The absence of a signal on the channel that is not receiving a broadcast means that it is free to receive a lot of noise from all sorts of things, like short waves.
  • Marty : Solar disturbances, car ignition sparkings...
  • Ryan : Outer space... or inner space. Yes, what if these people had an area of bi-location in their own living room? No, I mean: if that is the way out then maybe somewhere in this house, there's a way in.
  • Mr. Teague : [ while tapping the supernaturally glaring porch light ] You afraid of burglars or you trying to attract every insect in Cuesta Verde?
  • Steve Freeling : I was trying to answer her with my mind and she couldn't hear me. Now I thought you said this Tangina Barens was an extraordinary...
  • Tangina : [ offscreen ] I *am*.
  • Tangina : [ steps out again at the top of the stairs ] I just don't like trick answers.
  • Robbie Freeling : The storm is getting closer.
  • Ben Tuthill : Mosquito ever suck on you, son?
  • Tuthills's Son : I don't know, Dad.
  • [ last lines ]
  • Robbie Freeling : Faster! Faster!
  • Steve Freeling : Don't look back!
  • Steve Freeling : Listen to me, Jeff! No, I'm not kidding! I know, right? How can anybody sleep through a 6.5?

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Heather O'Rourke in Poltergeist (1982)

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The Intriguing World Of Entertainment

‘Poltergeist’ 40 Years Later: The Cast Then And Now

By Courtney Dercqu | February 6, 2023


As we approach the Halloween season, there’s no better time to revisit one of the most classic horror films of all time: Poltergeist. Co-written by Steven Spielberg and directed by Tobe Hooper in 1982, Poltergeist was the highest-grossing horror film that year.

However, despite the film’s unique plot, the mystery of the film and the unique circumstances surrounding its cast have interested us for the past 40 years. 

While the 1980s launched the cult following of several notable horror franchises like Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street, it cemented Poltergeist as one of the most enduring horror films in the decades following.

And, famous phrases like “They’re here,” have been giving us chills ever since. Check out some interesting details about the film below, including what the rest of the cast is up to in 2022:

What is the Movie About?

poltergeist movie

Steve and Diane Freeling are a normal family living in Cuesta Verde, California with their three children: Dana, Robbie, and Carol Anne. Soon, their quiet, normal lives are upended when their youngest daughter, Carol Anne, starts talking to the family’s TV. Filling the screen with static, a hand emerges from the TV and that’s when the chaos starts. 

In the following days, weird stuff starts happening around the Freeling house. While mild at first, the paranormal acts get increasingly more violent and dangerous, with Robbie being targeted by an outdoor tree and Carol Anne being sucked into a portal inside one of the family’s closets. While the family searches for Carol Anne, they soon hear her voice calling out from the TV. 

After calling a parapsychologist and medium for help, the family soon learns that their house was built above a former cemetery. The medium identifies these restless souls, along with a darker spirit she calls “The Beast,” who is trying to infiltrate Carol Anne to block the other spirits from crossing over. 

With some clever planning and maneuvering, Diane rescues Carol Anne from inside the portal, however, “The Beast” tries to instead capture her, dragging her into their pool where skeletons and coffins start popping up. Running back into the house, Diane grabs the three kids and she and her husband learn that only the tombstones of the former cemetery were moved, not the bodies buried beneath them. They escape the house shortly before it explodes into the portal. 

Is Poltergeist Based on a True Story? 

Herman House - Poltergeist

Sort of. Poltergeist was loosely based on the paranormal experiences that occurred at the Herrmann House back in 1958. 

It all started on February 3, 1958, when Lucille Herrmann and her two children started hearing noises throughout the house. Soon, they discovered that not only were the bottle caps from household cleaning products and other items throughout the house missing, but the contents of those bottles were bursting and leaking everywhere. Strangely, one of the bottles that was tipped over was holy water. 

Lucille quickly called her husband, James, to let him know of the strange happenings, but she was quickly dismissed. James didn’t think it was a big deal. Or, at the very least, assumed it was a harmless prank brought on by his curious son, Jimmy, who loved science and experimentation. When James was unable to find a logical reason for the bursting bottles, he called the Nassau County, NY Police Department where an eight-week investigation took place to try and deduce the cause of the strange activity. 

During the investigation, the family noticed a porcelain doll move on its own, which ultimately led them to contact their local church for help. The priest assigned to the house, Father William McLeod, blessed the home. The Herrmann House case sparked national attention, but on March 2nd, 1958, the paranormal activity stopped. No definitive proof of what caused the popping, or objects to fly has ever been determined. 

The parallels between what the Herrmann family experienced in 1958 were famously attributed to being the inspiration for Poltergeist nearly three decades later. However, others claim it was inspired by events in the late-1800s, in Denver, Colorado. During a massive expansion, the local government wanted to relocate a cemetery, and the contractor assigned to the project secretly just moved the headstones, leaving the bodies where they were until construction on the new building started. By that point, it was too late and the bodies remain in unmarked graves to this day. 

While the details in Poltergeist are, of course, more exaggerated, the film may have never seen the light of day had it not been for the ghostly interactions the Herrmanns faced all those years prior or that contractor’s decision to reduce his workload. 

Reception/Box Office 

As briefly mentioned earlier, Poltergeist was the highest-grossing horror film in 1982, raking in a whopping $6,896,612 on opening weekend. It also placed eighth among the highest grossing films out of the entire year. 

Much of its early success was attributed to its use of special effects and filming style. At the Academy Awards, the film was nominated for three Oscars including those for Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Editing Effects, and Original Score – a rarity for a film in the horror genre. 

The Poltergeist Curse

While the film is enigmatic all on its own, much of its appeal (at least in later years) has had to do with what people have dubbed the “Poltergeist Curse.” 

Heather O’Rourke

Throughout the filming of this franchise and after its release, multiple cast members died in rather strange circumstances. Perhaps, the most notable was the star of the movie, Heather O’Rourke, who played Carol Anne. She passed away at just 12 years old after the filming of Poltergeist III. O’Rourke’s death was attributed to congenital stenosis of the intestine. 

Domonique Dunne

Other cast members, including Domonique Dunne, who played Carol Anne’s older sister, Dana, in the original film was tragically murdered by her partner just a month after the film’s release.

poltergeist skeletons

However, it wasn’t just the tragic and very untimely deaths of the film’s cast that led to the belief of the “Poltergeist Curse”; Steven Spielberg reportedly used real-life, human skeletons during the filming of the first movie, later revealing the truth to actor JoBeth Williams, who was forced to spend days around them shooting the infamous pool scene.

Another member of the cast (who later died) performed an exorcism one night after filming concluded.

Many people believe it was Speilberg’s decision to use human remains in the filming that led to the strange and frightening happenings that plagued the cast both onset and beyond. As to be expected, not every cast mentioned below has a happy ending. 

JoBeth Williams as ‘Diane Freeling’

Poltergeist diane

Now 73, JoBeth Williams has had a long career in Hollywood. After wrapping up the Poltergeist films, Williams enjoyed major success in films such as The Big Chill and on the small screen with performances in Adam and Baby M, both of which earned her an Emmy. 

JoBeth Williams now

In years since she has had minor recurring roles on shows like Hart of Dixie, Station 19 and Private Practice. She was inducted into the Texas Film Hall of Fame in 2010. 

Heather O’Rourke as ‘Carol Anne Freeling’

poltergeist Carol Anne Freeling

Poltergeist was O’Rourke’s first film, and even though her rise to fame was cut short at the age of 12, known as the “Poltergeist Girl,” she was widely recognized everywhere she went and she had several prominent roles in major sitcoms such as the New Leave it to Beaver and Happy Days. 

Heather O'Rourke grave

(photo: Ben Churchill )

O’Rourke had been working in Hollywood since she was 3, having been featured in Mattel and McDonald’s commercials. She died on January 31, 1988 of congenital stenosis of the intestine.

She is buried in the same cemetery as her Poltergeist co-star, Dominique Dunne. 

Craig T. Nelson as ‘Steve Freeling’

poltergeist Steve

Perhaps the most well-known actor from the original cast, Craig T. Nelson has been a part of many prominent shows and films including Coach, Parenthood, Grace and Frankie, Young Sheldon, Silkwood, and the Incredibles. 

Craig T. Nelson now

Nelson continues to act, most recently finishing up production on the film, Book Club 2: The Next Chapter, which is set to be released sometime in 2023. He is married with three children. 

Beatrice Straight as ‘Dr. Lesh’

Poltergeist Dr Lesh

Though her acting credits were limited, Beatrice Straight carved a name for herself on the stage, earning her a Tony award for her portrayal of Elizabeth Proctor in Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” in 1953.

She was nominated for The Dain Curse in 1978 and won an Academy Award for her role in the movie Network in 1976. 

Straight’s last acting credit was in 1991 and tragically, she passed away a decade later on April 7, 2001. She had two children. 

Dominique Dunne as ‘Dana Freeling’

Poltergeist Dana

Before landing the role of Dana in Poltergeist, Dunne had bit parts in shows like Children’s Mystery Theater, Fame, and Hart to Hart.

Her first prominent role was in Poltergeist, however, 19 days before her 23rd birthday (and only a month or so after the film’s release) she was strangled and left for dead by her boyfriend. 

Dominique Dunne grave

(photo: Wildhartlivie )

Five days after his vicious assault, Dunne (who had been considered brain dead as a result of the attack) was taken off life support. 

Oliver Robins as ‘Robbie Freeling’

Poltergeist Robbie

Robins’ career has been up and down since starring in Poltergeist, having small parts on shows like The Twilight Zone and Man Overboard.

After Poltergeist 2 in 1986, he stopped acting and directed his energy behind the camera. When he was 15 years old, he wrote, directed and produced ‘The Crystal’, which won first prize at the Les Mesnil-le-Roi Film Festival.

Oliver also turned his attention to academics and attended and graduated from USC’s Film School.

In 2000, he wrote and directed a direct to video movie, Dumped . In 2019, he returned to acting in the movie Celebrity Crush , which he also wrote and directed.

oliver robins now

As of 2022, he is still acting, most recently starring as Rudolph Meyerstone in the comedy, Hollywood Laundromat. 

Martin Casella as ‘Marty’

Poltergeist Marty

In terms of acting, Casella’s final credit was playing a policeman in the TV movie, Turner & Hooch in 1990. After he quit acting, he turned toward writing and has since written several plays including Saint Heaven and Play it Cool.

Martin Casella now

His most famous play, The Irish Curse had a critically-acclaimed run off-Broadway. 

Richard Lawson as ‘Ryan’

Poltergeist Ryan

Nearly a victim of the “Poltergeist Curse,” Lawson was in a plane crash in 1992. Both he and his wife survived the devastating fall.  

With credits dating back to the early 1970s, Richard Lawson guest starred on many shows before landing the role of Ryan on Poltergeist. His credits include Buffalo Soldiers, Coming Home, Good Times, and All in the Family ( to name a few). 

Richard Lawson

Lawson’s long career is still in high gear. He most recently wrapped up production on Chaaw and Black Terror and is currently working on another film titled Unlawful Duties, which is currently in pre-production. 

Zelda Rubinstein as ‘Tangina’

Poltergeist Tangina

While filming, Rubinstein was said to have experienced visions that have been attributed to the other strange events that occurred on set.

After Poltergeist, Rubinstein enjoyed stints on Santa Barbara, Picket Fences, Chock, and Sinbad: The Battle of the Dark Knights.

Though she played Tangina in the Poltergeist movies, she played Christine in the short-lived TV series Poltergeist: The Legacy.

zelda rubenstein last movie

She passed away in 2010 from a heart attack at the age of 76.

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About Courtney Dercqu

Courtney Dercqu is a freelance writer from New Jersey. When she’s not writing about pop culture, she can be found making homemade Minnie Ears, thrifting, watching daily re-runs of the Office and Portlandia, and scheduling awkward J.C.Penney photo shoots with her friends. Her work has been published in Thought Catalog, Elite Daily, Collective World, WDW Vacation Tips, and many others. Follow her on Instagram @kort_nay More from Courtney


Culture doesn't fit in a box. Neither do we.

Poltergeist Girls, Part 2: From Carrie to Carol Anne

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The Exorcist was part of a flurry of late sixties and seventies films about supernatural children. Rosemary’s Baby (1968) was the trendsetter, and in 1976 The Omen would expand upon the theme with the exploits of young antichrist Damien Thorn. That year also saw the release of Carrie , based on the 1974 debut novel of Stephen King.

The Trials of Carrie White

At first, Carrie may seem like the odd one out. The Exorcist is steeped in Catholic tradition, while Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen similarly take the existence of the Devil as a literal fact. But the story of Carrie White – who, lashing back at school bullies and an abusive mother, uses her psychic powers to destroy her community – is rather more secular, couching her abilities the pseudoscientific language of psychokinesis. Carrie’s mother attributes her gift to the Devil, but this character is portrayed as a misguided fanatic – particularly in the original novel, where she is so deluded as to think that menstruation, acne and the development of breasts only occur on sinful girls.

Yet, despite this, Carrie White and Regan MacNeil do indeed belong to the same family tree as both of them are poltergeist girls.

Carrie and her mother

In his 2000 book On Writing , Stephen King describes how Carrie was inspired partly by an article on poltergeist phenomena:

I’d read an article in Life magazine some years before, suggesting that at least some reported poltergeist activity might actually be telekinetic phenomena – telekinesis being the ability to move objects just by thinking about them. There was some evidence to suggest that young people might have such powers, the article said, especially girls in early adolescence…

This was an idea which, by that point, already had significant currency within paranormal research. Amongst its proponents was that eccentric collector of “damned data” Charles Fort, who compiled many cases of alleged poltergeist girls in his 1932 book Wild Talents – a volume which is, incidentally, specifically mentioned in a later Stephen King novel, Firestarter (1980). With characteristically oddball humour, Fort imagined a time when poltergeist girls could serve a military purpose:

Girls at the front—and they are discussing their usual not very profound subjects. The alarm—the enemy is advancing. Command to the poltergeist girls to concentrate—and under their chairs they stick their wads of chewing gum.

A regiment bursts into flames, and the soldiers are torches. Horses snort smoke from the combustion of their entrails. Reinforcements are smashed under cliffs that are teleported from the Rocky Mountains. The snatch of Niagara Falls—it pours upon the battlefield. The little poltergeist girls reach for their wads of chewing gum.

Significantly, the idea of poltergeist phenomena as stemming from a troubled adolescent’s psychic ability is actually addressed in Blatty’s The Exorcist . The novel includes an exchange where Father Karras, at this point still skeptical about the reality of demonic possession, posits the psychokinetic theory of poltergeist phenomena as a scientific explanation for mysterious events around Regan:

‘Then explain all those rappings and things.’

‘I haven’t heard them.’

‘Well they heard them at Barringer, Father, so it wasn’t just here in the house.’

‘Well, perhaps, but we’d hardly need a devil to explain them.’

‘So explain them,’ she demanded.


‘Well, you have heard of poltergeist phenomena, haven’t you?’

‘Ghosts throwing dishes and things?’

Karras nodded. ‘It’s not that uncommon, and usually happens around an emotionally disturbed adolescent. Apparently, extreme inner tension of the mind can sometimes trigger some unknown energy that seems to move objects around at a distance. There’s nothing supernatural about it. Like Regan’s abnormal strength. In pathology it’s common. Call it mind over matter, if you will.’

‘I call it weird.’

‘Well, in any case, it happens outside of possession.’

‘Boy, isn’t this beautiful,’ she said wearily. ‘Here I am an atheist and here you are a priest and—‘

‘The best explanation for any phenomenon,’ Karras overrode her, ‘is always the simplest one available that accommodates all the facts.’

Naturally, Karras’ theories regarding psychokinesis turn out to be misguided: Regan’s condition is the Devil’s work after all.

The Exorcist and Carrie  each deal with the topic of the poltergeist girl, but from drastically different perspectives. The Exorcist takes a religious standpoint, and dismisses materialistic explanations as misguided; Carrie adopts a secular perspective, with the religious alternative confined to the dangerously fanatical character of Mrs. White. It is doubtful that King consciously set out with the intention of writing an anti- Exorcist , but parts of Carrie nonetheless invert many key images and concepts from The Exorcist .

The scars and lesions that spontaneously appear on Regan’s body never affect Carrie; instead, it is Carrie’s over-pious mother who is disfigured. Attempting to dissuade her daughter from going to the school prom, Mrs. White resorts to self-harm in a manner recalling the Biblical demoniac’s habit of “crying and cutting himself with stones”:

Her mother reached up and pinched her own face. It left a red mark. She looked to Carrie for reaction, saw none, hooked her right hand into claws and ripped it across her own cheek, bringing thin blood. She whined and rocked back on her heels. Her eyes glowed with exultation.

‘Stop hurting yourself, Momma. That’s not going to make me stop either.’

Momma screamed. She made her right hand a fist and struck herself in the cheek, bringing blood. She dabbled her fingers in it, looked at it dreamily, and daubed a spot on the cover of the Bible.

‘Washed in the Blood of the Lamb,’ she whispered.

Mrs. White in Carrie

Where The Exorcist has the demon defacing Christian art, Carrie surrounds its heroine with religious iconography that she finds disturbing enough as it is. The pictures owned her mother depict the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the drowning of sinners in Noah’s flood, and Thomas the Doubter feeling Christ’s wounds (“oh, the horrified fascination of that one and the nightmares it had given her as a girl!”) Dominating the family living room is a large plaster crucifix depicting Jesus “frozen in a grotesque, muscle-straining rictus of pain” with eyes “turned up in a medieval expression of agony”:

This corpus had also given Carrie endless nightmares in which the mutilated Christ chased her through dream corridors, holding a mallet and nails, begging her to take up her cross, and follow Him. Just lately those dreams had evolved into something less understandable but more sinister. The object did not seem to be murder but something even more awful.

This passage comes across as a distorted echo of The Exorcist ’s notorious scene where the possessed Regan masturbates with a crucifix yelling “let Jesus fuck you”.

The Exorcist is a battle between good and evil on a spiritual plane, but Carrie chooses something far more down-to-earth as its central conflict: the pressures of high school. As King describes in On Writing , the plot of Carrie was also informed by his memories of high school and its attendant misfits. He recalled two girls in particular, whom he refers to in On Writing under the pseudonyms of Sondra and Dodie; Sondra grew up in a devout family with a living space dominated by a life-sized statue of crucified Christ, while Dodie was a designated target for bullying – the sort whose attempts to fit in, no matter how thorough, lead only to further bullying. “I never liked Carrie, that female version of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold,” writes King, “but through Sondra and Dodie I came at last to understand her a little. I pitied her and I pitied her classmates as well, because I had been one of them once upon a time.”

In exploring the themes of religion and adolescence, Carrie departs heavily from the model of The Exorcist . The next major entry in poltergeist girl cinema would mark another departure – with strikingly different results to either forbear.

Poltergeist and Carol Anne Freeling

Poltergeist still showing Carol Anne

In the sprawling real estate of American pop culture, Stephen King and Steven Spielberg share a neighbourhood. Born within a year of each other and sharing Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine as a formative influence, the two men emerged at around the same time as celebrity storytellers and – between them – helped to define the popular fantasies of the late twentieth century.

Of the two, it is King who has shown the greater dedication to horror. Spielberg has dabbled in the genre but appears interested less in probing the darker corners of the psyche than in building a ghost-train ride for his audience: one that offers thrills and chills without straying too far from the picket fences of suburbia. The 1982 film Poltergeist , a collaboration between Spielberg and horror director Tobe Hooper, is a good example of this ethos. Although it draws inspiration from the same paranormal phenomena as Carrie , that story’s examination of adolescent angst is replaced with classically Spielbergian vision of an idyllic, all-American childhood – albeit one in the process of disruption.

The film follows the tribulations of the Freeling family – parents Steve and Diane and their three children – as they find their suburban household under siege by ghosts. Poltergeist is unusual in that its central girl is not a teenager: while the family does include a teenage girl, Dana, this character is sidelined towards the end of the film (she is explained as being at a friend’s house) and dropped altogether from the sequels. Instead, it is five-year-old Carol Anne who is the centre of the activity. With clean blonde hair and wide blue eyes, Carol Anne represents an ideal of early girlhood as immaculate as a porcelain doll or a Victorian children’s illustration.

Forgoing both the Catholic theology of The Exorcist and the pseudoscience of Carrie , Poltergeist writes its own supernatural rulebook. Through the character of the paranormal investigator Tangina Barrons, the film outlines a difference between poltergeists and conventional hauntings: the former usually focus on an individual, while the latter is centred on a location. Yet, having established this, Poltergeist has it both ways by explaining that the supernatural activity is the result of the house being built on a graveyard, but also focused specifically on Carol Anne. Not fully understanding what is going on, the girl is able to communicate with the ghosts through a television set, referring to the spirits as the “TV people” (shades of Captain Howdy, the entity that communicates via Regan’s Ouija board in The Exorcist ). She is later sucked through a portal into the plane occupied by the ghosts, causing her to effectively become a ghost herself as she manifests as a disembodied voice; the main plot of the film deals with the family’s attempts to rescue her, the solution to the poltergeist phenomena being of secondary importance.

Rather than the Satanic force of The Exorcist , the phenomena in Poltergeist is caused by human spirits whose graves have been disturbed. Most are presumably benign – one manifests as a glowing, angelic apparition – but a particular spirit has become so corrupted by anger that it is, for all intents and purposes, a demon, being identified as “the Beast” and eventually appearing as a distorted skeletal entity. Poltergeists are traditionally invisible – but Poltergeist is not the sort of film to shy away from making its monsters front and centre.

Poltergeist still showing the ghost

Although it uses elements from paranormal research as its basic premise, the film – in true Spielbergian fashion – ultimately favours broad, iconic fantasy imagery. A gnarled tree branch reaches through a window like an enormous arm; a child’s closet becomes the site of a glowing vortex; a clown doll comes to life, its smiling face turning into a malicious scowl; and smaller-scale phenomena are used as visual gags. The atmosphere often borders on cartoonish – and with some of the special effects produced by 2D animation, the film sometimes becomes a literal cartoon. The climactic scenes of coffins shooting out through the ground, with skeletal corpses tumbling out, could have come directly from a 1950s EC horror comic.

The film does not deal with spiritual possession, excepting the unusually literal form of spiritual possession represented by the Beast holding Carol Anne captive in its realm. The mother eventually saves her daughter by descending into the spiritual plane on a rope, a solution that owes rather more to action movies than to any kind of metaphysical thought.

The colourful fantasy of Poltergeist is a long way from the this-could-happen-to-you verisimilitude of The Exorcist or the raw emotions of Carrie . Instead the film is carefully calculated to work as a harmless popcorn movie: horror of the most family-friendly variety. True to its squeaky-clean, non-confrontational nature, its portrayal of religion is benignly non-committal. The parents are identified as Christians. but the investigator Tangina practices a light, frothy mixture of cultural Christianity and pop-Spiritualism.

The sequel, Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986), continues along similar lines, borrowing whatever spiritual concepts needed to further its crowd-pleasing plot. Here, the ghosts are revealed to have been members of a apocalyptic sect from the nineteenth century, who committed mass suicide by sealing themselves in a cave. The malevolent spirit, the Beast, was in life the unhinged leader of the sect – a gaunt, black-suited southern preacher who seems drawn from vague cultural memories of cult leaders like Jim Jones, a shorthand for the negative side of alternative religion. To defeat him, the family turns not to a Catholic exorcist, but to character representing the positive side of alternative religion: a Native American who follows a tribal belief system.

Looking at these three heroines side-by-side – Poltergeist ’s Carol Anne, The Exorcist ’s Regan, and Carrie – we can find the coming-of-age narrative of a poltergeist girl. First we have the 5-year-old in Poltergeist , an angelic innocent filled with wide-eyed wonder; the spirituality that surrounds her is simplistic but comforting, providing a light show that sends the monsters back under her bed. Then, in The Exorcist , the poltergeist girl is a twelve-year-old: her innocence is set to be lost as her body and mind undergo a series of disturbing transformations. Spirituality, in the form of Catholic traditionalism, serves to put her back on the straight and narrow. But with Carrie and its teenage poltergeist girl, everything has gone wrong: faced with both ongoing changes to her body and with the cruelty of her peers, the poltergeist girl finds no salvation in religion, only destruction.

1976, the year that Carrie was released into cinemas, also saw the tragic death of a 23-year-old German woman named Anneliese Michel. She was a psychologically troubled individual who, like Regan, was subjected to the rite of exorcism; but like Carrie, she found dubious help in religion. Her memory went on to haunt subsequent poltergeist girl narratives, as the next post in this series will demonstrate.

Doris V. Sutherland

Doris V. Sutherland

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  1. What happened to 12-year-old actress Heather O'Rourke.

    Age 12, she died in mysterious circumstances. As an angelic little blonde girl in 1982, Heather O’Rourke spoke one of the most famous horror movie lines ever: “They’re here.” The movie was the mega hit Poltergeist. Heather would go on to star as Carol Anne in the sequel, where she declared, “They’re back.”

  2. Poltergeist (1982)

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  6. ‘Poltergeist’ 40 Years Later: The Cast Then And Now

    Throughout the filming of this franchise and after its release, multiple cast members died in rather strange circumstances. Perhaps, the most notable was the star of the movie, Heather O’Rourke, who played Carol Anne. She passed away at just 12 years old after the filming of Poltergeist III.

  7. Poltergeist Girls, Part 2: From Carrie to Carol Anne

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