With regard to Hollywood curses, my favourites are Poltergeist and The Exorcist. With the Exorcist, a large number of cast and crew died. With Poltergeist, real human skeletons were used without the cast being made aware. But the fascinating thing is how these movies cursed me. Wednesday night was movie night at my boarding school, and the housemaster was not above renting stuff that was BBFC recommended for older viewers. It would usually be a 15-cert like Flatliners, Duel or My Stepmother is an Alien, but the other boarders would sneak in 18-cert tapes like Aliens or Robocop. And being the quiet Christian-background kid in this melee was a bewildering experience. It’s bad enough getting picked on because you’ve been brainwashed not to retaliate. But throw into the mix the horrifying vision from Poltergeist II of the householder drinking a bottle of Tequila, swallowing the worm, and then vomiting up a Gigeresque demon-worm, played by an amputee covered in slime, and that’s more than a developing brain can comfortably handle!
Sometimes I wonder if some of that nonsense would be counted as ‘grooming’ in the post-80s world, since Flatliners is hardly promoting family values with William Baldwin videotaping his conquests and Julia Roberts being haunted by her needle addict father. And as for The Exorcist,
my religious mother hid my copy of the book from me. I had to beg for it back, since it was only a book, and I had writerly aspirations. “Look me in the eye,” her neighbour-friend said, before taking it from a high shelf and handing it over. Because reading a work of fiction is the same as running a Satanic cult in the back garden.
A number of Exorcist actors died, and a plane was struck by lightning. Apparently, a priest at the seminary used approached one of the actors, warning that the Devil would seek retribution for being exposed, and gave him an amulet. The priest was later found by the actor as his body “lay in state” in preparation for his funeral.
Also relating to the Poltergeist
curse is the grim factoid that the big sister from the first movie was played by an actress who was murdered by her boyfriend, and when he had served his sentence and tried to return to the real world, the burger bar where he worked was targeted by activists handing out flyers that read “The hands that made your burger murdered Dominique Dunne”. And then there’s JoBeth Williams, who won the part for showing precocious reading ability at her audition, only to be struck down by an intestinal torsion at such a young age.
But there you go, people die. I mean, nobody talks about The Land Before Time being a cursed movie because it’s not a horror, it’s a cartoon about dinosaurs. Yet still the charming young girl who did the voice of Ducky was murdered by her jealous father in a drunken rage. It’s more soothing to existential despair to attribute these catastrophes to malevolent spiritual forces, than to acknowledge it’s just meaningless statistical clustering.
Final note on the Poltergeist
curse: the actor who played the ghostly “God is in his Holy Temple” priest, was famous for theatrically devised pieces performed under the influence of LSD. One of the elderly monks in The Name of the Rose was hit
by falling masonry in one scene, gashing his forehead, and he said “Don’t worry about it, I’ll be dead soon anyway! Was the shot alright?”
Superman is considered cursed. George Reeves shot himself. Christopher Reeves was paralysed in a polo accident. But the interesting thing here is that due to a rights issue or unpaid earnings, the writers of the 1980s Superman had actually formally issued a curse, although they didn’t do it with much flair. No Latin chanting or goat’s blood.
James Wright Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex