Surviving Child Star Reflects on Behind the Scenes Stories 40 Years Later

The 1982 blockbuster Poltergeist will return to theaters as part of the TCM Big Screen Classics Series hosted by TCM and Fathom Events with screenings to be held on Sept. 25, 26 and 28, 2022. Fans of the haunted house hit flick will recall how the Freely family, which included Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams as the parents and their three children, had to deal with angry spirits invading their new suburban home. Oliver Robins, who played middle child, Robbie Freely, recently spoke to Yahoo Entertainment about the cult classic film. Robins was happy to dispel a myth that’s long surrounded Poltergeist, that Spielberg actually directed the movie rather than Tobe Hooper. According to Robins, Spielberg director did co-write the screenplay and was an active presence on set, but insists it was Hooper who was always calling the shots, at least when he was on-camera.


Another interesting tidbit, for which Robins say he was there to witness, was the face peeling scene wherein the actor was peeling off his face in front of a mirror. Robins states the hands that were doing the peeling belonged to Steven Spielberg. Tobe Hooper was directing him, saying,

“OK Steven, your hands have to go here.”

As for the infamous Poltergeist Curse, Robins had something to say about that as well.

“I hope there isn’t a curse because I’m still around. I do believe in the paranormal to some degree, but I don’t think there’s a curse because those deaths can be explained. You had these tragedies happen, but they were going to happen whether [the actors] were in the movie or not. Like with Heather, she had a medical condition for which she wasn’t treated. So, I don’t think they are interconnected.”

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The Urban Legend That is the Poltergeist Curse

Five months after the film’s release, Dominique Dunne, who played the eldest Freeling daughter, Dana, was murdered by an ex-boyfriend. In 1988, the youngest onscreen sibling, Heather O’Rourke, passed away at age 12 following a serious case of intestinal stenosis. Both deaths were tragic and shocking. Robins told Yahoo,

“She was my buddy and used to stay over at my house. I didn’t know anything was wrong with her. It was such a horrible tragedy, and I honestly didn’t know how to deal with it. It was kind of a turning point in my life where it made me wake up to that reality that life is finite, and every day is truly precious.”

The other oft-cited curse victims are Julian Beck and Will Sampson, both of whom appeared in the 1986 sequel, Poltergeist II: The Other Side. Both men died from illnesses. Richard Lawson, who appeared in the original film narrowly escaped death in 1992 when his USAir Flight 405 crashed into Flushing Bay. A total of 27 people out of the 51 on board were killed. In 2009, a second cast member was murdered. Lou Perryman played the small role of Pugsley in the original film. He was 67 years old when a recently released ex-convict killed him in his own home with an ax.