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- Our expert's notes A selection of three horror BBFC (British Board Film Classification) Certificates for the "Poltergeist" movie trilogy - "Poltergeist" (1982), "Poltergeist II: The Other Side" (1986) and "Poltergeist III (1988). Each certificate is unique with only one (generally) being handmade to present before the camera prior to a film being screened. 13" x 9.5" (33 x 24 cm) Condition: Very Good to Excellent Flat, unfolded Artist: Unknown Artist £100 - 150 VAT Status: M
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Poltergeist, common sense media reviewers.
One of the all-time great haunted house movies.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Despite frightening ghostly activity, the dedicati
The central family unit is tight and remains close
Richard Lawson, a Black actor in a small supportin
A character rips the flesh from his face (though e
Mild swearing, including "s--t" and "son of a bitc
The parents are seen smoking marijuana and are imp
Parents need to know that the classic '80s horror movie Poltergeist touches on many things that are frightening to kids (and some adults), including scary shadows in the dark, monsters in the closet, and separation from family. A character rips the flesh from his face (though eventually we see he's…
Despite frightening ghostly activity, the dedication the parents show to saving their children still stands out as positive.
Positive Role Models
The central family unit is tight and remains close throughout the film. The parents will do anything to save their children, with similar energy between siblings.
Richard Lawson, a Black actor in a small supporting role, plays a doctor who tries to help the family. Diane, the mother, is not a generic damsel in distress: She travels into the portal where the spirits have taken her daughter in order to rescue her. Although it's suggested the poltergeist has to do with homes being built upon a cemetery, it's made clear that it's not a stereotypical "Native American burial ground."
Did we miss something on diversity? Suggest an update.
Violence & Scariness
A character rips the flesh from his face (though eventually we see that he's hallucinating). A young boy is attacked by a ghost-inhabited tree. Near constant sense of fear and peril.
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Violence & Scariness in your kid's entertainment guide.
Mild swearing, including "s--t" and "son of a bitch."
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Language in your kid's entertainment guide.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
The parents are seen smoking marijuana and are implied to be regular users. A family friend brings beer over for a game night.
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Drinking, Drugs & Smoking in your kid's entertainment guide.
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that the classic '80s horror movie Poltergeist touches on many things that are frightening to kids (and some adults), including scary shadows in the dark, monsters in the closet, and separation from family. A character rips the flesh from his face (though eventually we see he's hallucinating). A young boy is attacked by a ghost who inhabits a tree. A girl is kidnapped and taken into a netherworld where she's out of reach from her family. Ancient burial grounds and skeletons are mentioned and seen. Mild swearing includes "s--t" and "son of a bitch," and adults are shown smoking marijuana and drinking beer. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails .
Where to Watch
Videos and photos.
- Parents say (55)
- Kids say (236)
Based on 55 parent reviews
Great Introduction To The Horror World, Dependent On Your Child
What's the story.
Written and produced by Steven Spielberg , POLTERGEIST is an '80s horror classic and one of the great "haunted house" movies, as a family's "perfect" suburban home becomes the target of a ghostly invasion. Steven and Diane Freeling ( Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams ) and their three kids are happy in their new home in a California housing development built by the company Steven works for. They don't notice at first that 5-year-old daughter Carol Anne (Heather O'Rourke) is receiving messages from voices that speak to her through empty channels on their TV set. But Diane soon begins to see more physical evidence of a ghostly presence, one that moves things around the kitchen and scares the children during the day. The unseen beings grow more malevolent, inhabiting a tree that breaks a window and attacks the Freelings' son, Robbie (Oliver Robins). When the spirits take Carol Anne away, the Freelings call in a team of experts, including a psychic who holds the key to the other world.
Is It Any Good?
This 1980s story of a family assaulted by ghosts remains compelling and thrilling. Poltergeist 's strong cast makes up for once top-of-the-line special effects that now look a bit dated.
The film works because the characters are so well written that we can't help but root for them and wish for their safety. And the writers don't abuse the fact that we've come to care about them: We're scared at the ordeals they face, but they all come through, saved by their love for one another.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about what makes Poltergeist so scary. Are the effects -- the ghosts and other things that you see -- frightening? Are there any emotional moments that are equally scary?
Did you identify with any of the characters?
Did this movie remind you of moments in your childhood when you thought you weren't alone in your room at night?
Why do you think people sometimes like watching movies that frighten them?
- In theaters : June 4, 1982
- On DVD or streaming : January 25, 2000
- Cast : Cindy Williams , Craig T. Nelson , JoBeth Williams
- Director : Andrew Adamson
- Inclusion Information : Female actors
- Studio : Warner Bros.
- Genre : Horror
- Topics : Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires
- Run time : 114 minutes
- MPAA rating : PG
- Last updated : October 3, 2023
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1982, Horror/Mystery & thriller, 1h 54m
What to know
Smartly filmed, tightly scripted, and -- most importantly -- consistently frightening, Poltergeist is a modern horror classic. Read critic reviews
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Rent Poltergeist on Apple TV, Amazon Prime Video, Vudu, or buy it on Apple TV, Amazon Prime Video, Vudu.
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Strange and creepy happenings beset an average California family, the Freelings -- Steve (Craig T. Nelson), Diane (JoBeth Williams), teenaged Dana (Dominique Dunne), eight-year-old Robbie (Oliver Robins), and five-year-old Carol Ann (Heather O'Rourke) -- when ghosts commune with them through the television set. Initially friendly and playful, the spirits turn unexpectedly menacing, and, when Carol Ann goes missing, Steve and Diane turn to a parapsychologist and eventually an exorcist for help.
Genre: Horror, Mystery & thriller
Original Language: English
Director: Tobe Hooper
Producer: Frank Marshall , Steven Spielberg
Writer: Steven Spielberg , Michael Grais , Mark Victor
Release Date (Theaters): Jun 4, 1982 original
Release Date (Streaming): Apr 1, 2009
Box Office (Gross USA): $121.8M
Runtime: 1h 54m
Production Co: Metro Goldwyn Mayer
Sound Mix: Surround, Stereo, Dolby
Aspect Ratio: Scope (2.35:1)
Cast & Crew
Craig T. Nelson
Carol Anne Freeling
Clair E. Leucart
Matthew F. Leonetti
News & Interviews for Poltergeist
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Critic Reviews for Poltergeist
Audience reviews for poltergeist.
"They're here." From Steven Spielberg and Tobe Hooper comes the seminal horror film Poltergeist. The story follows a family that begins to experience strange phenomenon at their house, but when things turn violent they seek out help from a team of paranormal researches. The casting of Heather O'Rourke is inspired, as she has a natural charisma and an innocence about her that juxtaposes the malevolence of the evil spirits of the house. Additionally, the score is incredibly well-done and captures the ethereal quality of the film. And, Hooper does an extraordinary job at creating some frightful scenes that are quite terrifying. Poltergeist is an iconic horror film and set a new standard for the genre.
Short, sweet, and grippingly to the point, Poltergeist still earns top marks as a straight-head haunted house tale told with great humor and verve. Rather than walk out of Gil Kenans C-Grade Poltergeist remake, Tobe Hoopers superior original definitely deserves a revisit. Brilliantly directed and tautly scripted, the film wastes not a second of your time, bringing on the terror early on in the first act and never letting up. Even then (E.T. got released the same year), Steven Spielberg knew the makings of great entertainment and his story connects with the audience on every level. You laugh with the Frelings and laugh often, building a camaraderie that makes their daughters abduction and mothers love all the more compelling. Indeed, even when the cadavers fly at you, Poltergeist feels more like a fun house than haunted house. In this PG-rated classic slice of horror, the Freling family's home gets haunted by a host of ghosts. Building on what made 1974's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre so bone-rattlingly scary, Hooper uses tracking shots and oft kilter angles to ratchet up the thrills. With just a PG rating, he amazingly scores some of the most organic boos in cinematic history (it honestly feels R-rated sometimes). Of course, genius casting plays no small part as well. Williams as the mother, Heather O'Rourke as the apple-cheeked daughter and Zelda Rubenstein as the pint-sized paranormal investigator leave such an indelible mark that version 2.0 never stood a chance. Bottom line: The Amityville Honor
I remembered Poltergeist scared me a lot when I was a kid and was awkwardly gory on a couple of scenes too, that are forever burned in my mind. I also remember that there are stretches that dragged on for too long without adding much to the movie. After many years later, I rewatched it and not many things have changed from the original impact. Still great overall, but could use some trimming on the editing amongst other things. But it's still a very fun lil' horror movie for teens, with heart and a good Spielberg message about family unity.
If Halloween is the holy grail of slasher movies, this surely is the holy grail of haunted house movies. None are close. There are always three things I think of whenever I watch Poltergeist. First, I am always stunned that this film somehow avoided an "R" rating. You have to wonder if that would have been possible had anyone other than Spielberg been involved. Having Tobe "Texas Chainsaw" Hooper on board certainly couldn't have helped. In any event, this has to be the most frightening "PG" movie ever made. Had "PG13" been around at the time, this movie certainly would have qualified. Incidentally, it was two other Spielberg productions, "Gremlins" and "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" that caused the MPAA to invent "PG13." 2 years, too late. Second, I always wonder just how good this movie might have been had Spielberg fully committed to it, instead of devoting most of his time and interest into the more dramatic but overall inferior, "E.T." This movie is very good. It's almost great. Regardless, it's a thrill ride right from the ominous opening "Star Spangled Banner" scene. I can't help but think of the opening of this movie whenever I hear that song now. Oh, and third, this movie contains some of the scariest scenes ever filmed and THE scariest scene ever involving a clown doll. (See "Amusement" for the second scariest). This movie is what Hooper's "Funhouse" should have been. Fantastic score by Jerry Goldsmith.
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11 things you didn’t know about the original Poltergeist movie
You thought the film was scary enough onscreen, but behind the scenes of the 1982 horror classic lies a story equally as bizarre
Released in June 1982 to wide critical acclaim and robust box office (it ended the year in the domestic top ten), the original Poltergeist movie has since gone on to claim a place as an ’80s cultural touchstone. Little Carol Anne’s memorable “They’re here…” entered the zeitgeist as a catchphrase , and impressionable audiences still can’t look under their beds for evil clowns 33 years later. Like all successes, the movie has many fathers, some real, some uncredited but felt. With a Poltergeist remake hitting theaters, we’ve collected some of the more infamous stories from the original production—fascinating as a window into early blockbustering, ego and authorship. Note: This isn’t about the “Poltergeist curse,” a sad series of offset tragedies, but rather, the very real difficulties of high-pressure Hollywood moviemaking. Poltergeist opens Fri 22.
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1. Steven Spielberg really wanted to direct Poltergeist, but was contractually forbidden
2. Spielberg wanted Stephen King to write Poltergeist
According to John Baxter’s unauthorized 1997 biography of Spielberg, the director met with the budding horror icon circa 1980 for an “amiable” lunch that nonetheless hit a brick wall. King’s publisher, Doubleday, asked for too much money and Spielberg walked. King later told the magazine Cinefantastique , “I got a letter from Spielberg saying he was really unhappy that it turned out this way…The experience of working with him and watching him work—I could've used that. But in the end, I would've been hired help.”
3. Drew Barrymore auditioned for Poltergeist
4. The production is on, with Spielberg constantly on set
5. A rumor takes hold that Hooper isn’t up to the task
6. Spielberg is hands-on throughout the shoot—literally
7. Special-effects wizards destroy a tiny model house at virtually the same cost of building a real one
The Freeling’s family home is sucked into a supernatural vortex at the movie’s climax, requiring technicians to build a four-foot-wide scale replica. Shooting in extreme slow motion, they yanked the house backward into a high-powered vacuum—also while firing at the front façade with shotguns. Again, there was only one take to get it right. Spielberg, it’s been reported, still has the remains of this expensive model encased in Perspex atop his home piano.
8. Elsewhere, the production was dirt-cheap—and bad to the bone
A rumor continues to persist (undenied by those in the know) that the crew used real skeletons in the scene where JoBeth Williams falls into the swimming pool. Apparently, those were cheaper to procure than plastic ones. Williams has also said that she wasn’t told of this ahead of time.
9. Spielberg and his usual team edits the entire movie
Working with Raiders of the Lost Ark ’s Michael Kahn, Spielberg edits the entire movie in tandem with E.T. , supervising the post-production. Jerry Goldsmith’s hauntingly beautiful score would be nominated for an Oscar—but lost to John Williams for his work on (you guessed it) E.T.
10. Spielberg had to apologize in print to Tobe Hooper
11. The movie’s original R rating was successfully contested
Read our review of poltergeist.
- 3 out of 5 stars
Omens were good for this remake of Tobe Hooper’s beloved 1982 suburban shocker (or was it Steven Spielberg’s?). The cast is terrific, director Gil Kenan has a solid track record and producer Sam Raimi’s fright-flick credentials are, of course, unimpeachable.
Watch the trailer for Poltergeist
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'Poltergeist' Review: A Balancing Act of Awe and Fear of the Unknown
As Collider looks back on classic movies, we review one of horror's most enduring titles.
1982’s Poltergeist is a classic of the horror genre, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s a horror film that does not lack any shock or fear value whilst maintaining a strong central plot, with tangible character relationships keeping the structure tight. Directed by Tobe Hooper and co-written and produced by Steven Spielberg himself, Poltergeist celebrates its 40-year anniversary this year with a Blu-Ray release . If you’ve never seen it, I implore you to run to your couch, either rent it or buy that Blu-Ray, and watch it. As someone who has always adored horror movies, I’m kicking myself for not having seen it sooner, as it not only serves as a brilliant viewing experience, but it genuinely felt like I was getting a lesson in the history of horror cinema.
RELATED: 'Poltergeist' 40 Years Later: The Unease Buried Beneath the Suburban Dream
Your Average Happy Family
For those of you as dumb as me who are taking their time to watch it, here’s the basic plot: Poltergeist follows Diane and Steve Freeing ( JoBeth Williams and Craig T. Nelson ) and their three children: Teenage Dana ( Dominique Dunne ), 8-year-old Robbie ( Oliver Robbins ), and little 5-year-old Carol Anne ( Heather O’Rourke ). They’ve just moved into a comfortable home in an affluent suburb constructed by the company Steve works for, a project that he spearheaded himself. One night, the family is awoken by Carol Anne having a conversation with the static television. When she announces “They’re here,” the rest of the family has no idea what they’re in for. Furniture moves, the family dog barks at people who aren’t there and the weather gets stormier and stormier. Just when things seem to be as extreme as they can get, the haunting presence takes Carol Anne into another dimension, setting the family on a desperate mission to get her back, but they need help from people with this kind of experience.
Help Is Here
Enter Dr. Lesh ( Beatrice Straight ) and her two assistants who camp out in the house with the family to try to document the paranormal presence in the house and figure out how they can save Carol Anne. They ascertain that this is not a traditional “haunting,” it’s a “poltergeist” that is holding Carol Anne hostage. The mission proves to be beyond their abilities, and so they call in the clairvoyant Tangina Barrons ( Zelda Rubinstein ) to save Carol Anne and somehow eradicate the spirits. A subplot sees Steve trying to reckon with the implications of his career success. He learns that his boss and company are responsible for the goings-on in his house, facing the ramifications of careless greed.
Poltergeist As a Blueprint for Modern Cinema
It’s interesting to go back and watch this after seeing so many modern horror films and notice how much of a blueprint Poltergeist really is. The scene of the kitchen furniture reassembling itself in the time Diane momentarily turns her back is borrowed by the Paranormal Activity franchise. The character motif of the comforting and insightful paranormal expert and her two henchmen is seen again in the Insidious movies. Recent horror movies depicting a family in a haunted house such as The Conjuring all feel like callbacks to this 1982 classic. Poltergeist well and truly set up themes and tropes that permeate current horror cinema.
The Unknown Can Be Both Terrifying and Awe-Inspiring
What I felt most shocked by when watching the movie is how much it focuses on humanity rather than terror. Yes, there are some scares and what the Freeing family faces is undoubtedly traumatic, but that’s not the central theme of the movie. It’s best personified in a conversation between Diane and Dr. Lesh. Dr. Lesh tells Diane after they’ve all come face to face with the scope of what they’re dealing with, “It’s all the things we don’t understand.” There’s such a real human vulnerability to Dr. Lesh, which we don’t often see in the expert/confidante character in horror; the willingness to accept that some things lie beyond our ability to comprehend. There are forces, entities, and threats that are so much bigger than us.
What places Poltergeist among the top tier of horror after all this time is its perfect balance of focusing on the fear and beauty of the unknown. There are times when the spirits haunting the home come into sight and the expressions of the characters are a mixture of utter terror and awestruck wonderment. Even Steve and Diane’s first reaction when they realize what is going on in their home isn’t to be scared; it’s excitement and intrigue. They’re giddy at the thought of something so exciting and unknown coming into their middle-class, suburban home. So often in recent horrors, the feeling of threat and terror needs to be established quickly to let audiences know they should be scared too. But Poltergeist lets you marvel at the other side for a little, allowing the characters and the audience to get excited at the thought of something unknown to us.
A True Horror
Although at times this feels like a family drama, don’t despair, there is a lot of horror in this. There’s a particularly visceral body horror scene in the middle of the movie that sets the tone for what's to come, and the final 20 minutes have their brutal moments. It’s undoubtedly horror, maybe just not the horror we’ve become accustomed to. Poltergeist knows it has a strong script and so, does not rely on any cheap scares (there are some jump scares, but they’re used sparingly and to great effect). There is something for every type of horror fan in Poltergiest . Actually, scratch that, there’s something for every type of movie fan in it. I would happily recommend this to anyone from a gore fanatic to a horror hater. It’s just an interesting story told well at the end of the day, and can absolutely be enjoyed by anyone (well, over the age of 16 maybe).
A Remarkable Cast
The acting and chemistry between the characters are one of the main factors that set Poltergeist above a lot of cinema. Williams and Nelson work seamlessly together as the heart of the family, laughing and getting high in their bedroom like teenagers at the start of the film. Beatrice Straight plays Dr. Lesh with the perfect combination of awe and fear, not having all the answers about the other dimension but being desperate to find them. Zelda Rubinstein’s performance was the one I felt most impacted by. Her character’s entrance is timed perfectly. Just when you think the chaos, madness, and turmoil of the house is getting to be too much, Rubinstein’s calm authority sobers up the film and gets the plot on track to saving Carol Anne.
40 years, two sequels, and a pretty awful remake later, Poltergeist still stands as a horror heavyweight. Perhaps it's due to its focus on family dynamics in times of crisis, maybe it's the fact that it doesn't try to give concrete answers about the unknown, or maybe it's just down to a great script and some fantastic performances. Either way, Poltergiest deserves to still be celebrated. I can only imagine that the current horror scene would look very different without this blueprint film to look back on and gain inspiration from.
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Rarely has a remake felt more contractually obligated than the 2015 version of “Poltergeist.” There are a few decent performances, a nice riff on the technology fears that drove the original movie, and a centerpiece of horror that works, but never once do you get the feeling that the people behind this remake are here because of artistic passion or creative drive. They’re here because, well, somebody had to be here, so why not them? With remakes of “Nightmare on Elm Street,” “Friday the 13 th ,” “Evil Dead,” and more already on the books, “Poltergeist” is even arguably a bit late to the party. And they didn’t bring a gift.
The Bowen family has fallen on hard times. Eric (Sam Rockwell) has lost his job at John Deere, forcing them to move to a new home, one which his teenage daughter Kendra ( Saxon Sharbino ) openly mocks. Mother Amy ( Rosemarie DeWitt ) has raised a beautiful family, but may have to go back to a day job to make ends meet. Son Griffin (Kyle Catlett) is going through that fearful time of childhood when we hear noises in our closets and wonder what’s under the bed. Finally, Madison ( Kennedi Clements ) is a unique little girl, the kind who talks to her imaginary friends a bit too often.
Before the Bowens have even unpacked, weird things are afoot in their new abode. Griffin hears sounds in his attic bedroom, and finds a box full of creepy clown toys. He also really doesn’t like the look of the old tree nearly scratching his skylight. One night, while Eric and Amy are out to dinner, all Hell quite literally breaks loose. In a pretty effective centerpiece, all three children are attacked separately. Hands popping out of the floor, trees crashing through windows, and those damn clowns—it’s a solid sequence that ends with Madison being taken to the other side. As she fights for survival between worlds, the Bowens have to call in paranormal experts (including Jared Harris and Jane Adams ) to save their little girl.
Tobe Hooper ’s “Poltergeist” had two thematic foundations that have been essentially transferred intact to Gil Kenan ’s version. It was no mere coincidence that little Carol Ann was sucked into her TV as fears that the idiot box would forever destroy the next generation were pretty common in the early ‘80s. In the update, technology is everywhere, and even integrated into the narrative in scenes like the one where Kendra hears something strange through the static on her smartphone and the later use of drone technology. The fear of technology isn’t quite developed adequately here (nothing is), but I liked how David Lindsay-Abaire captured the modern world in which we are surrounded by electrical toys—the ominous shots of the power lines behind their house are not accidental.
Even more importantly, “Poltergeist” in both forms has a solid answer for the common question that plagues haunted house movies: Why don’t they just leave? By the time the Bowens figure out what’s going on, one of them is missing, and they’re forced to band together to save her. In many ways, especially in the original, it’s about a broken family uniting in common cause to save one of their own. That element is strong here thanks in no small part to believable husband-wife chemistry between Rockwell and DeWitt and solid kid performances, especially Catlett.
The problem is that neither of these elements feel fresh or new. Nothing about “Poltergeist” feels fresh or new. And while the mere joy of seeing actors like Rockwell and DeWitt do their thing works for a little while, it can’t sustain as the horror narrative intensifies and a few things get decidedly goofy to maintain the PG-13 rating. By the last act, I really didn’t care what happened to the Bowens or those brought in to save them. The stakes don’t feel nearly as high here and the thematic undercurrents of the first act have disappeared as the actors and filmmakers go through their motions. Harris is having fun as a reality TV star ghost hunter but he can’t fix the screenwriting flaws of a project that inevitably feels like it's just racing to the end, and not in a way that produces any sort of tension.
Maybe we’re a more cynical audience and the films that have copied the original “Poltergeist” over the years have lessened the impact of the original blueprint so slavishly followed here. If that’s the case, Kenan and his team needed to find another reason to update it. Or any reason at all really.
One Final Note: Rarely has 3D been less essential or felt like more of a cash grab. See it in 2D if you choose to see it at all.
Brian Tallerico is the Managing Editor of RogerEbert.com, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and GQ, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.
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Rated PG-13 for intense frightening sequences, brief suggestive material, and some language
Sam Rockwell as Eric Bowen
Jared Harris as Carrigan Burke
Rosemarie DeWitt as Amy Bowen
Nicholas Braun as Boyd
Saxon Sharbino as Kendra Bowen
Kennedi Clements as Madison Bowen
Jane Adams as Dr. Claire Powell
- David Lindsay-Abaire
Director of Photography
- Javier Aguirresarobe
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10 things you never knew about the making of poltergeist (1982).
One of Stephen Spielberg's most iconic movies, here are 10 things horror fans may not have known about the production of 1982's Poltergeist.
Poltergeist is one of the most celebrated horror movies of all time. Directed by Tobe Hooper under the producorial supervision of Steven Spielberg , not only did it strike a chord among critics, but the film also became the highest-grossing horror flick of 1982 and the eighth biggest moneymaking movie of the year.
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Of course, fervid fans are fully aware of the so-called Poltergeis t curse, named for the series of mysterious deaths involving various cast members after their movies were released. But what about on set in the present? A lot of crazy stuff went down during production as well. For a better idea, here are 10 things you never knew about the making of Poltergeist !
Drew Barrymore/Stephen King
In the development phase of Poltergeist , Drew Barrymore was heavily considered for the role of Carol Anne. Steven Spielberg ultimately opted for someone more "angelic" and cast Heather O'Rourke instead. However, it was Barrymore's audition that led to her casting in E.T., which Spielberg made back-to-back with Poltergeist.
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Additionally, Stephen King was approached to write the screenplay for the film. Negotiations ultimately fizzled, but, oddly enough, Barrymore would star in King's Firestarter two years later.
One of the most memorable characters in Poltergeist is Tangina, the diminutive medium played by Zelda Rubenstein. But how many of you knew that Rubenstein was a real-life psychic, as well?
After auditioning for the role four times, Rubenstein filmed her iconic part in just six days. Her status as a real medium helped land her the role, as she claimed to have visions of events before they occurred. Rubenstein also claimed she could sense that Tobe Hooper was on drugs with his focus far away.
Some pretty nifty filmmaking techniques were employed on the set of Poltergeist , including one bedroom set-piece which allowed the filmmakers to rotate the set for optimal effect.
Roughly 100 minutes into the film, as Caroline is being marauded by an invisible entity, the scene was filmed inside a rotating box by using a stationary camera. The practical optical effect makes it appear as if Caroline is being slid up the wall and dragged across the ceiling.
One of the most indelible images in Poltergeist is the oversized, creepy clown-doll haunting Robbie's bedroom. But, how many of you were aware of the onset mishap that nearly injured Robbie for real?
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During the climax of the film, Robbie becomes strangled by the animated clown-doll. However, the arms on the prop-doll gripped Oliver Robbins' (Robbie) neck so tight that he began screaming out "I can't breathe." Spielberg initially thought Oliver was improvising until he saw the boy's face turning purple. Spielberg sprinted over and yanked the doll away from him.
Remember the creepy-crawly steak in Poltergeist that somehow slides across the kitchen countertop? Have you any idea how that was done?
The shot was achieved by using a real piece of steak which was placed over a slit in the tile-counter below. A pair of wires were connected to the meat while an effects operator hid under the counter and simply puppeteered the steak to glide like an insect across the surface. A similar technique was used when Diane shows Steven the moving chair.
Speaking of moving chairs, it's quite impressive to know that the shot of the perfectly balanced pyramid of chairs that startles Diane in the kitchen was done in one single take. Seriously!
Pay attention to the camera movement. As the lens pans over with Diane gathering cleansers, several crew members rushed into the kitchen off-screen and quickly swapped the single chairs with an already-erected chair-pyramid. When the camera pans back seven seconds later, Diane is utterly startled at the sight.
During the climactic swimming pool scene in which it is revealed the accursed Freeling house is built upon an ancient burial ground, real skeletons were used on the set! Some people believe this is the reason for the so-called " Poltergeist curse" in the first place.
What's more, JoBeth Williams (Diane) had no idea real skeletons were used in the scene until well after production wrapped. Williams was already hesitant about shooting in a swimming pool given all the electrical equipment nearby, prompting Spielberg to hop in the pool while filming and declare "now if a light falls in, we'll both fry!"
From Jaws and beyond, most of Spielberg's movies were made by Universal. However, Poltergeist was made by MGM. If you pay close attention to the final act, you can hear the famous MGM lion roar during one mortifying jump scare!
At roughly 100 minutes into the film, the sound effect used as the malefic ghost attacks the house comes from the same source as the modern-day MGM lion roar. Even sneakier, during the scene when the flesh is ripped off the face of the investigator looking in the mirror, the hands in the shot are none other than Spielberg's!
When it came time to film the finale, in which the Freeling house gets subsumed into a black hole, a four-foot-wide model was used that took weeks to build.
With the camera placed directly above the house and hundreds of wires connecting to the structure, a giant vacuum generator was then turned to simulate high wind-force. Several FX crewmen also fanned the structure with pump-action shotguns to create the illusion of a black hole. The shot only lasted two seconds or so, which they production team executed on the first take.
A great debate has raged over the years regarding Spielberg's directorial involvement with Poltergeist . At first, Tobe Hooper was offered to direct E.T., but he turned it down in favor of the unwritten script for this film instead. Spielberg opted to helm E.T. himself but remained onboard Poltergeist as producer and writer.
In the years since its release, Spielberg has graciously credited Hooper for directing the film, but those close to production claim Spielberg oversaw the making as a shadow director. Producer Frank Marshall and actress Zelda Rubenstein claim Spielberg directed much of the film, with Hooper assisting with shot-setup.
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The 'Poltergeist' Curse: Inside the Mysterious Cast Deaths and Oddities On Set
Released in 1982, the original Poltergeist , directed by Tobe Hooper and produced by Spielberg, was an instant success and is considered to be a masterpiece of American horror cinema. The film focuses on the Freelings, a middle-class family (led by a youthful, dashing Craig T. Nelson) whose life is upturned when a number of paranormal and vicious events occur in their California home and their daughter Carol Anne is abducted through her bedroom closet by a group of ghosts who are under the control of a monster demon called the “Beast.”
After learning that their house sits atop a Native American burial ground, the Freelings spend their time attempting to retrieve Carol Anne and all the while stay sane as they get smacked around, terrorized and ultimately, “goobered” on in the bathtub.
With Poltergeist's success came a creepy mystique that the classic film is shrouded in real-life tragedies that some interpret as a curse.
Four cast members died during and soon after the filming of the series
The majority of the fuel for the alleged curse stems from the deaths of multiple cast members. In total, four cast members died during and soon after the filming of the series. Two of these tragic deaths were highly unexpected and puzzling, leading many fans to speculate on the trilogy’s eerie implications.
Carol Anne Freeling, the young focal point of the series, was played by Heather O’Rourke. Only six years old when the first Poltergeist film was released, O’Rourke captivated audiences with her stark blond hair, doll-like appearance, and big, inquisitive eyes. Sadly, however, she was misdiagnosed with Crohn’s Disease in 1987. The following year, O’Rourke fell ill again, and her symptoms were casually attributed to the flu. A day later, she collapsed and suffered a cardiac arrest. After being airlifted to a children’s hospital in San Diego, O’Rourke died during an operation to correct a bowel obstruction, and it was later believed that she had been suffering from a congenital intestinal abnormality.
Dominique Dunne, who played the original older sister Dana Freeling, met an equally tragic and unforeseen fate. In 1982, Dunne separated from her partner, John Sweeney. In November of that year, he showed up at Dunne’s house, pleading for her to take him back. When she refused, Sweeney grabbed Dunne’s neck, choked her until she was unconscious, and left her to die in her Hollywood home’s driveway. Sweeney was sentenced to six and a half years in prison but was released after three years and seven months.
Julian Beck and Will Sampson
The other two cast member deaths, while unfortunate, were not as unpredictable or mysterious. The evil preacher Kane from Poltergeist II was played by Julian Beck. In 1983, Beck had been diagnosed with stomach cancer, which took his life soon after he finished work on the second installment of the series. The same film was met with further tragedy, after Will Sampson, who played Taylor the Native American shaman, died after undergoing a heart-lung transplant, which had a very slim survival rate.
Other strange things happened on set
Cast deaths were not the only agents of the curse’s proliferation, as other peculiar and creepy legends surround the film franchise. JoBeth Williams, who played mom Diane Freeling in the first two films, claimed that director Spielberg insisted on using actual human skeletons as props in an attempt to save money (at the time, they were cheaper than plastic skeletons). Williams’ claim has never been verified, but it persists to this day in the lore surrounding the films’ curse.
Finally, in an effort to further creep out everyone involved, Sampson, the real-life medicine man who passed away due to circumstances mentioned above, performed an authentic exorcism after shooting wrapped up one night. One can only imagine how this made the other cast members feel.
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