Poltergeist (film)

Poltergeist (film)

Infobox Film
name = Poltergeist

caption = "Poltergeist" original theatrical poster
director = Tobe Hooper
producer = Frank Marshall
Steven Spielberg
writer = Steven Spielberg
Michael Grais
Mark Victor
starring = Craig T. Nelson
JoBeth Williams
Beatrice Straight
Dominique Dunne
Oliver Robins
Heather O'Rourke
music = Jerry Goldsmith
cinematography = Matthew F. Leonetti, ASC
editing = Michael Kahn
Steven Spielberg
distributor = MGM
UA Entertainment Company
Warner Bros
released = , 1982
, 1982
runtime = 114 min.
country = USA
language = English
budget = $10,700,000 (estimated)
Gross Revenue = $76,606,280
preceded_by =
followed_by = ""
amg_id = 1:38628
imdb_id = 0084516

"Poltergeist" is the first and most successful "Poltergeist" film, released on June 4, 1982 and nominated for three Oscars. The film was directed by Tobe Hooper and was co-produced, and co-written by Steven Spielberg along with Michael Grais and Mark Victor, his first major success as a producer. The plot revolves around the haunting of a suburban family home that is suspected to be the work of poltergeists.

The film is often referred to as cursed because of the murder of Dominique Dunne and early death of Heather O'Rourke, as well as the fact that actress JoBeth Williams has pointed out in television interviews that she was actually told that the skeletons used in the well-known swimming pool scene in the first Poltergeist film were real. This has been the focus of an "E! True Hollywood Story" on the "Poltergeist" Curse.

This film was ranked as #80 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments.


A group of seemingly benign ghosts begin communicating with five-year-old Carol Anne Freeling (Heather O'Rourke) in her parents' suburban California home via static on the television. Eventually they use the TV as their path into the house itself.

First, there are a few signs that the ghosts have arrived: Carol Anne's pet bird dies; an earthquake occurs that only the Freelings feel; Carol Anne announces, "They're here." The next morning, glasses break at breakfast, forks bend by themselves, and when the mother, Diane (JoBeth Williams), asks Carol Anne, "What did you mean? Who's here?" she answers, "The TV people." At first the ghosts play harmless tricks and amuse the mother, including moving and stacking the kitchen table chairs. Of course, Diane must convince Steven (Craig T. Nelson) that night by showing him. He then announces that "Nobody goes into the kitchen until I know what's going on." Carol Anne's elder sister Dana (Dominique Dunne) leaves to stay with friends.

During a terrible thunderstorm, the ghosts distract the family with a tree coming to life and grabbing Robbie (Oliver Robins), Carol Anne's brother, through a window, and then getting what they really came after. Like a wind tunnel, they take Carol Anne through her bedroom closet into their dimension. With Robbie rescued, and the belief that the tornado caused the trouble, the family can't find Carol Anne. They search the entire house including the new swimming pool until Robbie hears Carol Anne through the T.V.

Steven reluctantly calls on a group of parapsychologists from UC Irvine: Dr. Lesh (Beatrice Straight), Ryan (Richard Lawson), and Marty (Martin Casella), who are awestruck by the manifestations they witness. With the parapsychologists present, the Freelings show them things they've never before seen. They open the door to the children's room to reveal toys and other objects flying around by themselves and disembodied laughing voices. Previously, one of the parapsychologists described a Matchbox car taking seven hours to move seven feet, calling it "fantastic. Of course, this would never register on the naked eye." After they see the Freelings' house, they are all humbled.

Over coffee (and a coffee urn that moves by itself), the parapsychologists explain to the Freelings the difference between a poltergeist and a haunting. They determine that indeed, it is a poltergeist they are experiencing.

It turns out that the spirits have left this life but have not gone into the "Light." They are stuck in between dimensions, watching their loved ones grow up, but feeling alone. Carol Anne—born in the house and only 5 years old—gives off her own life force that is as bright as the Light. It distracts and confuses the spirits, who think Carol Anne is their salvation. Hence, they take her. (A different explanation was given in the second film).

What is also in the other dimension is a malevolent spirit, what the parapsychologists call "The Beast". It likes that the spirits are confused and lost, and uses Carol Anne as a distraction so they cannot move on into the Light. After witnessing a paranormal episode where they hear Carol Anne talking to Diane through the TV, see spirits, and hear the pounding footsteps of the spirit, the parapsychologists leave, admitting they need more help. When they return, they bring a spiritual medium, Tangina Barrons (Zelda Rubinstein), who informs Diane that her daughter is "alive and in this house." She also explains the malevolent spirit in the house to Diane, saying "it lies to her and tells her things only a child can understand. To her, it simply is another child. To us, it is the Beast."

They realize the entrance to the other dimension is through the children's bedroom closet. By tying a rope around a live person who can enter, and presumably exit the other side, with enough time to grab Carol Anne, they could bring her back. Diane is the only choice to go. What happens next is a terrifying sequence where Diane gets Carol Anne and Tangina coaxes the agonized spirits away from Carol Anne to the real Light (during this, Steve panics and pulls on the rope, causing the Beast to appear right in front of him). Diane comes through the living room ceiling clutching Carol Anne and bearing new streaks of grey hair, presumably from fright, both Diane and Carol Anne are also covered in ectoplasm. Tangina pronounces that "this house is clean."

Unfortunately, though the spirits have seemingly moved on, the Beast hasn't, and wants revenge. On their final night in the house, when they are almost packed up and ready to go, the Beast returns to reclaim what he believes is his: Carol Anne. This time, the Beast does his own dirty work and comes after Carol Anne personally.

While Robbie and Carol Anne are getting ready for bed, Robbie's clown doll comes to life and pulls him under the bed. Diane, in the other room hears her son's screaming voice and tries to investigate but is pulled against the wall and ceiling by an unknown force. Robbie manages to defeat the clown doll but a strange, mouth-like portal appears in Carol Anne's closet and attempts to suck the children in.

Diane tries to get to her son and daughter but runs into the Beast himself, in the form of a snarling, skeletal demon. He blocks Carol Anne's and Robbie's door and lunges at her, causing her to fall down the stairs. Trying to find another way into her childrens' room, Diane runs to the backyard and slips into the new pool which is infested by skeletons. Two neighbors who have sneaked into the backyard to see what is all the commotion help Diane out and she runs back into the house to get Robbie and Carol Anne.

Through skill and luck, the Freelings finally escape the house, but not before the anger of the Beast reveals the reason for the spirits being there in the first place—coffins and bodies begin exploding out of the ground throughout the neighborhood. When the neighborhood was first built the real estate developer Steven worked for moved a cemetery that was on the location, but in reality in order to save money they moved the cemetery headstones but left the bodies, building houses right on top of them. As the Freelings flee down the street in their car, the Beast is so angry that the house implodes into the other dimension as stunned neighbors look on. The movie ends with the family checking into a Holiday Inn for the night, pushing the television set outside their room.


Director Tobe Hooper claims to have experienced poltergeist activity as a young man. During his teenage years, Hooper's father had died and for weeks after his death Hooper witnessed "doors breaking in, dishes flying around the residence and other bizarre occurrences". Hooper comments that's what attracted him to the project.

Creative relationship

A clause in his contract with Universal Studios prevented Spielberg from directing any other film whilst preparing "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial".cite book |last= Brode|first=Douglas |title=The Films of Steven Spielberg |year= 2000|publisher=Citadel Press |location=New York |id= ISBN 0-8065-1951-7 |pages=101] "Time" and "Newsweek" tagged the summer of 1982 "The Spielberg Summer" because "E.T." and "Poltergeist" were released a week apart in June. As such a marketable name, some began to question Spielberg's role during production. Suggestions that Spielberg had greater directorial influence than the credits suggest were aided by comments made by the writer/producer:

"Tobe isn't... a take-charge sort of guy. If a question was asked and an answer wasn't immediately forthcoming, I'd jump in and say what we could do. Tobe would nod agreement, and that become the process of collaboration."Brode, pg 102]

The Directors Guild of America "opened an investigation into the question of whether or not Hooper's official credit was being denigrated by statements Spielberg has made, apparently claiming authorship." Co-producer Frank Marshall told the "Los Angeles Times" that "the creative force of the movie was Steven. Tobe was the director and was on the set every day. But Steven did the design for every storyboard and he was on the set every day except for three days when he was in Hawaii with Lucas." However, Hooper claimed that he "did fully half of the storyboards."

"The Hollywood Reporter" printed an open letter from Spielberg to Hooper in the week of the film's release.

Regrettably, some of the press has misunderstood the rather unique, creative relationship which you and I shared throughout the making of "Poltergeist".
I enjoyed your openness in allowing me... a wide berth for creative involvement, just as I know you were happy with the freedom you had to direct "Poltergeist" so wonderfully.
Through the screenplay you accepted a vision of this very intense movie from the start, and as the director, you delivered the goods. You performed responsibly and professionally throughout, and I wish you great success on your next project.Brode, pg 99-100]

Several members of the "Poltergeist" cast and crew have over the years consistently alleged that Spielberg was the 'de facto director' of the picture. In a 2007 interview with "Ain't It Cool News", Zelda Rubinstein discussed her recollections of the shooting process. She said that "Steven directed all six days" that she was on set: "Tobe set up the shots and Steven made the adjustments." She also alleged that Hooper "allowed some unacceptable chemical agents into his work," and at her interview felt that time "Tobe was only partially there." [cite web |title=Click over, children! All are welcome! All welcome! Quint interviews Zelda Rubinstein!!!! |date=2007-10-02 |work=Ain't It Cool News |url=http://www.aintitcool.com/node/34266 |accessdate=2008-01-06]

pecial effects

In 2002, on an episode of VH1's "I Love the 80s", JoBeth Williams revealed that the production used real skeletons when filming the swimming pool scene. Many of the people on the set were alarmed by this and led others to believe the "curse" on the film series was because of this use. Craig Reardon, a special effects artist who worked on the film, commented at the time that it was cheaper to purchase real skeletons than plastic ones as the plastic ones involved labor in making them. Williams wasn't afraid of the prop skeletons, but she was nervous working in water around so many electrically-powered lights. Producer Spielberg comforted her by being in the water during her scenes, claiming that if a light fell into the pool, they'd both be killed.

During the scene when one of the researchers hallucinates tearing his face off in the mirror, Steven Spielberg's hands were used to claw the flesh off the dummy. The actor who played the part, Martin Casella, was Spielberg's assistant on "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and also served as a PA on Robert Zemeckis' film "Used Cars", on which Spielberg served as executive producer.


Location scouts for the studio decided upon Roxbury Street, Simi Valley, California after realizing it met all of their requirements. The homes were new and, at the time, the land behind the street was free, allowing plenty of access for the studio trucks. The studio didn't tell the residents that the street was to be used in a Spielberg production as they would've demanded more money. Instead they were told it was for a low-budget B movie, and by way of payment, the residents were offered free landscaping in their front yards. The houses which were brand new had no lawns at the time and so all residents accepted. The first house on the street, which looks the same as the Freelings' home, had no one living there. Close observation suggests no landscaping was done there. The coach lamps at the entrance to the pathway of the Freelings' home were added on by production and wires that power them can be seen, taped to the pillars, at the film's climax.

The house used in the movie (4267 Roxbury) received substantial earthquake damage in the 1994 Northridge earthquake. The garage came free of its foundation, the driveway had to be re-poured, the pinafore wall under the main windows and main garden wall also shook loose and collapsed. Today concrete breeze blocks replace the garden wall.

The clown doll that tortured young Robbie can be seen at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas.

Home release

Warner Home Video released a 25th anniversary DVD of the first film on standard DVD, HD DVD and Blu-Ray [cite web |title=Live Chat with Warner Home Video |date=2007-02-26 |work=Home Theater Forum |url=http://www.hometheaterforum.com/chat/warner07.txt |accessdate=2008-01-06] in Spain and the US on 9 October 2007. The re-release has digitally remastered picture and sound, and a two-part documentary: "They Are Here: The Real World of Poltergeists." It makes extensive use of clips from the film.

A six disc prototype, from the abandoned 20th Anniversary Special Edition, surfaced on eBay a few years ago and still crops up from time to time. Special features included the "The First Real Ghost Story" and "The Making of Poltergeist" featurettes, screenplay, several photo galleries and "Fangoria" interviews, and the documentaries "E! True Hollywood Story", "Hollywood Ghost Stories" and "Terror in The Aisles". The 6th disc was a copy of the original motion picture soundtrack by Jerry Goldsmith.


"Poltergeist" was a box office success worldwide. The film grossed $76,606,280 [ [http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=poltergeist.htm Poltergeist (1982) ] ] in the United States, making it the 8th biggest release and highest grossing horror film of 1982. [cite web |title=POLTERGEIST |work=BOX OFFICE MOJO |url=http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=poltergeist.htm |accessdate=2008-01-06]

Many critics discussed the role of the family in the film. Douglas Brode compares the "family values" in "Poltergeist" to the Bush/Quayle 1992 reelection campaign.cited in Brode, p. 111] Andrew Sarris, in "The Village Voice", wrote that when Carol Ann is lost the parents and the two older children "come together in blood-kin empathy to form a larger-than-life family that will reach down to the gates of hell to save its loved ones." In the "L.A. Herald Examiner", Peter Rainer wrote:

Buried within the plot of "Poltergeist" is a basic, splendid fairy tale scheme: the story of a little girl who puts her parents through the most outrageous tribulation to prove their love for her. Underlying most fairy tales is a common theme: the comforts of family. Virtually all fairy tales begin with a disrupting of the family order, and their conclusion is usually a return to order.

The film was re-released in cinemas for one night only on Thursday, October 4 2007. This special one-night event also included a 15-minute never-before-seen glimpse into the real world of poltergeists. This was part of the promotional campaign for the new restored and remastered 25th anniversary DVD released on October 9.

The film spawned two sequels: "" and "Poltergeist III". Oddly, they retained the family but introduced all-new reasons for the Beast's behavior, tying him to an evil preacher named Henry Kane, who led his religious sect to their doom in the 1820s. As the Beast, Kane went to extraordinary lengths to keep his "flock" under his control, even in death. He used Carol Anne to do this, as he discovered his flock was attracted to her innocence. Kane and his flock were never mentioned in the first movie, only that the Beast needed Carol Anne to hold spirits captive. But the original motive--building a housing development on top of a cemetery, thus disturbing the souls of those buried there--was completely forgotten; the house pool was now on top of a cave where Kane and his flock met their ends.

Cultural impact

"Poltergeist" has been referenced in several films, TV shows and music videos.An episode of "Family Guy" called "Petergeist" directly parodied the events in "Poltergeist". Peter builds a multiplex in his backyard and discovers an Indian burial ground. When he takes an Indian chief’s skull, a poltergeist invades the Griffins’ home. The episode also used some of the same musical cues heard in the film, and re-created no less than four memorable scenes, including baby Stewie saying "they're here". [cite web |title=Petergeist |work=TV.com |url=http://www.tv.com/family-guy/petergeist/episode/664917/summary.html |accessdate=2007-06-25]

At the end of the first "Simpsons" "Treehouse of Horror" installment, "Bad Dream House", the house in which the Simpsons move turns out to be haunted. After repeated failed attempts to scare them away, it implodes in a way similar to that of the house at the end of "Poltergeist", rather than spend life with the Simpson family. In another Treehouse of Horror segment, "Homer³", after entering the 3rd dimension, Homer communicates with his family in a reverberating voice similar to that of Carol Anne's when she speaks through the television. In an attempt to rescue Homer, Bart enters the dimension with a rope tied around him, similar to the manner Carol Anne is retrieved by Diane.

"South Park" has referenced the film several times. In "With Apologies to Jesse Jackson", Cartman makes Dr. Nelson, a midget, say "Carol Anne - don't go into the light" during the fight with him. In the episode "Spookyfish", a pet store built over unmoved bodies in a former cemetery causes a vortex behind a closed door similar to the rift in Carol Anne's bedroom closet. In the episode "The Biggest Douche in the Universe", Chef's mother exorcises Kenny's soul out of Cartman then states "This child is clean", a parody of the psychic's "This house is clean" line from the film. In the episode "Something Wall-Mart This Way Comes", references are made to both the first film, as well as Poltergeist III. In Poltergeist III, Tangina sends the message to Carol Anne to "break the mirror" to get away from Kane. This is how the boys are told to bring down the Wall-Mart store. Once Stan & Kyle break the mirror, the store implodes and disappears into another dimension in the same manner the Freeling house does at the end of "Poltergeist".

In "The X-Files" episode "Shadows", Mulder and Scully were discussing what had taken over their car and caused them to crash. Mulder believes that a young woman they had just visited had caused the crash via psychokinetic powers. When Scully questions Mulder's beliefs, Mulder also says it could be a poltergeist. Scully then mocks him by saying, "They're here!" Mulder replies, "Yes, they just might be."

In the "Wonderfalls" episode "Lying Pig", Jaye's brother declares "This trailer is clean, kind of" after helping her remove all of the talking objects "à la" Zelda Rubinstein. In the "Chilly Beach" episode "Polargeist", a direct spoof of the first film, Dale discovers ghosts in his house and is abducted into the spirit world through his beer fridge.

In the music video for the Spice Girls song "Too Much" Emma Bunton re-creates a scene from the movie.

In "", Jim Carrey says he's "exorcised the demons" and later adds "this house is clean." The first part is from "The Exorcist" and the later is a direct-quote from "Poltergeist".

In the April 19, 2007 episode of "Supernatural", Dean explains to his brother the curse of the set of "Poltergeist". Also in a first season episode called "Home", Dean makes a reference to Missouri Mosley cleaning out their old house of a poltergeist by commenting on her doing her whole Zelda Rubinstein thing. Rubinstein played Psychic Tangina Barrons in all three "Poltergeist" films.


Juliet Snowden and Stiles White ("Boogeyman") were hired to write the script in August 2008. [cite news|author=Jay A. Fernandez|title='Poltergeist' remake grabs two scribes|work=The Hollywood Reporter|date=2008-08-20|url=http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/hr/content_display/film/news/e3i11533547aab0683e0c4b07aef8759767|accessdate=2008-08-20] Vadim Perelman will direct. [cite news|author=Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer|title=Official: Poltergeist Remake Spooks a Director|work=Shock Till You Drop|date=2008-09-03|url=http://www.shocktillyoudrop.com/news/topnews.php?id=7552|accessdate=2008-09-03]

See also

* "Night Skies"
* ""
* Poltergeist
* Stigmatized property

External links

* [http://www.monochrom.at/noise-and-talk/ Noise and Talk] - Philosophical essay about Poltergeist and television by Johannes Grenzfurthner of monochrom.


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