Poltergeist is an American horror film, directed by Tobe Hooper, produced by Steven Spielberg, and released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer on June 4, 1982. It is the first and most successful of the Poltergeist film trilogy, and was nominated for three Academy Awards.
The franchise is often said to be cursed, because several people associated with it, including stars Dominique Dunne and Heather O’Rourke, died prematurely. “The Poltergeist Curse” has been the focus of an E! True Hollywood Story.
The film was ranked as #80 on Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments and the Chicago Film Critics Association named it the 20th scariest film ever made.The film also appeared on American Film Institute’s 100 Years… 100 Thrills, a list of America’s most heart-pounding movies.
The hands which pull the flesh off the investigator’s face in the bathroom mirror are Steven Spielberg’s.
The weird way the family members descend the stairs at the beginning of the film was created by having the actors walk backward up the stairs and playing the film in reverse. The same effect was used later in the movie during the scene showing video playback of the ghosts.
Steven Spielberg worked on Poltergeist (1982) and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) literally back to back. Principal photography on Poltergeist ended in August of 1981, then Spielberg took a few weeks off and began work on E.T. Spielberg also supervised the visual effects for both films simultaneously (which were produced at Industrial Light & Magic under the supervision of Richard Edlund and Dennis Muren). Once post production work on Poltergeist began in early 1982, Spielberg was in total control. He was responsible for the editing of the film (Spielberg’s usual editor Michael Khan edited this film while Carol Littleton edited E.T), the final sound mixes and loops, the supervision of the visual effects, and the selection of Jerry Goldsmith as the composer of the score. Poltergeist and E.T opened to theaters nationwide only a week between each other during the summer of 1982, Poltergeist on June 4th and E.T. one week later on June 11th. Spielberg later said “If E.T. was a whisper, Poltergeist was a scream”.
The sign at the Holiday Inn reads, Welcome Dr. Fantasy and Friends. Dr. Fantasy is a nickname for producer Frank Marshall.
Heather O’Rourke, who played the little girl Carol-Anne, and Dominique Dunne, who played the teenage daughter, are buried in the same cemetery: Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles. Dunne was strangled into brain-death by her boyfriend in 1982, the year of the film’s release. Six years later, O’Rourke died of intestinal stenosis.
The film was originally given a R rating, but the filmmakers protested successfully and got a PG rating (the PG-13 rating did not exist at the time).
When writers Michael Grais and Mark Victor first met with Steven Spielberg, they were being hired to write the film that eventually became Always (1989). When Spielberg happened to mention he also had an idea for a ghost story, Grais and Victor said they’d rather write the ghost story than Always and that’s how they got this job.
The crawling steak was done by using a real steak which was laid over a slot cut between the tiles in the counter top. Two wires were fastened to the bottom of the steak and a special effects operator, hidden under the counter, simply moved the wires to make the steak crawl like a caterpillar. A similar operation was done when Diane presents to Steven the chairs that move across the room by themselves. A wire was fastened to one of the chair’s legs under the set. An operator first wobbled the chair with the wire, then dragged the chair across to its destination.
Shirley MacLaine was offered a starring role in the film, but backed out in order to make Terms of Endearment (1983).
The shot of the chairs that position themselves in the amazing balancing act on the table was all done in one take. As the camera panned along with JoBeth Williams, who was getting some cleaning materials, several crew members quickly set an already organized pyramid of chairs on the table, then took the single chairs away before the camera scrolled back. See Goofs entry.
The Rams (then Los Angeles Rams) vs. Saints football game seen near the beginning of the film, is taken from a Monday Night Football game in 1980.
The scene in which Diane opens the bedroom door and is met with a fearsome scream was the first to be filmed.
The scene in which Marty hallucinates in the bathroom was the last to be filmed.
Both of the terrors that plague Robbie came from Steven Spielberg’s own fears as a child, a fear of clowns and a tree outside his window.
Steven Spielberg and Tobe Hooper wanted virtually unknown actors to play the Freelings because they wanted to add a realism to the family that would off-balance the ghost story. They felt that if the audience watched well-known stars, then it would take away from the realistic feel of the characters.
The swirling, flickering lights coming from the closet during the rescue scene were achieved using a very simple effect by having an aquarium full of water in front of a spotlight. Then a fan blew on the surface of the water to make it swirl.
The house used to film this movie is located in Simi Valley, California where it still stands today. The family who owned it when this movie was filmed still live there today.
In addition to the two times that the Beast appeared in the movie (the face that appeared in the closet and the creature that guarded the kid’s door), the script had it appearing during the scene where the family and investigators are looking at the tape of the manifestation. The giant ghost that they saw visually slowly resolved itself into the image of a face of a cruel old man: the man we know in the later films as ‘Reverend Henry Kane.’
A common translation of the German word “Poltergeist” is “rumbling spirit”.
During all the horrors that proceeded while filming Poltergeist (1982), only one scene really scared Heather O’Rourke: that in which she had to hold onto the headboard, while a wind machine blew toys into the closet behind her. She fell apart; Steven Spielberg stopped everything, took her in his arms, and said that she would not have to do that scene again.
The movie’s line “They’re here!” was voted as the #69 movie quote by the American Film Institute (out of 100).
Drew Barrymore was considered for the role of Carol Anne, but Steven Spielberg wanted someone more angelic. It was Barrymore’s audition for this role, however, that landed her a part in E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982).
In reality, Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams are only 14 and 11 years older than Dominique Dunne, who plays their teen-aged daughter.
Stephen King was briefly approached to write the screenplay. It would have been the first written by King directly for the screen, but the parties could not agree on the terms.
Footage from this movie was used in a 2008 DirecTV commercial.
When Steve Freeling first meets with the university paranormal specialists, he states that his wife, Diane Freeling, was “32” at the time, and their eldest daughter, Dana, was “16”. Thus, Diane was only sixteen years-old when she gave birth to Dana.
Though on-screen credit goes to Tobe Hooper, a wealth of evidence suggests that most of the directorial decisions were made by Steven Spielberg. In fact, Spielberg had wanted to direct the film himself, but a clause in his contract stated that while still working on E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Spielberg could not direct another film. Members of the cast and crew, including Executive Producer Frank Marshall and actress Zelda Rubinstein, have stated that Spielberg cast the film, directed the actors, and designed every single storyboard for the movie himself. Based on this evidence, the DGA opened a probe into the matter, but found no reason that co-director credit should go to Spielberg.
[WILHELM SCREAM] When the TV plays Go for Broke! (1951), one of the soldiers screams.
On top of the master bedroom television set sits an Atari Video Computer System console with its two joysticks; later known as the Atari 2600.