"They're here." And they seem almost whimsical at first, playing stack-the-chair games in the kitchen of the Freelings' suburban home. Then things turn darker. A storm erupts, a tree attacks, little Carol Anne Freeling is whisked into a spectral void.
"The storm is getting closer."
Back in 1982 the concept of a PG-13 rating had not come into effect yet. So when Steven Spielberg and Tobe Hooper brought Poltergeist
to the MPAA, they were slapped with a R rating. If you've seen Poltergeist
, this would be a fair rating. There are many scenes in which I would consider an R rating appropriate. For example, a man watches in a mirror while his face decomposes and falls into the sink (see video clip below), parents smoking weed in front of their children, decomposing bodies jumping out of the ground and a mother getting dry humped by an unseen apparition. Sounds like a R film, right? Wrong. When Spielberg received news of the R rating he wasn't pleased. After arguing with the MPAA for some time they re rated Poltergeist
as a PG. Bizarre, huh? PG ratings are used for kids films and I would guess there were a good amount of parents who were pissed after their kids witnessed a giant tree reach in through a window and snatch up a little boy. Nightmares abound!
Regardless of the rating, Poltergeist is a fantastic example of two brilliant filmmakers (Spielberg and Hooper) combining talents to create a lasting and memorable horror show. Hooper's extensive knowledge on how to scare an audience and Spielberg's enormous talent for writing were a perfect blend and a guarantee of a classic. And classic it is.
Poltergeist is a tale of an ordinary family unknowingly living over a burial ground which was intentionally built upon instead of moving the bodies. This, of course, didn't please the spirits which still dwell under the house so they clearly make their point by slowing torturing the family into madness. At first the strange happenings are harmless... furniture begins moving by itself, lights flicker on and off... but soon after, they become extremely hostile. So hostile, in fact, they pull five-year-old Carol Anne Freeling into another dimension inside the house. Stall able to her their daughters voice calling out to them, they hire a team of paranormal investigators to bring their daughter back safely.
Interestingly enough, Spielberg was working on E.T. The Extra Terrestrial
at the same time as Poltergeist
. Being so busy, he relied heavily on director Tobe Hooper to keep things moving while he was working on E.T.
In fact, if it hadn't been for Spielberg's casting calls for E.T.
we wouldn't have had the young Heather O'Rourke playing the role of Carol Anne Freeling. She had originally read lines for the part of Gertie in E.T.
which was ultimately given to Drew Barrymore. Spielberg was so impressed with O'Rourke's audition, he offered her the role in Poltergeist
which made her famous.
Unfortunately, Heather O'Rourke wouldn't enjoy her fame for long. She died at the age of 13 from cardiopulmonary arrest and intestinal stenosis, ending her life before she could see the full potential of her acting career. I think she would've been around the same level as Drew Barrymore without the booze and drugs. O'Rourke wasn't the only cast member to tragically lose their life after the filming. Dominique Dunne, who played O'Rourke's older sister, Dana Freeling, was murdered by her boyfriend, John Thomas Sweeney, before Poltergeist
was ever released. Here's some info:
"At a party she met John Thomas Sweeney, the chef at popular LA nightspot Ma Maison. The two began a relationship, which turned stormy. Sweeney was uncontrollable and abusive (so abusive that Dominique did not need makeup to play the role of an abuse victim on "Hill Street Blues
"). Dominique ended the relationship on October 30, 1982. That same night, a distraught Sweeney raced to her house, where she and actor David Packer were rehearsing a scene from "V: The Final Battle
", dragged her outside, and strangled her, leaving her brain dead. Five days later, she was removed from life support and died, cutting short a brilliant career and leaving behind scores of shocked and angry loved ones."
That's just terrible. And you know what really chaps my ass? John Thomas Sweeney, Dunne's killer, was 26 years old at the time. After being sentenced to 6 years in prison for assault and unintentional manslaughter, he was freed after only two and a half years! What the fuck!
Upon his release, he returned to his vocation as a chef, being hired by a restaurant in Santa Monica, California. However, Dunne's family publicly protested his employment there, and he was fired. Dunne's father, journalist and author Dominick Dunne, has said that in his frustration over Sweeney's relatively short prison term, Dunne hired private investigator Anthony Pellicano to follow and report upon Sweeney. According to Dunne, the last information he had was that Sweeney had changed his name to John Maura
— taking his mother's first name for his new last name — moved to the Pacific Northwest and found employment as a chef in a Seattle restaurant. Dunne has said that he eventually decided he didn't want to spend his life consumed by such a pursuit, and he no longer has any information regarding the current activities or whereabouts of Maura.
I tried to find a picture of this guy to post so if he cooks your eggs you can throw them back in his face and tell him to die in a fire, but I had no luck. If you can locate a picture of him please send it over
Ok, back to the film. The casting is superb, the storyline is fun and the overall concept (although not original by any means) is executed perfectly. I highly recommend Poltergeist
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- 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.
- The house that gets sucked into a black hole at the end was actually a model about four feet across. The model took several weeks to complete. The shot was arranged with the camera placed directly above model, which was mounted over an industrial strength vacuum generator (the front door was facing directly up, straight at the camera). The model also had about 100 wires attached to various points of the structure. These wires went down through the back of the house, and down through the vacuum collection sack. The camera was turned on, and took 15 seconds to wind up to the required 300 frames per second. The vacuum was turned on, the wires were yanked, and several SFX guys blasted the house with pump-action shotguns. The entire scene was over in about two seconds, and they had to wait until the film was developed before they knew if they would have to do it again. Luckily, they got it right on the first take. The finished scene was sent to Steven Spielberg, who was on location shooting E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial . He gave it to a projectionist, who assumed it was dailies from ET and was startled by the images. Spielberg had the remains of the model encased in perspex, and it is now sitting on his piano. The model itself was worth well over $25,000.
- Steven Spielberg worked on this movie and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial 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.
- Mrs. Freeling's line "Mmmm... smell that mimosa." is taken directly from The Uninvited.
- Movie on the TV in an early bedroom scene is A Guy Named Joe, a film about a pilot who returns to the world as a ghost. It was later remade by Steven Spielberg into Always.
- 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).
- During the scene where Robbie (Oliver Robins) is being strangled, the clown's arms became extremely tight and Robbins started to choke. When he screamed out, "I can't breathe!" Steven Spielberg and Tobe Hooper thought that the boy was ad-libbing and just instructed him to look at the camera. When Spielberg saw Robbins's face turning purple, he ran over and removed the clown's arms from Robbins's neck.
- 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.
- The sound effect for the beast that attacks the house at the end of the movie is the source for the current MGM lion roar.
- When writers Michael Grais and Mark Victor first met with Steven Spielberg, they were being hired to write the film that eventually became Always. 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 skeletons that emerge from the swimming pool while Diane searches for help are actual skeletons. JoBeth Williams didn't know this until after the scene was shot.
- 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.
- Steven Spielberg had a major hand in the production of this film at the same time that he was directing E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. He later said "If E.T. was a whisper, Poltergeist was a scream".
- Shirley MacLaine was offered a starring role in the film, but backed out in order to make Terms of Endearment.
- 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.
- JoBeth Williams was hesitant about shooting the swimming pool scene because of the large amount of electrical equipment positioned over and around the pool. In order to comfort her, Steven Spielberg crawled in the pool with her to shoot the screen. Spielberg told her, "Now if a light falls in, we will both fry." The strategy worked and Williams got in the pool.
- 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.
- In reality, Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams are only 14 and 11 years older than Dominique Dunne, who plays their teen-aged daughter.
- 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.
- As an homage to his friend George Lucas, Spielberg populated the children's bedroom with Star Wars toys. He did the same in E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.
- 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".
- When Carol Ann's mother tells her to stop watching the static because it will hurt your eyes, she turns on a movie and it is Go for Broke!.
- During all the horrors that proceeded while filming Poltergeist, 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).
- 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.