A family’s home is haunted by a host of ghosts.
Director: Tobe Hooper
Writers: Steven Spielberg (screenplay), Michael Grais (screenplay)
Stars: Jo Beth Williams, Heather O’Rourke, Craig T. Nelson.
A 25th Anniversary DVD, but no Director’s Commentary. Surprise! It’s still a matter of heated dispute exactly how much of the film was directed by Tobe Hooper and how much by ostensible producer Steven Spielberg (who was shooting E.T. at the same time).
It certainly has the deel of a Spielberg movie as malign forces enter a suburban Californian household through the television set. Although the opening shots are of streets in Agoura Hills, the ‘Freeling’ house itself is 4267 Roxbury Street in the small estate of Forest Hills in the Simi Valley north of Los Angeles. This is a private home, so please respect the privacy of the occupants.
1983 Poltergeist Filming Locations
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.
The production crew used real human skeletons because it was cheaper to purchase them instead of plastic ones.
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).
The hands which pull the flesh off the investigator’s face in the bathroom mirror are Steven Spielberg’s.
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.
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 clown puppet used in the film is on display in Planet Hollywood in Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas.
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.
Heather O’Rourke was chosen for the film when she was eating lunch with her mother and sister at an MGM commissary. Steven Spielberg came up to them and wanted O’Rourke for the part of Carol Anne. She initially failed the screentest because she kept laughing her way through the audition, even when she was supposed to be afraid. Spielberg thought she was too young to take the part seriously, but he still recognized something special in her, so he asked her to come back for another audition, and this time, bring a scary storybook with her. He also asked her to scream, so she screamed and screamed until she started crying. This audition got her cast as Carol Anne.
Heather O’Rourke kept the pet goldfish Carol Anne has in the film.
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 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 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).
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 where Diane is attacked in her bedroom by an invisible force was actually filmed in a rotating box with a stationary camera. This gave the appearance she was being dragged up the wall and across the ceiling.
Robbie has a poster in his room for Superbowl XXII, which would not take place for another six years. Heather O’Rourke died in San Diego the day after Superbowl Sunday of 1988 which was played in San Diego as well.
The word "poltergeist" is German for noisy ghost.
(at around 34 mins) There is a ‘jump cut’ from the scene where Diane is explaining to Steven about the feeling you get when the spirit pulls you across the floor. The scene jumps mid sentence to the scene where they are both on their neighbours doorstep, again in mid sentence. The reason for the cut was because in the original scene Steven says how he hates Pizza Hut. The scene was edited (rather crudely) after Pizza Hut took offence.
The late 00’s saw a homage to Poltergeist (1982) in a DirecTV commercial. Craig T. Nelson reprised the role of Steve Freeling, complaining to Carol Anne and the audience that the static on the TV set is just bad cable reception and quips "Not getting rid of cable. THAT’S gonna come back to haunt me!" Heather O’Rourke’s family were pleased with the ad, for keeping her memory alive.
One of the rare films where Steven Spielberg has a writing credit.
The cemetery Steve and Teague are talking in front of has a tree identical to the one that tried to eat Robbie; a subtle clue that the Freeling house was built over a cemetery.
JoBeth Williams had a supernatural experience during the making of the film. Whenever she came home from filming, the pictures on the walls of her house were crooked. Everytime she fixed them they would hang crooked again. Zelda Rubinstein also had an experience when a vision of her dog came to her and said goodbye to her. Hours later, her mother called her and told Rubinstein that her dog had passed away that very day.
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 movie’s line "They’re here!" was voted as the #69 movie quote by the American Film Institute (out of 100).
Spielberg hired Tobe Hooper after being impressed with his work on The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974).
Many people believe there’s a curse on the Poltergeist franchise, that may have been caused by the use of real skeletons on-set, e.g. several actors in the franchise have died, and this became the focus of The E True Hollywood Story.
James Karen at the time was also the commercial spokesman for PathMark supermarkets. He received hate mail from people saying they would never shop there again because of his character’s treatment of the Freelings.
Poltergeist’s special effects were nominated for an Academy Award, but they lost to Spielberg’s other big film of the year, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982). The score was also nominated for an Oscar, but again the film lost to E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982).
Steven Spielberg’s first film as a producer.
The theme music is known as "Carol Anne’s theme". It was originally titled "Bless this House" and was written like a lullaby as a contrast to the horror in the film. There are lyrics which can be found on the Internet.
The only film Dominique Dunne appeared in that was a theatrical film.
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.
Time magazine and Newsweek tagged the Summer of 1982 as "The Spielberg Summer" because Poltergeist (1982) and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) were released a week apart from one another in June.
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".
Two of the film’s cast members were subsequently murdered: (1) Dominique Dunne (Dana Freeling) was strangled by her former boyfriend in the driveway of her West Hollywood home on October 30, 1982 and, having been declared brain dead, died five days later at the age of 22 and (2) Lou Perryman (Pugsley) was killed with an axe by a 26-year-old man named Seth Christopher Tatum in Austin, Texas on April 1, 2009. He was 67 years old at the time of his murder.
One of the earliest films to deal with EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon).
When Steve Freeling first meets with the university paranormal specialists, he states that his wife, Diane Freeling, was "31" at the time, and their eldest daughter, Dana, was "16". Thus, Diane was only fifteen years-old when she gave birth to Dana. Steve immediately changed his answer to 32 when giving Diane’s age.
The scene in which Diane opens the bedroom door and is met with a fearsome scream was the first to be filmed.
Poltergeist (1982) came about from Steven Spielberg’s failed attempt to do a sequel to Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).
In one scene, Steve and Diane Freeling are in their bedroom and the movie A Guy Named Joe (1943) is playing on their television. Not only is this a movie about a dead person who is still "hanging around" as the spirits in this film are, but Steven Spielberg remade A Guy Named Joe seven years later as Always (1989).
Poltergeist (1982) was selected by The New York Times as one of The Best 1000 Movies Ever Made.
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.
Steven Spielberg offered Tobe Hooper the script for E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), but when Hooper declined Spielberg gave him the script for Poltergeist (1982) instead and directed E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) himself.
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.
When questioned about who had the greater control over Poltergeist (1982), Steven Spielberg or Tobe Hooper, Spielberg replied "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 became the process of our collaboration." Co-producer Frank Marshall spoke out to the press and claimed "the creative force of the movie was Steven. Tobe was the director and was on set every day. But Steven did the design for every storyboard and was only absent for three days during the shoot, because he was in Hawaii with (George) Lucas." Hooper later claimed that he did half of the storyboards. Spielberg then sent a letter to Hooper to clarify matters: "Regrettably, some of the press has misunderstood the rather unique, creative relationship 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." Zelda Rubinstein disagreed. While Hooper set up the shots, it was Spielberg who made the adjustments, and most of the time, Hooper was "only partially there" on set. The issue then of who had creative control over Poltergeist (1982) is still a muddy issue even today.
One of the reasons Steven Spielberg spent more time on-set than he should have done as a producer was due to delays on E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982).
Zelda Rubinstein supposedly had genuine psychic ability, claiming to have visions of things before they happened.
Zelda Rubinstein auditioned for the part of medium Tangina four times.
The highest grossing horror film of 1982, and the eighth highest grossing film of the year. The film was reissued in October, 1982 to take advantage of the Halloween weekend. It was also shown in theaters for one night only on October 4, 2007 to promote the new restored and remastered 25th anniversary DVD, released five days later. The event also included a documentary about poltergeist phenomena, which is available on the DVD.
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.’
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.
When Jo Beth attempts to flush the dead pet bird it casts a shadow in the shape of a Shark (JAWS)
The highest grossing film of Tobe Hooper’s career.
When Carol-Ann sits in front of the TV in her parents bedroom, the time on the TV-set shows 2.37. This could very well be an homage to the hotel-room nr.237 in The Shining (1980).
Poltergeist (1982) and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) were filmed within 20 minutes of each location.
Zelda Rubinstein filmed her part in six days.
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 scene in which Marty hallucinates in the bathroom was the last to be filmed.
Steven Spielberg first approached Universal about distributing the film before he sold the idea to MGM.
One of the few Steven Spielberg films not to feature music by John Williams.
The sign at the Holiday Inn reads, Welcome Dr. Fantasy and Friends. Dr. Fantasy is a nickname for producer Frank Marshall.
When originally released in the UK the film was given an ‘X’ certificate, prohibiting anyone under 18 from seeing the film. This was due to a delay in the BBFC’s introduction of the new ’15’ certificate (which replaced the old ‘AA’ rating), and UIP’s wish to release the film as soon as possible. When the ’15’ certificate was introduced in August 1983 the film was re-rated.
Dominique Dunne’s first and only theatrical film, as she was murdered in November 1982.
A common translation of the German word "Poltergeist" is "rumbling spirit".
During Steve Freeling’s (Craig T. Nelson) interview with Dr. Lesh (Beatrice Straight) and her associates at the college, the backward writing on the office door reads "Department of Popular Beliefs, Superstitions, and Parapsychology".
The first and only film produced by Steven Spielberg. Spielberg was an executive producer on The Money Pit(1986).
The most commercially successful film of the Poltergeist trilogy.
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.
When the TV plays Go for Broke! (1951), one of the soldiers screams.
Shirley MacLaine was offered a starring role in the film, but backed out in order to make Terms of Endearment (1983).
The spirits trying to snatch back Carol Anne and the destruction of the Freeling house takes up the last 14 minutes of the film.
According to William Finley he was originally cast as Marty but replaced before filming.
The original cast of Poltergeist (1982) included veteran actor Edward Ashley, who portrayed Dr Lesh’s older and wiser colleague, who convinced her to bring in Tangina to handle the case. The scene was cut from the film.
In the scene with Robbie looking at the clown doll, You can see a Kenner Darth Vader Star Wars action figure case on the shelf behind him.
When Diane is in the bed with Steve talking about Carol Anne’s behavior talking to the TV, Steve takes a book in his hands. This book is "Reagan: The Man, the President", published in 1981 and written by Hedrick Smith, Adam Clymer, Leonard Silk, Robert Lindsey and Richard Burt, all they correspondents of The New York Times at this time.
Footage from this movie was used in a 2008 DirecTV commercial.
At a point of the movie, Diane lies in the bed trying to sleep, when a supernatural force tries to remove her red shirt, shaking in the bed like she was being sexually attacked. Strangely, a few months later was released The Entity (1982), a horror film about a woman sexually attacked by a supernatural force.
Tagged: , 1982 Poltergeist Filming Locations , Director: Tobe Hooper Writers: Steven Spielberg (screenplay), Michael Grais (screenplay) Stars: Jo Beth Williams, Heather O’Rourke, Craig T. Nelson