Diane: Sweetheart, last night, when you said "They're here'...
Carol Anne: Can I take my goldfish to school?
Diane: Sweetheart, do you remember last night when you woke up, and you said "They're here'?
Carol Anne: Uh huh.
Diane: Well, who did you mean?
Carol Anne: The TV People.
A young family living in a well-populated neighborhood are visited by ghosts in their home. The ghosts appear friendly at first, but their mindsets quickly change when their youngest daughter disappears.
It was on June 4, 1982 that "Poltergeist" made its premiere, appearing on only 890 screens across the US. It's competition that same weekend were "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan", a re-issue of "Bambi", and the Sidney Pointier film "Hanky Panky" starring the well-known couple Gene Wilder and Gilda Radner. "Poltergeist" cost an estimated $10 million to make and came a bit short of that its opening weekend having earned $6.8 million. Audiences flocked to see this horror film of a different kind as it eventually grossed over $76.6 million at the Box Office, becoming the eighth biggest hit of 1982 and the scariest movie of the year.
Directed by Tobe Hooper who originally gave us such frightening movies as "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre", "Salem's Lot" (made for television), and "The Funhouse", "Poltergeist" was co-written and co-produced by Steven Spielberg. At the Academy Awards it was nominated for Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Effects Editing, and Best Score. It lost the latter two to Spielberg's "E.T. the Extra Terrestrial. At the BAFTAs the film won for Best Visual Effects, and at the Academy of Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Films, "Poltergeist" was nominated for six awards: Best Music, Best Director, Best Actress (JoBeth Williams), Best Make-Up, Best Supporting Actress (Zelda Rubenstein), and Best Horror Film of the Year (it won the latter three).
"Poltergeist" starred JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson, Heather O'Rourke, Zelda Rubinstein, Oliver Robins, Beatrice Straight, and Dominique Dunne. The film was the feature film debut for the three kids, Heather, Oliver and Dominique. Although Heather went on to do other television productions, the "Poltergeist" films were the only films she starred in. During the filming of "Poltergeist III" she was suffering flu-like symptoms, the result of congenital intestinal stenosis (blockage) which ultimately claimed her life. However, there was another bit of sadness for Dominique. In 1982 she was in an abusive relationship (so abusive that when she was to play a physically abused mother in TVs "Hill Street Blues", she didn't need any make-up). Her boyfriend was so irate one day that he choked her severely, cutting off oxygen to the brain and leaving her brain dead. Five days later she was taken off life support and died.
Filmed entirely on location in California at such places as Simi Valley, Agoura Hills, Irvine, and the Holiday Inn in Thousand Oaks, here's some more information on "Poltergeist" you might like to know...
1. When questioned about who had the greater control over "Poltergeist", 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" is still a muddy issue even today. Lastly, "Poltergeist" was Steven Spielberg's first film as a producer.
2. 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", 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.
3. Steven Spielberg offered Tobe Hooper the script for "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial", but when Hooper declined Spielberg gave him the script for "Poltergeist" instead and directed "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" himself. (E.T. the Extra Terrestrial was the number one hit at the Box Office in 1982.)
4. "Poltergeist" was filmed on the same street as "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" because Steven Spielberg made the two films concurrently.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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".
8. Zelda Rubinstein auditioned for the part of medium Tangina four times. It only took six days to film her part in the film.
9. Shirley MacLaine was offered a starring role in the film, but backed out in order to make "Terms of Endearment". That was a good decision because not only did "Terms of Endearment" win an Academy Award for Best Film of the Year, but MacLaine won the Oscar for Best Actress for her role in the film.
10. In reality, Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams are only 14 and 11 years older than Dominique Dunne, who plays their teen-aged daughter. 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". This would have meant that Diane was only sixteen years-old when she gave birth to Dana.
11. 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.
12. Heather O'Rourke kept the pet goldfish Carol Anne has in the film.
13. In one scene, Steve and Diane Freeling are in their bedroom and the movie "A Guy Named Joe" 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 and called the film "Always" starring Richard Dreyfuss.
14. 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.
15. 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.
16. 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.
17. One of the earliest films to deal with EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon).
18. 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.
19. The hands which pull the flesh off the investigator's face in the bathroom mirror are Steven Spielberg's.
20. 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.
21. 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.
22. The sign at the Holiday Inn reads, Welcome Dr. Fantasy and Friends. Dr. Fantasy is a nickname for producer Frank Marshall.
23. 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.
24. 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.
26. 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.
27. Many people believe there's a curse on the Poltergeist franchise. That stands to reason as there was the use of real skeletons on-set (the production crew used real human skeletons because it was cheaper to purchase them instead of plastic ones), and another being that several actors in the franchise have died.
28. 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 (in the way that dogs do). Hours later, her mother called her and told Rubinstein that her dog had passed away that very day.
29. Time magazine and Newsweek tagged the Summer of 1982 as "The Spielberg Summer" because "Poltergeist" and "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" were released a week apart from one another in June.
30. The highest grossing film of Tobe Hooper's career.
And now you know.
Despite being a horror/thriller film, there are no murders or fatalities depicted in the film. The only fatality shown is that of the dead bird found at the bottom of the cage at the beginning.
One last little tidbit... Steven Spielberg's premise for "Poltergeist" was based on the history of Cheeseman Park in Denver, Colorado. The park was originally a cemetery, which was converted into a park during city beautification efforts in the early 20th century. The man hired to move the bodies scammed the city of Denver into overpaying him, and the city quickly ran out of funds to pay for moving the dead. With no money left in the coffers, the city decided to simply leave the remaining "residents" buried in unmarked graves underneath the sod. The park was completed as scheduled, but supernatural occurrences have been reported ever since. That being said, one could say that "Poltergeist" was loosely based on a true story!
For your amusement, feel free to watch the original theatrical trailer to the film...