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Revisiting The Strange, Spooky, Cursed History Of ‘Poltergeist’

Revisiting The Strange, Spooky, Cursed History Of 'Poltergeist' 1

Does the Star Spangled Banner still fill you with dread? Does static on the television remind you that we’re probably surrounded by evil, evil ghosts all the time? Then you saw Poltergeist at least once in your life. And now they’re heeeeeere: some “fun facts” about the horror movie so scary it was even cursed itself. We’ve put them in order of light to dark, so about half way down you may want to start blurring your eyes if you scare easily.


  • Drew Barrymore auditioned for the role of Carol Anne, but Spielberg felt she was wrong for the role. She was then cast in E.T., which was released the same year (1982).
  • There was some talk about who really made the movie, and the NY Times addressed this at the end of their review: “There’s some controversy about the individual contributions to the film made by Mr. Spielberg and Mr. Hooper, best known as director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I’ve no way of telling who did what, though Poltergeist seems much closer in spirit and sensibility to Mr. Spielberg’s best films than to Mr. Hooper’s.”
  • Whoever was in charge of the parents getting stoned part, bravo…

  • The house is in Simi Valley, and is still owned by the same people who lived there during filming. (Here’s a handy map.) If it looks similar to the house in E.T., that’s because the movies were filmed in the same area… Steven Spielberg worked on both at the same time.
  • That scene where the ghosts are stacking chairs on the kitchen table was filmed in one take! This was probably achieved through the use of real ghosts…
  • Zelda Rubinstein—arguably the most terrifying human character in the movie—was psychic IRL.
  • In 1982, visual effects coordinator Mitch Suskin said that, “At times we got overwhelmed by fun effects and audacious ideas, possibly more than the film required. The one scene that sticks in my mind is where Diane is pulled up the wall, across the ceiling, and down the other side. During that, there was going to be a kind of ‘stain’ in her path-something foreshadowing the closet turning into a mouth. It was a pulsating, organic, ugly thing.” That, and the plan to “violate Diane Freeling by unseen forces,” were discarded in the end. But images remain…


  • It was previewed as: “a tale of terror that could happen to you. In the mystic, metaphysical realm of the poltergeist, nothing remains the same. The real becomes the surreal; the familiar is offset by the unfamiliar. It is a nightmare founded in fact.” Here’s the original trailer:

  • THIS MOVIE WAS RATED PG. There was no PG-13 then, and they successfully fought the original R rating. An entire generation now fears clowns.


  • The clown, and that tree outside the window, came from the mind of Spielberg… they were his two fears growing up.
  • That swimming pool scene? Those were real human skeletons. Some believed the use of real remains cursed the film… but it certainly helped the budget! Craig Reardon, a special effects artist who worked on the flick, said they were cheaper than plastic ones.

  • Heather O’Rourke, who played Carol Anne, died in 1988 at age 12. Her cause of death was cardiac arrest and septic shock after misdiagnosed intestinal stenosis.
  • Dominique Dunne, who played Carol Anne’s teenager sister Dana, was strangled to death by her boyfriend John Thomas Sweeney (who she just broke up with) in 1982, the year of the film’s release. He was released from prison after serving only 2.5 years. When he was released, he changed his name to John Maura and resumed his life as a chef.
  • Two Poltergeist II actors died shortly after that movie was filmed, as well. Will Sampson and Julian Beck.

A Poltergeist remake is on the way—Sam Rockwell confirmed with Gothamist, adding, “We’re changing it a little—like, the characters, so it’s going to be different.” And hopefully no curses this time.



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