Strange and creepy happenings beset an average California family, the Freelings Steve (Craig T. Nelson), Diane (JoBeth Williams), teenaged Dana (Dominique Dunne), eight-year-old Robbie (Oliver Robins), and five-year-old Carol Ann (Heather ORourke) when ghosts commune with them through the television set. Initially friendly and playful, the spirits turn unexpectedly menacing, and, when Carol Ann goes missing, Steve and Diane turn to a parapsychologist and eventually an exorcist for help.
Poltergeist is a 1982 American supernatural horror thriller film directed by Tobe Hooper. Steven Spielberg wrote and produced, but had a clause in his contract to prevent him directing another movie while he made E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Therefore, Hooper was selected to direct based on his work on The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It is the first and most successful entry in the Poltergeist film series. Set in a California suburb, the plot focuses on a family whose home is invaded by malevolent ghosts that abduct the familys younger daughter.
The film was ranked as #80 on Bravos 100 Scariest Movie Moments and the Chicago Film Critics Association named it the 20th scariest film ever made. The film also appeared at #84 on American Film Institutes 100 Years...100 Thrills, a list of Americas most heart-pounding movies. Poltergeist was nominated for three Academy Awards.
The Poltergeist franchise is believed by some to be cursed due to the premature deaths of several people associated with the film, a notion that was the focus of an E! True Hollywood Story.
A remake of the film started production in late 2013, and was released in theaters on May 22, 2015.
Craig T. Nelson stars as Steve Freeling, the main protagonist, who lives with his wife, Diane, and their three children, Dana, Robbie, and Carol Anne, in Southern California where he sells houses for the company that built the neighborhood. It starts with just a few odd occurrences, such as broken dishes and furniture moving around by itself. However, a tree comes alive and takes Robbie through his bedroom window, and Carol Anne is abducted by ghosts. Realizing that something evil haunts his home, Steve calls in a team of parapsychologists led by Dr. Lesh to investigate, hoping to get Carol Anne back, so he can remove his family from the house before it's too late.
Steven and Diane Freeling (Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams) live a quiet life in a Orange County California planned community called Cuesta Verde, where Steven is a successful real estate developer and Diane is a housewife who cares for their children Dana (Dominique Dunne), Robbie (Oliver Robins), and Carol Anne (Heather ORourke). Carol Anne awakens one night and begins conversing with the familys television set, which is transmitting static following a sign-off. The following night, while the Freelings sleep, Carol Anne fixates on the television set as it transmits static again. Suddenly, an apparition blasts from the television screen and vanishes into the wall, triggering a violent earthquake in the process. As the shaking subsides, Carol Anne announces "Theyre here."
Ghostly events occur the following day: a drinking glass spontaneously breaks by its own, silverware bends by itself and furniture moves on its own accord. The phenomena seem benign at first, but quickly begin to intensify. That night, a gnarled backyard tree comes alive and grabs Robbie through the bedroom window. While Steven rescues Robbie before the demon tree swallows him, Carol Anne is sucked through a portal in her closet. The Freelings realize she has been taken when they hear her voice emanating from a television set.
A group of parapsychologists from UC Irvine — Dr. Lesh (Beatrice Straight), Ryan (Richard Lawson), and Marty (Martin Casella) — come to the Freeling house to investigate and determine that the Freelings are experiencing a poltergeist intrusion. They discover that the disturbances involve more than just one ghost. Steven also finds out in an exchange with his boss, Lewis Teague (James Karen), that Cuesta Verde is built where a cemetery was once located.
After Dana and Robbie are sent away for their safety, Lesh and Ryan call in Tangina Barrons (Zelda Rubinstein), a spiritual medium. Tangina states that the ghosts inhabiting the house are lingering in a different "sphere of consciousness" and are not at rest. Attracted to Carol Annes life force, these spirits are distracted from the real "light" that has come for them. Tangina then adds that there is also a demon known as the "Beast", who has Carol Anne under restraint in an effort to manipulate the other spirits.
The assembled group discovers that the entrance to the other dimension is through the childrens bedroom closet, while the exit is through the living room ceiling. As the group attempts to rescue Carol Anne, Diane passes through the entrance tied by a rope that has been threaded through both portals. Diane manages to retrieve Carol Anne, and they both drop to the floor from the ceiling, unconscious and covered in ectoplasmic residue. As they recover, Tangina proclaims afterward that the house is now "clean".
Shortly thereafter, the Freelings begin the process of moving elsewhere by packing up their belongings. During their last night in the house, Steven attends a meeting with Teague, while Dana goes on a date, leaving Diane, Robbie, and Carol Anne alone in the house. The "Beast" then ambushes Diane and the children, attempting a second kidnapping. Though at first trapped in the house, Diane and the children eventually escape to the outside only to discover coffins and rotting corpses erupting out from the ground in their yard and throughout the neighborhood. As Steven and Dana return home to the mayhem, Steven confronts Teague after realizing that rather than relocating the cemetery for the development of Cuesta Verde, Teague merely had the headstones moved and the bodies left behind, desecrating the burial grounds. The Freelings flee Cuesta Verde while the house itself implodes into another dimension, to the astonishment of onlookers, while Teague laments the consequences of his greed and foolishness. The family checks into a motel for the night, and Steven shoves the rooms television outside onto the balcony.
Craig T. Nelson as Steven Freeling
JoBeth Williams as Diane Freeling
Heather ORourke as Carol Anne Freeling
Dominique Dunne as Dana Freeling
Oliver Robins as Robbie Freeling
Zelda Rubinstein as Tangina Barrons
Beatrice Straight as Dr. Lesh
Richard Lawson as Ryan
Martin Casella as Marty
James Karen as Mr. Teague
Robert Broyles as Pool worker #1
Sonny Landham as Pool worker #2
Both actresses who played the Freeling daughters in the film died untimely deaths soon after the film was released. Heather ORourke (Carol Anne) died at the age of 12 due to septic shock while filming Poltergeist III, and Dominique Dunne (Dana) was murdered by her ex-boyfriend at age 22 only five months after Poltergeist was released.
A clause in his contract with Universal Studios prevented Spielberg from directing any other film while preparing E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Time and Newsweek tagged the summer of 1982 "The Spielberg Summer" because E.T. and Poltergeist were released a week apart in June. As such a marketable name, some began to question Spielbergs role during production. Suggestions that Spielberg had greater directorial influence than the credits suggest were aided by his comments:
Tobe isnt... a take-charge sort of guy. If a question was asked and an answer wasnt immediately forthcoming, Id jump in and say what we could do. Tobe would nod agreement, and that became the process of collaboration.
The Directors Guild of America "opened an investigation into the question of whether or not Hoopers official credit was being denigrated by statements Spielberg has made, apparently claiming authorship." Co-producer Frank Marshall told the Los Angeles Times that "the creative force of the movie was Steven. Tobe was the director and was on the set every day. But Steven did the design for every storyboard and he was on the set every day except for three days when he was in Hawaii with Lucas." However, Hooper stated that he "did fully half of the storyboards."
The Hollywood Reporter printed an open letter from Spielberg to Hooper in the week of the films release.
Regrettably, some of the press has misunderstood the rather unique, creative relationship which 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.
Several members of the Poltergeist cast and crew have over the years consistently stated that Spielberg was the de facto director of the picture, while other actors have claimed Hooper directed the film. In a 2007 interview with Aint It Cool News, Rubinstein discussed her recollections of the shooting process. She said that "Steven directed all six days" that she was on set: "Tobe set up the shots and Steven made the adjustments." She also alleged that Hooper "allowed some unacceptable chemical agents into his work," and felt that "Tobe was only partially there."
In 2002, on an episode of VH1s I Love the 80s, JoBeth Williams revealed that the production used real human skeletons when filming the swimming pool scene. Many of the people on the set were alarmed by this and led others to believe the "curse" on the film series was because of this use. Craig Reardon, a special effects artist who worked on the film, commented at the time that it was cheaper to purchase real skeletons than plastic ones, as the plastic ones involved labor in making them. Williams was not afraid of the prop skeletons, but she was nervous working in water around so many electrically powered lights. Producer Spielberg comforted her by being in the water during her scenes, claiming that if a light fell into the pool, they would both be killed. Poltergeist was awarded the BAFTA Award for Best Special Visual Effects and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, losing that award to Spielbergs other summer hit, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial.
The music for Poltergeist was written by veteran composer Jerry Goldsmith. He wrote several themes for the score including the lullaby "Carol Annes Theme" to represent blissful suburban life and the young female protagonist, an elegant semi-religious melody for dealings of the souls caught between worlds, and several dissonant, atonal blasts during moments of terror. The score went on to garner Goldsmith an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Score, though he lost to fellow composer John Williams for E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.
After being unreleased for nearly 15 years, Goldsmiths score received its first soundtrack album release on March 4, 1997 by Rhino Movie Music as Poltergeist: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. A two-disc soundtrack album later followed on December 9, 2010 by Film Score Monthly featuring additional source and alternate material. The 2010 release also included previously unreleased tracks from Goldsmith’s score to The Prize (1963). The following track list is based on the 2010 album release.
Poltergeist initially received an R rating from the MPAA. As the PG-13 rating did not come into effect until 1984, which might have been an appropriate rating for Poltergeist, Steven Spielberg and Tobe Hooper disagreed with the R rating and managed to have the film changed to a PG rating on appeal.
Poltergeist was released theatrically by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer on June 4, 1982. The film was a commercial success and grossed $76,606,280 in the United States, making it the highest-grossing horror film of 1982 and eighth overall for the year.
The film was well received by critics and is considered by many as a classic of the horror genre as well as one of the best films of 1982. Andrew Sarris, in The Village Voice, wrote that when Carol Anne is lost, the parents and the two older children "come together in blood-kin empathy to form a larger-than-life family that will reach down to the gates of hell to save its loved ones." In the L.A. Herald Examiner, Peter Rainer wrote:
Buried within the plot of Poltergeist is a basic, splendid fairy tale scheme: the story of a little girl who puts her parents through the most outrageous tribulation to prove their love for her. Underlying most fairy tales is a common theme: the comforts of family. Virtually all fairy tales begin with a disrupting of the family order, and their conclusion is usually a return to order.
The film has continued to receive recognition over 30 years after its release. It maintains an 88% "Certified Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Poltergeist was selected by The New York Times as one of The Best 1000 Movies Ever Made. The film also received recognition from the American Film Institute. The film ranked number 84 on AFIs 100 Years…100 Thrills list, and the line "Theyre here" was named the 69th greatest movie quote on AFIs 100 Years…100 Movie Quotes.
The film received three Academy Award nominations: Best Original Score, Best Sound Effects Editing, and Best Visual Effects, all of them losing to Spielbergs other film E.T. The Extra Terrestrial.
The film was reissued on October 29, 1982 to take advantage of the Halloween weekend. It was 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. This event also included the documentary "They Are Here: The Real World of Poltergeists", which was created for the new DVD.
The film spawned two sequels, Poltergeist II: The Other Side in 1986, and Poltergeist III in 1988. The first retained the family but introduced a new motive for the Beasts behavior, tying him to an evil cult leader named Henry Kane, who led his religious sect to their doom in the 1820s. As the Beast, Kane went to extraordinary lengths to keep his "flock" under his control, even in death. The original motive of the cemeterys souls disturbed by the housing development was thereby altered; the cemetery was now explained to be built above a cave where Kane and his flock met their ends.
Carol Anne is the sole original family member featured in Poltergeist III, which finds her living in an elaborate Chicago skyscraper owned and inhabited by her aunt and uncle. Kane follows her there and uses the buildings ubiquitous decorative mirrors as a portal to the Earthly plane.
In 2008, MGM announced that Vadim Perelman would helm a remake, to be written by Juliet Snowden and Stiles White. The reboot of the Poltergeist series was put on hold in 2010, because of MGMs financial problems. However, on February 18, 2011, MGM announced they still had plans for the remake. On June 20, 2013, it was announced that MGM and 20th Century Fox would co-finance a "revisionist" version of Poltergeist, directed by Gil Kenan. Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert and Roy Lee produced the film, which stars Sam Rockwell, Jared Harris, and Rosemarie DeWitt. The film was released on May 22, 2015.
Poltergeist was released on LaserDisc in 1983. In 1997, MGM released Poltergeist on DVD in a snap case, and the only special feature was a trailer. In 1998, Poltergeist was re-released on DVD with the same cover and disc as the 1997 release, but in a keep case and with an eight-page booklet. In 1999, it was released on DVD again by Warner Home Video in a snap case with the same disc, but a different cover. Warner Home Video tentatively scheduled releases for the 25th anniversary edition of the film on standard DVD, HD DVD and Blu-ray in Spain and the US on October 9, 2007. The re-release was billed as having digitally remastered picture and sound, and a two-part documentary: "They Are Here: The Real World of Poltergeists", which makes extensive use of clips from the film. The remastered DVD of the film was released as scheduled, but both high-definition releases were eventually canceled. Warner rescheduled the high definition version of the film and eventually released it only on the Blu-ray disc format on October 14, 2008.
A novelization was written by James Kahn, adapted from the films original screenplay. The copyright is 1982 by Amblin Enterprises, Inc. It was printed in the United States through Warner Books, with the first printing in May 1982. While the film focuses mainly on the Freeling family, much of the book leans toward the relationship between Tangina and Dr. Lesh away from the family. The novel also expands upon many scenes that took place in the film, such as the Freelings living room being visited by night by outer dimensional entities of fire and shadows, and an extended version of the kitchen scene in which Marty watches the steak crawl across a countertop. In the book, Marty is frozen in place and is skeletonized by spiders and rats. There are also additional elements not in the film, such as Robbies mysterious discovery of the clown doll in the yard during his birthday party, and a benevolent spirit, "The Waiting Woman", who protects Carol Anne in the spirit world.
Poltergeist and Poltergeist II: The Other Side are part of the same movie series. Poltergeist and Poltergeist III are part of the same movie series. Steven Spielberg wrote the screenplay for Poltergeist and directed ET the Extra-Terrestrial. The Entity (1982). The Grudge (2004).
The song "Shining" by horror punk band Misfits, on their 1997 album American Psycho, is based directly on the film, with the chorus centred around the refrain: "Carol Anne, Carol Anne".
Two separate Seth MacFarlane series also parody the movie. The 2006 Family Guy episode "Petergeist" parodies Poltergeist. While attempting to build a multiplex in his backyard, Peter discovers an Indian burial ground. When he takes an Indian chiefs skull, a poltergeist invades the Griffins’ home. The episode used some of the same musical cues heard in the film, and recreates several of its scenes. Some of the scenes parody the film, such as Peter shaving and then peeling off bloody strips of his face into the sink, only to find his face to be the face of Hank Hill from King of the Hill, with Peter laughing and saying "propane" in his own voice, the television playing "The Star-Spangled Banner" at midnight during its sign-off, Stewie emulating Carol Anne while at the television, and Peter finally putting the television outside at the end of the episode, after putting Meg outside, before bringing her back inside. "Poletergasm", an episode with a similar premise, was also created for the series American Dad!. In the episode, Francine Smith, Stans wife, suffers from unfulfilled sexual desires that result in a sexually-oriented poltergeist taking over the house.
Luigis Mansion: Dark Moon, a game made on the Nintendo 3DS by Nintendo in 2013, references the TV scene when the television begins to show static and Carol Anne walking towards the television. Luigi does the same thing as Carol Anne, the TV shows static, and Luigi walks up to it and reaches his hand to it.
Kimmy Gibbler from Full House, in the episode "Our Very First Promo", says: "Remember that kid from Poltergeist who got sucked in the T.V.". Then later in the episode, Stephanie wakes up and says "Theyre baaa-ck".
Scary Movie 2 has a scene in which a clown hides under Rays bed and then pulls him underneath, a marijuana plant growing large and coming to life, and Alex being dragged across the walls of the bedroom. They are all parodies of scenes from Poltergeist.