Steven Spielberg always wanted to make a haunted house movie. He wanted to so much that one of the ideas he floated to George Lucas for the follow-up to “Raiders of the Lost Ark” was to put Indiana Jones in a haunted mansion. Thankfully, Lucas nixed that idea, so the Horror movie that Spielberg ended up bringing us was POLTERGEIST - a haunted house story told only the way Spielberg can spin it. Officially serving as writer and producer, Steven Spielberg’s Horror classic is cool, intense, and very VERY scary.
Though the credited director of POLTERGEIST is Tobe Hooper (“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”), there has always been controversy over who did most of the work. Spielberg never denied that he had a strong hand in the creative decisions, but he always insisted that Hooper was the director of the film. The recollections of the actors and producers vary, and it has been established that Spielberg was giving directions on set at least some of the time. What is indisputable, however, is that POLTERGEIST absolutely feels like a Spielberg film. It was, after all, his baby - and his fingerprints are all over it.
Whoever called the shots, POLTERGEIST is one of the most effective ghost stories ever filmed. A genuinely likable young family (led by JoBeth Williams and Craig T. Nelson) is under siege in their own home by hostile spirits who want to claim the youngest child, Carol Anne (Heather O‘Rourke). We like this family so much that once Carol Anne is taken, we are right with them in their fear, confusion, and determination. The struggle of this family becomes our own, and the horrors they endure are our horrors.
And what horrors they are! The supernatural occurrences depicted in POLTERGEIST almost 30 years ago are original and frightening even by today’s standards. Who could forget the demon tree? Or the killer clown doll? Or the corpses in the pool? Or the crawling, exploding steak? The insane face peel alone (the hands were Spielberg‘s) would be the proud defining moment of any Horror film - here, it‘s just another ingredient in the stew. POLTERGEIST has more great ideas in one film than most Horror franchises have in multiple movies, and all of these ideas are executed to perfection.
Watch this movie today, and it will be tough to believe it was released in 1982. It will be equally hard to believe that it was rated PG. Though the movement towards the PG-13 rating really gained steam with "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom", I'm convinced that POLTERGEIST was the actual genesis. Not gory or violent enough for an R, but way too scary for PG, PG-13 probably would have been appropriate. No matter. Steven Spielberg successfully scared the pants of legions of filmgoers no matter the rating, and POLTERGEIST will continue to forever.
POLTERGEIST fun facts - The skeletons in the swimming pool were real. The producers could find any fake ones that looked good, so they bought some actual skeletons. JoBeth Williams was unaware of this when they shot the scene.
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.
Carol Anne - “They’re here…”
Tangina - “This house is clean!”
Tangina - “Cross over children! All are welcome! All welcome!”