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Poltergeist (1982 film)

Poltergeist is a 1982 American supernatural horror film directed by Tobe Hooper and starring JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson, and Beatrice Straight. Steven Spielberg wrote and produced the film, but a clause in his contract prevented him from directing another movie while he made E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Therefore, Hooper was selected to direct based upon his work on The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. First conceived as a dark horror sequel to Close Encounters of the Third Kind entitled Night Skies, when Spielberg approached Hooper to direct, Hooper was less keen on the sci-fi elements and suggested the idea of a ghost story.[3] Spielberg and Hooper would then go on to collaborate on the first treatment for the film. 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 family's younger daughter.

Poltergeist (1982).png
Theatrical release poster
Directed byTobe Hooper
Produced by
Screenplay by
Story bySteven Spielberg
Music byJerry Goldsmith
CinematographyMatthew F. Leonetti
Edited byMichael Kahn
SLM Production Group
Distributed byMGM/UA Entertainment Co.
Release date
  • June 4, 1982 (1982-06-04)
Running time
114 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$10.7 million
Box office$121.7 million[2]

Released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer on June 4, 1982, the film was a major critical and commercial success, becoming the eighth-highest-grossing film of 1982. Years since its release, the film has been recognized as a classic within the horror genre and has gained a cult following. Aside for being nominated for three Academy Awards, the scene of the clown attack was ranked as #80 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments[4] and the Chicago Film Critics Association named it the 20th-scariest film ever made.[5] The film also appeared at #84 on American Film Institute's 100 Years...100 Thrills, a list of America's most heart-pounding movies.[6]

The film's success helped spawn a franchise consisting of two sequels, Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986) and Poltergeist III (1988), and a remake of the same name in 2015.



Steven and Diane Freeling live a quiet life in an Orange County, California planned community called Cuesta Verde, where Steven is a successful real estate developer and Diane looks after their children Dana, Robbie, and Carol Anne. Carol Anne awakens one night and begins conversing with the family's television set, which is displaying 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, a ghostly white hand emerges from the television, followed by a violent earthquake. As the shaking subsides, Carol Anne announces "They're here".

Bizarre events occur the following day: a drinking glass of milk spontaneously breaks, silverware bends and furniture moves of 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, Carol Anne is sucked through a portal in her closet. The Freelings realize she has been taken when they hear her voice emanating from the television set that is tuned to an empty channel.

A group of parapsychologists from UC Irvine—Dr. Lesh, Ryan, and Marty—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, 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, 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 Anne's 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 restrain the other spirits.

The assembled group discovers that the entrance to the other dimension is through the children's 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 leaves for the office in order to quit his job and Dana goes on a date, leaving Diane, Robbie, and Carol Anne alone in the house. The "Beast" then ambushes Diane and the children, aiming for a second kidnapping by attempting to restrain Robbie and Diane. Robbie is attacked by a clown doll in his bedroom, and Diane is attacked by an unseen force that moves her up the wall and over the ceiling in her room. The unseen force drives Diane to the backyard dragging her into the swimming pool. Skeletons surround her as she tries to swim to escape, but she manages to climb out of the pool and make her way back into the house. She rescues the children, and they 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. The Freelings flee Cuesta Verde while the house implodes into the portal, to the astonishment of onlookers. The family checks into a hotel for the night, and Steven rolls the television outside into the walkway.



Mostly filmed on Roxbury Street in Simi Valley, California.[7][8]

Creative creditEdit

A clause in his contract with Universal Studios prevented Spielberg from directing any other film while preparing E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.[9] 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 Spielberg's role during production. Suggestions that Spielberg had greater directorial influence than the credits suggest were aided by his comments:

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 collaboration.[10]

The Directors Guild of America "opened an investigation into the question of whether or not Hooper's 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."[9]

The Hollywood Reporter printed an open letter from Spielberg to Hooper in the week of the film's 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, as a writer and a producer, 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.[11]

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 Ain't 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, when she went in to audition for Hooper and Spielberg, at that moment, that "Tobe was only partially there."[12] Comments from actor James Karen, in regard to a 25th-anniversary Q&A event both had attended, subsequently have alleged these remarks to be unfair to Hooper. "She laid into Tobe and I don't know why ... Tobe was kind to her."[13]

According to the Blumhouse Productions website, Poltergeist 1st assistant camera John R. Leonetti reported that Spielberg directed the film more so than Hooper, stating:

Hooper was so nice and just happy to be there. He creatively had input. Steven developed the movie, and it was his to direct, except there was anticipation of a director's strike, so he was “the producer” but really he directed it in case there was going to be a strike and Tobe was cool with that. It wasn't anything against Tobe. Every once in a while, he would actually leave the set and let Tobe do a few things just because. But really, Steven directed it.[14]

Following Hooper's passing on August 27, 2017, director Mick Garris, who was a publicist on the film and visited the set on several occasions, came to Hooper's defense on the Post Mortem podcast:

Tobe was always calling action and cut. Tobe had been deeply involved in all of the pre-production and everything. But Steven is a guy who will come in and call the shots. And so, you’re on your first studio film, hired by Steven Spielberg, who is enthusiastically involved in this movie. Are you gonna say, ‘Stop that… let me do this’? Which [Tobe] did.”

[...] Tobe was a terrific filmmaker. I don’t think it’s that Steven was controlling. I think it was Steven was enthusiastic. And nobody was there to protect Tobe. But all of the pre-production was done by Tobe. Tobe was there throughout. Tobe’s vision is very much realized there. And Tobe got credit because he deserved credit. Including… Steven Spielberg said that.

[...] Yes, Steven Spielberg was very much involved. It’s a Tobe Hooper film.”[15]

Special effectsEdit

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 Spielberg's 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 Anne's 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.[16][17] 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, Goldsmith's 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).[16][18] The following track list is based on the 2010 album release.

There is an alternate version of "Carol Anne's theme" which has lyrics. That version is unofficially titled "Bless this House" (which is a line from the chorus). It was not featured in the film, but was part of the original album.

MPAA ratingEdit

Poltergeist initially received an R rating[19] from the MPAA. As the PG-13 rating did not come into effect until 1984, Steven Spielberg and Tobe Hooper disagreed with the R rating and succeeded in having the film changed to a PG rating on appeal.[19]


Box officeEdit

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.[20]

Critical responseEdit

The film was well received by critics and is considered by many as a classic of the horror genre[21][22] as well as one of the best films of 1982.[23][24][25] It holds an approval rating of 86% on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes based on 59 reviews, with a consensus that reads: "Smartly filmed, tightly scripted, and—most importantly—consistently frightening, Poltergeist is a modern horror classic."[26] Roger Ebert gave the film three stars out of four and called it "an effective thriller, not so much because of the special effects, as because Hooper and Spielberg have tried to see the movie's strange events through the eyes of the family members, instead of just standing back and letting the special effects overwhelm the cast along with the audience."[27] Vincent Canby of The New York Times called it "a marvelously spooky ghost story" with "extraordinary technical effects" that were "often eerie and beautiful but also occasionally vividly gruesome."[28] 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."[29] In the Los Angeles 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.[29]

Not all reviews were as positive. Gene Siskel gave the film one-and-a-half stars out of four, writing that the film "is very good at getting the details of suburban life right—in other words, it sets its stage beautifully—but when it comes time for the terror to begin, the whole thing is very, very silly."[30] Gary Arnold of The Washington Post observed that the film "looks and feels decidedly patchy, as if it had been assembled by different hands frequently working at cross purposes."[31] Sheila Benson of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "In terms of simple, flat-out, roof-rattling fright, 'Poltergeist' gives full value. In terms of story, however, simple is indeed the word, and dumb might be a better one. And when so many effects are lavished on a story this frail, you have a lopsided film."[32]

The film has continued to receive recognition over 35 years after its release. Poltergeist was selected by The New York Times as one of The Best 1000 Movies Ever Made.[33] The film also received recognition from the American Film Institute. The film ranked number 84 on AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills list,[34] and the line "They're here" was named the 69th-greatest movie quote on AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes.[35]


The film received three Academy Award nominations: Best Original Score, Best Sound Effects Editing, and Best Visual Effects, all of them losing to Spielberg's other film E.T. The Extra Terrestrial.[36]

Year Association Category Result
1983 Academy Award Academy Award for Best Sound Editing Nominated
Academy Award for Best Visual Effects Nominated
Academy Award for Best Original Score Nominated
Saturn Award Saturn Award for Best Horror or Thriller Film Won
Saturn Award for Best Make-up Won
Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress – Zelda Rubinstein Won
Saturn Award for Best Actress – JoBeth Williams Nominated
Saturn Award for Best Director – Tobe Hooper Nominated
Saturn Award for Best Music – Jerry Goldsmith Nominated
British Academy Film Awards BAFTA Award for Best Special Visual Effects Won
Young Artist Awards Young Artist Award for Best Younger Supporting Actress – Heather O'Rourke Nominated

Reissues and sequelsEdit

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. In 1986, Poltergeist II: The Other Side retained the family but introduced a new motive for the Beast's 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 cemetery's 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.

Poltergeist III in 1988 finds Carol Anne as the sole original family member living in an elaborate Chicago skyscraper owned and inhabited by her aunt, uncle and cousin. Kane follows her there and uses the building's ubiquitous decorative mirrors as a portal to the Earthly plane.

The Poltergeist franchise is believed by some to be cursed due to the premature deaths of several people associated with the film,[37] a notion that was the focus of an E! True Hollywood Story.


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 MGM's financial problems.[38][39] However, on February 18, 2011, MGM announced they still had plans for the remake.[40] 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.[41] Production started in late 2013.[42][43] Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert, and Roy Lee produced the film, which stars Sam Rockwell, Jared Harris, and Rosemarie DeWitt.[44] The film was released on May 22, 2015.[44]

Home mediaEdit

Poltergeist was released on VHS, Betamax, CED, and LaserDisc in 1982. 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[45] 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 format on October 14, 2008.[46]


A novelization was written by James Kahn, adapted from the film's 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.[47] 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 Robbie's 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.


The song "Shining" by horror punk band Misfits, on their 1997 album American Psycho, is based directly on the film, with the chorus centred on the refrain: "Carol Anne, Carol Anne".[48]

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 chief's 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.[49]American Dad! also parodied the film with the season 10 episode "Poltergasm", in which the Smith house has become haunted by Francine's unsatisfied sex drive.[50]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "POLTERGEIST (15)". British Board of Film Classification. July 29, 1982. Retrieved May 12, 2015.
  2. ^ "Box Office Information for Poltergeist". The Numbers. Retrieved January 29, 2012.
  3. ^ Martin, Bob (1982). Fangoria #23, Article "Tobe Hooper on Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist". p. 28.
  4. ^ "Bravo's The 100 Scariest Movie Moments". Archived from the original on October 30, 2007. Retrieved May 21, 2010.
  5. ^ "Chicago Critics' Scariest Films". Retrieved May 21, 2010.
  6. ^ "AFI's 100 Years... 100 Thrills" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved May 21, 2010.
  7. ^ Kendrick, James (2014). Darkness in the Bliss-Out: A Reconsideration of the Films of Steven Spielberg. Bloomsbury Publishing USA. Page 41. ISBN 9781441146045.
  8. ^ Epting, Chris (2003). James Dean Died Here: The Locations of America's Pop Culture Landmarks. Santa Monica Press. Page 204. ISBN 9781891661310.
  9. ^ a b Brode, Douglas (2000). The Films of Steven Spielberg. New York: Citadel Press. p. 101. ISBN 0-8065-1951-7.
  10. ^ Brode, pg 102
  11. ^ Brode, pg 99–100
  12. ^ "Click over, children! All are welcome! All welcome! Quint interviews Zelda Rubinstein!!!!". Ain't It Cool News. October 2, 2007. Retrieved January 6, 2008.
  13. ^ Rue Morgue 121 (2012).
  14. ^ Rob Galluzzo (July 14, 2017). "Confirmation? Who Really Directed POLTERGEIST?". Blumhouse Productions. Archived from the original on 2017-09-11. Retrieved July 15, 2017.
  15. ^ John Squires (September 14, 2017). "Mick Garris Delivers Final Word on 'Poltergeist' Controversy; "Tobe Directed That Movie."". Bloody-Disgusting.
  16. ^ a b "Filmtracks: Poltergeist (Jerry Goldsmith)". December 31, 2010. Retrieved May 31, 2013.
  17. ^ Poltergeist soundtrack review at AllMusic, accessed February 16, 2011.
  18. ^ "Poltergeist". Film Score Monthly. Retrieved October 20, 2012.
  19. ^ a b "Poltergeist (1982)". Retrieved 6 July 2014.
  20. ^ "Box Office Information for Poltergeist". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved May 21, 2010.
  21. ^ "Poltergeist Movie Reviews, Page 2". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved May 21, 2010.
  22. ^ "Poltergeist Movie Reviews, Page 3". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved May 21, 2010.
  23. ^ "The Greatest Films of 1982". AMC Retrieved May 21, 2010.
  24. ^ "The 10 Best Movies of 1982". Retrieved May 21, 2010.
  25. ^ "The Best Movies of 1982 by Rank". Retrieved May 21, 2010.
  26. ^ "Poltergeist". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved November 27, 2018.
  27. ^ Ebert, Roger (June 1, 1982). "Poltergeist". Retrieved November 27, 2018.
  28. ^ Canby, Vincent (June 4, 1982). "Film: 'Poltergeist' From Spielberg". The New York Times: C16.
  29. ^ a b Cited in Brode, p. 111
  30. ^ Siskel, Gene (June 4, 1982). "As a screamer, 'Poltergeist' is mute". Chicago Tribune. Section 3, p. 3.
  31. ^ Arnold, Gary (June 4, 1982). "Horror With the Spielberg Touch". The Washington Post: D1.
  32. ^ Benson, Sheila (June 4, 1982). "An Epic Bump By Spielberg". Los Angeles Times. Part VI, p. 1.
  33. ^ "The Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made". The New York Times. April 29, 2003. Retrieved May 22, 2010.
  34. ^ "AFI's 100 Years... 100 Thrills" (PDF). American Film Institute. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 16, 2011. Retrieved May 21, 2010.
  35. ^ "AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved May 21, 2010.
  36. ^ Poltergeist at; Accessed November 2, 2010.
  37. ^ Mikkelson, Barbara. "Poltergeist Deaths",, August 17, 2007
  38. ^ Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (September 3, 2008). "Vadim Perelman to Direct MGM's New 'POLTERGEIST'". Reuters. Retrieved September 3, 2008.
  39. ^ "UPDATE: MGM Puts 'Poltergeist' Release Date on Hold - Bloody Disgusting".
  40. ^ "MGM Remaking Poltergeist, Mr. Mom, Robocop". February 18, 2011.
  41. ^ Team, The Deadline (June 20, 2013). "MGM, Fox 2000 To Co-Finance & Distribute 'Poltergeist'; Production To Start This Fall".
  42. ^ McNary, Dave (March 7, 2013). "'Poltergeist' Reboot Set For Late-Summer Start". Variety.
  43. ^ Goldberg, Matt. "POLTERGEIST Remake Confirmed to Shoot This Fall; Likely Due out Next Year". Retrieved 2013-06-20.
  44. ^ a b Dave McNary (March 5, 2015). "'Poltergeist' Reboot Moved Up to May 22, 'Spy' Back to June 5". Variety. Retrieved March 6, 2015.
  45. ^ "Live Chat with Warner Home Video". Home Theater Forum. February 26, 2007. Retrieved June 1, 2008.
  46. ^ Poltergeist on Blu-ray at
  47. ^ "Poltergeist (9780446302227): James Kahn: Books". Retrieved September 9, 2011.
  48. ^ Greene, James R., Jr. (2013). This Music Leaves Stains: The Complete Story of the Misfits. Scarecrow Press ISBN 0810884372
  49. ^ "Petergeist". Retrieved June 25, 2007.
  50. ^ "American Dad: "Poltergasm"". 2013-10-07. Retrieved 2017-04-04.

External linksEdit