I’ve always been intrigued by movies that involve ghostly or demonic infestations because the house I grew up in was haunted. I know, I know, some of you are rolling your eyes because you don’t believe in the existence of ghosts, but let me elaborate just a little bit. It was never anything huge like all of the kitchen cupboard doors being open in the morning, or items going missing, or cold wind blowing on my face, but there were definitely happenings. I knew right away when we moved into the house that there was something off about it; the vibes were just strange and uncomfortable. Throughout my childhood, I saw some ghosts every now and again (a man and an old lady), I heard some unexplained knocking on occasion, my pets would perk up at times when no one was there, my aunt saw the man once during a Thanksgiving dinner, my dad saw the old lady, and my mom even experienced some unexplainable stuff. All of these instances my family and I went through were extremely mild in comparison to what audiences saw in Poltergeist.
The movie was released in 1982, the same year that I was born, so by the time I watched it for the first time, it was at least 15 or so years old, but it was, and still is an awesomely scary movie. It was directed by Steven Spielberg, and typically, his movies hold up over time.
The actual poltergeist in the movie starts out semi-mildly by opening cupboard doors, moving lightweight furniture around, and even seeming to be playful with the little girl in the house, Carol Anne. But just as suddenly as these mild experiences start, they quickly escalate into a hellish nightmare for the family. At one point, Carol Anne gets sucked into an otherworldly realm and needs to be rescued. The whole family is terrified and tortured by this poltergeist, and they eventually run screaming from the house as it disappears into a spirit-filled wormhole.
One of the larger reasons as to why I’m drawn to this movie is the lore that surrounds it. It wasn’t until 2002 when the show E! True Hollywood Story aired an episode that went into depth about the creepy happenings on set, and the tragic deaths of two of its young stars. According to the episode, there were many times where crew members were mysteriously injured, lights would go out on set, equipment would fall over or fail, and just general unexplainable things took place.
In a famous scene towards the end of the movie, the mom falls into an unfinished pool during a torrential downpour while her two younger children are being accosted by the poltergeist in the house. As she’s trying to get herself out of the pool, all of these coffins start popping up in the water, and the skeletons inside of them are falling out and basically attacking the mom. A piece of gross information that was revealed was that they used real skeletons! Diane Freeling, the actress playing the mom, did not know that the skeletons were real until filming had ended. It gives me the creeps just thinking about that.
Another thing I learned from that E! True Hollywood Story episode was about the deaths of both Heather O’Rourke, who played Carol Anne, and Dominique Dunne, who was Carol Anne’s sister.
O’Rourke had an undiagnosed bowel disorder that contributed to her death at the age of 12. Before her sudden passing, she was able to star in the second and third installments of the Poltergeist series. In a strange coincidence, she passed away on my sixth birthday. Talk about a freaky connection to the film!
Dominique Dunne, another young actress in Poltergeist, was strangled to the point of being in a coma by her obsessive and controlling ex-boyfriend the year that the film was released. She succumbed to her injuries a week later, dying at the age of 23. In doing some research on Dunne, I discovered that she was my height. Yet again, another weird fact that connects me to the movie. At the time of Dunne’s death, there were only whispers of a rumored curse surrounding the film, but the death of O’Rourke, years later, solidified that belief.
The movie is still frightening, especially when I think about the real-life events that happened during and after filming. Of course the CGI doesn’t really hold up, but it gets the trick done. The most terrifying aspect of this film is the unknown entity stalking the family, that part of the spirit world that can cause harm to the living.
The family starts out fresh-faced and excited to be living in their new home, but by the end, they have been through hell and back because of this unknown spirit that is hell-bent on getting them out of the way. As someone who grew up in a house with odd occurrences, I can understand the fascination this family had at the beginning of their stint with the poltergeist, but me and my sanity are thankful that it never escalated like it did in Poltergeist.