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‘poltergeist’: film review.

Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt co-star in Fox and MGM's reboot of the '80s haunted-house classic.

By Justin Lowe

Justin Lowe

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It’s infrequent and particularly satisfying when the remake of an especially memorable film equals or exceeds the experience of the original. In 1982, Poltergeist   saw the brilliant pairing of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre ’s low-budget horror director Tobe Hooper with far more mainstream screenwriter and producer Steven Spielberg for an effects-laden event movie that earned its place as a contemporary benchmark among supernatural thrillers.

Leaving behind the youth-skewing perspectives of Monster House  and City of Ember , director Gil Kenan not only delivers on the promise of Hooper’s Poltergeist , but significantly raises the stakes for similar PG-13 fare. With strong brand identity and two generations of moviegoers to cultivate, MGM and Fox’s Memorial Day weekend release should help boost the summer box office to a promising start with a solid opening frame, although prospects for franchise-building (the original was followed by two sequels) look somewhat mixed. 

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In setting the scene,  Kenan and the filmmakers take their cue from the first film in the trilogy, as Eric Bowen ( Sam Rockwell ) and his wife, Amy ( Rosemarie DeWitt ), crippled by the financial impacts of the Great Recession, look to downsize so that they can continue adequately providing for their three kids. They find what they’re looking for in a distressed but affordable home for sale that’s located in a nondescript development full of vacant properties on the outskirts of an Illinois town where Amy attended university. Youngest daughter Maddy ( Kennedi Clements ) is excited to move in following the initial tour after conversing with some new invisible friends who speak to her from a mysterious bedroom closet. Anxiety-prone middle child Griffin ( Kyle Catlett ) isn’t thrilled to be settling into an attic bedroom, however, where an ominous willow tree looms over the house through a rooftop skylight. Teenage Kendra ( Saxon Sharbino ) displays visible disaffection with her new situation, preferring to remain in touch with her old life and friends via phone, text and video chat.

On the first night in their new home, while everyone else is asleep, Griffin discovers Maddy talking to the big-screen living room TV as it flashes and emits strange noises. “They’re here,” she says, referring to her friends, “the lost people.” Now Griffin has some solid reasons to feel worried, especially after noticing objects moving around the house of their own accord and discovering a box full of scary clown dolls stashed in a storage space. His parents just attribute these trepidations to his chronic anxiety, and it isn’t until the next night when they’re out to dinner at a neighbor’s house that they discover some disturbing information regarding their new home that sends them rushing back to check on the kids.

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By the time they arrive, Griffin and Kendra have suffered supernatural attacks and Maddy has vanished completely. At their wit’s end, Amy and Eric decide to seek guidance from Dr. Claire Powell ( Jane Adams ) from the Department of Paranormal Research at Amy’s former university. Powell agrees to assist, bringing in her staff to wire the Bowen’s home with video cameras and monitoring equipment in their search for the missing child. They soon determine that Maddy is able to speak to them through the TV set, but can’t provide any clues to her whereabouts. Powell concludes that the house is under the influence of a malevolent poltergeist that has abducted Maddy , holding her in a shadowy, in-between realm that they will have to access in order to rescue her before she disappears completely.

As the film reaches its midpoint, all of the essential elements of the original are in place and in part this satisfying continuity is attributable to a screen story again written by Spielberg. In scripting the remake, David Lindsay-Abaire hews closely to the earlier template, replicating some key scenes with more contemporary flair while ratcheting up the pacing by cutting 20 minutes off the running time. Updating the spiritual medium character with hardbitten reality TV host Carrigan Burke ( Jared Harris ), an Indiana Jones-style ghostbuster , provides a recognizable pop-culture reference, blowing away the musty cobwebs of stereotypically aloof psychics.

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Although Rockwell appears capable of holding the Bowens together in the face of financial and personal peril, it’s a rather under-written part that lacks the frequent character tics he’s exploited more memorably in smaller-scale films. DeWitt is the predictably supportive emotional core of the family, eventually driven to extremes by her daughter’s predicament. In a substantial role for a young actor, Catlett favorably impresses with his comprehensive grasp of Griffin’s neuroses and his determination to face them head-on in several pivotal scenes.

The integration of notably naturalistic visual effects with the digital filmmaking is frequently almost seamless, until the setting shifts into an entirely supernatural realm during the final attempt to retrieve  Maddy .  Kenan’s  overall improvements to the movie’s visual style aren’t only attributable to advances in technology and a 3D update, however. While Hooper favored shock value and jump scares, Kenan and cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe construct far more fluid sequences as the camera glides and hovers over its subjects, reserving the most impactful shots for a concluding sequence that’s particularly thrilling.

Production companies: Fox 2000 Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures, Ghost House Pictures, Vertigo Entertainment Cast: Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt, Jared Harris, Jane Adams, Saxon Sharbino , Kyle Catlett , Kennedi Clements Director: Gil Kenan Screenwriter: David Lindsay-Abaire Producers: Sam Raimi , Nathan Kahane , Roy Lee, Robert G. Tapert Executive producers: J.R. Young, John Powers Middleton, Becki Cross Trujillo, Audrey Chon Director of photography: Javier Aguirresarobe Production designer: Kalina Ivanov Costume designer: Delphine White Editors: Jeff Betancourt , Bob Murawski Music: Marc Streitenfeld   Casting directors: Scot Boland, Victoria Burrows

Rated PG-13, 93 minutes

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Pictures of a man in a sheep skull mask, young women in front of a dark tower, a hooded figure in a scream mask.A Blue background with text reading Peak Screaming, Pet Sematary Bloodline October 6, Monster High 2 October 5, Scream VI, Streaming on Paramount + Try It Free.

Poltergeist (2015)

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Special effects in the movies have grown so skilled, sensational, and scary that they sometimes upstage the human actors. And they often cost a lot more. In "Poltergeist," for example, the cast is made up of relatively unknown performers, but that's all right because the real stars are producer Steven Spielberg (" Raiders of the Lost Ark "), director Tobe Hooper ("The Texas Chainsaw Massacre"), and their reputations for special effects and realistic violence. Their names on this horror film suggest that its technology will be impeccable. And they don't disappoint us. This is the movie " The Amityville Horror " dreamed of being. It begins with the same ingredients (a happy American family, living in a big, comfortable house). It provides similar warnings of doom (household objects move by themselves, the weather seems different around the house than anywhere else). And it ends with a similar apocalypse (spirits take total possession of the house, and terrorize the family). Even some of the special effects are quite similar, as when greasy goo begins to ooze around the edges of a doorjamb.

But "Poltergeist" is 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. The movie takes place in Spielberg's favorite terrain, the American suburb (also the locale of parts of " Close Encounters of the Third Kind ," " Jaws " and " E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial "). The haunted house doesn't have seven gables, but it does have a two-car garage. It is occupied by a fairly normal family (two parents, three kids) and the movie begins on a somewhat hopeful note with the playing of "The Star Spangled Banner" as a TV station signs off.

The opening visuals, however, are somewhat ominous. They're an extreme close-up of a TV screen, filled with the usual patriotic images (Iwo Jima, the Lincoln Memorial). Why so close? We're almost being invited to look between the dots on the screen and see something else. And indeed, the family's youngest daughter, an open-faced, long-haired, innocent little cherub, begins to talk to the screen. She's in touch with the "TV people." Before long she disappears from this plane of existence and goes to live with the TV people, wherever they are. Weird events begin to happen in the house. An old tree behaves ominously. The swimming pool seems to have a mind of its own. And the villains are the same people who were the bad guys in Spielberg's "Jaws" -- the real estate developers. This time, instead of encouraging people to go back into the water, they're building a subdivision on top of an old graveyard.

This is all ridiculous, but Hooper and Spielberg hold our interest by observing the everyday rituals of this family so closely that, since the family seems real, the weird events take on a certain credibility by association. That's during the first hour of the movie. Then all hell breaks loose, and the movie begins to operate on the same plane as " Alien " or " Altered States ," as a shocking special-effects sound-and-light show. A closet seems to exist in another dimension. The swimming pool is filled with grasping, despairing forms of the undead. The search for the missing little girl involves a professional psionics expert, and a lady dwarf who specializes in "cleaning" haunted homes. Nobody ever does decide whether a poltergeist really is involved in the events in the house, or who the poltergeist may be, but if that doesn't prevent them from naming the movie "Poltergeist" I guess it shouldn't keep us from enjoying it.

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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Poltergeist (1982)

114 minutes

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18 Things You Never Knew About 'Poltergeist'

" Poltergeist " has terrified audiences since its release 35 years ago this week, on June 4, 1982. And not just for the on-screen depiction of vengeful spirits haunting the Freeling family's new suburban home, but also for the eerie events that notoriously took place off-screen as well.

Here are the production's scary secrets, including the truth behind the so-called "Poltergeist" curse that supposedly plagued the ill-fated cast. 1. Much has been made of the similarities between "Poltergeist" and "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial," two movies that originated from the same Steven Spielberg idea and were ultimately released just a week apart. Spielberg's initial "Night Skies" story involved an isolated farm family facing down alien invaders, including both menacing and benign creatures. The benign alien became the germ of the " E.T. " idea, while Spielberg pitched the home-invasion idea to " Texas Chain Saw Massacre " director Tobe Hooper . It was Hooper's idea to make the home invaders ghosts instead. 2. One inspiration for "Poltergeist" was reportedly the story of Cheesman Park in Denver . A beautiful city park in a prestigious residential neighborhood, its rolling green lawns and Greek columns stand on the site of Denver's first graveyard. When the park was built a century ago, the bodies were supposed to be dug up and buried elsewhere, but as in the film, the headstones were removed but the corpses left in place. To this day, there may be as many as 2,000 skeletons beneath Cheesman Park. Spooky accounts of ghost sightings and haunted homes throughout the neighborhood over the years also inspired the 1980 horror movie "The Changeling." 3. There was also an Indian burial ground unearthed in 1969 during the construction of a supermarket in Agoura Hills, the Los Angeles suburb where "Poltergeist" would film in 1981. 4. Controversy over who actually directed "Poltergeist" -- Hooper or producer/co-screenwriter Spielberg -- began even before the film finished shooting. Spielberg was contractually barred from directing another film while preparing "E.T.", but he was extraordinarily hands-on with "Poltergeist." Spielberg storyboarded at least half the shots himself, served as second-unit director on some of the outdoor scenes, and was on set for all but three days of filming. 5. Oliver Robins , who played middle child Robbie Freeling, has said that all the direction of the actors' performances was done by Hooper. Nonetheless, after Hooper submitted his cut of the film, he withdrew from the production, and Spielberg finished the post-production (editing, music, and effects). The Directors Guild of America launched an investigation, but Spielberg insisted that Hooper deserved sole credit on the film. 6. Spielberg was literally hands-on during the scene where Marty (Martin Casella) rips his own face off (above). The effect was accomplished with a model bust of the actor's head, but he was nervous about handling the only bust the production had, so those are Spielberg's own hands you see tearing at Marty's flesh. 7. The tree that nearly swallows Robbie was actually four trees, built by the prop department, each with different moving or robotic parts. One account of the filming has it that the tree disgorged Robbie, rather than sucking him in, but the sequence was filmed backward so that it would look even scarier when run forward. 8. The stacking-chair effect was done in-camera, without cuts. When the camera panned away from the unstacked chairs, crew members rushed to replace them with a pre-stacked set of chairs before the camera panned back. 9. The collapsing-house effect at the end started with what producer Frank Marshall called "the $250,000 sentence," a four-word description in Spielberg's script that read: "And the house implodes."

10. The implosion was accomplished using a six-foot model house with cables attached to the sides and a vacuum mounted beneath the floor. As the cables pulled the walls down and the vacuum sucked up the debris, a camera filmed the destruction at 300 frames per second, more than 12 times normal speed. The first time the footage was played back at a standard 24 frames per second, the sight of the slowly disintegrating house made even the studio projectionist gasp. Spielberg reportedly preserved the crushed fragments of the model in a display case atop his piano. 11. Two of the stars claimed to have had otherworldly experiences during the "Poltergeist" shoot. JoBeth Williams (mom Diane Freeling) claimed she'd come home from the set to find the pictures on her wall were crooked, and that she'd realign them but find them crooked again five minutes later. Zelda Rubinstein (medium Tangina Barrons) claimed to have had a vision of her dog telling her goodbye, and that the actress' mother told her hours later that her dog had died that day. 12. Robins has dismissed the notion that there were actual supernatural occurrences on the set. Nonetheless, he was nearly strangled by the clown doll when the puppet malfunctioned, so the terror you see on Robbie's face is real. 13. The budget for "Poltergeist" was a reported $9.5 million (some sources say $10.7 million). It earned back $76 million in North America and another $47 million overseas. 14. "Poltergeist" was nominated for three Oscars, for its instrumental score, sound effects editing, and visual effects. It lost all three prizes to "E.T." 15. Is there any truth to the notion of a "Poltergeist" curse? The rumor grew upon the deaths of four of the franchise's cast members not long after their appearances in the movies. Dominique Dunne , who played older sister Dana, was strangled by her ex-boyfriend just months after the release of "Poltergeist." Julian Beck, who played Kane in 1986's " Poltergeist II: The Other Side ," died of stomach cancer in 1985 shortly after production wrapped on that sequel, though he'd been diagnosed with the ailment 18 months earlier. And Will Sampson , the real-life shaman who co-starred as Taylor in the second film, died in 1987 while recuperating from a heart-lung transplant, an admittedly risky surgery. 16. Most notorious was the death of Heather O'Rourke (Carol Anne) in 1987. The 12-year-old was admitted to a hospital with flu-like symptoms, but it turned out she suffered from a long-misdiagnosed congenital intestinal abnormality, and she died during an operation meant to correct a bowel obstruction. The rumor was that she had died while making " Poltergeist III ," and that a stunt double had to complete her scenes. Her family claimed she'd long since finished shooting when she died, but director Gary Sherman said that the 1988 film had to be rewritten to accommodate her absence. 17. Williams has claimed that the muddy skeletons she writhed among during the "Poltergeist" swimming pool sequence were real, that Spielberg had used them not to get a Method scare out of the actress, but because they were supposedly cheaper than artificial ones. 18. It's possible that it was "Poltergeist II" that used real skeletons. In fact, that creepy detail supposedly led Sampson to perform an after-hours exorcism on the set, to dispel bad karma. Guess it didn't take.



Steve Freeling 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... Read the Plot

Gary Susman

Gary Susman has been covering movies and TV for more than 25 years and has been a Moviefone columnist since 2009. He is a former senior writer at Entertainment Weekly, where he helped launch the award-winning PopWatch blog. He has written about entertainment for such outlets as Time, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, People, CNN, MSNBC, Life, The Village Voice, The Guardian, The Chicago Sun-Times, and The Boston Phoenix. He has been a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics since 1993. He is one of the authors of the 2011 book "LIFE 75 Years: The Very Best of LIFE."

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Poltergeist III (1988)

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Poltergeist III (otherwise known as Poltergeist 3 or Poltergeist 3: We're Back ) is a 1988 American horror film . It is the third and final film of the Poltergeist film series. Writers Michael Grais and Mark Victor, who wrote the screenplay for the first two films, did not return for this second sequel; it was co-written, executive produced and directed by Gary Sherman, and was released on June 10, 1988 by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures. The film was panned by critics, and was a box office disappointment.

Heather O'Rourke and Zelda Rubinstein were the only original cast members to return. However, O'Rourke died suddenly and unexpectedly four months before the film was released and before post-production could be completed. The movie was dedicated to her memory...

  • 4.1 Heather O'Rourke's death and a revised ending
  • 5 Critical reception
  • 6 Box office
  • 8 References
  • 10 External links

The Freeling family has sent Carol Anne ( Heather O'Rourke ) to live with her Diane's sister Pat (Nancy Allen) and her husband Bruce Gardner (Tom Skerritt). Carol Anne has been told, she is in Chicago temporarily to attend a unique school for gifted children with emotional problems, though Pat thinks it is because Steve and Diane just wanted Carol Anne out of their house. Pat seems to have no knowledge of the events from the first two films, just noting that Steven was involved in a bad land deal. Along with Donna (Lara Flynn Boyle), Bruce's daughter from a previous marriage, they live in the luxury skyscraper (Chicago's 100-story John Hancock Center) of which Bruce is the manager.

Carol Anne has been made by her teacher/psychiatrist, Dr. Seaton ( Richard Fire ), to discuss her experiences from the first and second films. Seaton believes her to be delusional, however the constant discussion has enabled Henry Kane/The Beast (Nathan Davis) to locate Carol Anne and bring him back from the limbo he was sent into at the end of the second film. Dr. Seaton, having never experienced the supernatural, believes that Carol Anne is simply a manipulative child who has created something of a mass hysteria within her family, falsely making them believe they were attacked by ghosts. Also during this period, Tangina Barrons ( Zelda Rubinstein ) realizes that Kane has found Carol Anne and travels cross-country to protect her.

That night, Kane drains the high rise of heat and takes possession of reflections in mirrors, causing the reflections of people to act independently of their physical counterparts. When Carol Anne is left alone that night, Kane attempts to use the mirrors in her room to capture her, but she escapes with the help of Tangina. Donna and her boyfriend, Scott, see a frightened Carol Anne running through the high rise's parking lot, and move to rescue her. However, before they can, all three are taken to the Other Side by Kane. By this point, Tangina and Dr. Seaton are both at the high rise, along with Pat and Bruce. Dr. Seaton stubbornly assumes that Carol Anne has staged the entire thing, while Tangina tries to get her back....

Scott is seemingly released from the Other Side through a pool in the high rise, and Donna reappears after Tangina is taken by Kane disguised as Carol Anne. Scott is left at his home with his parents. Nobody notices that the symbols on Donna's clothing are reversed from what they were before she was taken. As Dr. Seaton attempts to calm Donna, Bruce sees Carol Anne's reflection in the mirror and chases her while Pat follows. Dr. Seaton is not far behind, and he believes he sees Carol Anne in the elevator. However, after Dr. Seaton approaches the elevator doors, Donna appears behind him and pushes him to his death down the empty elevator shaft. At this point it is revealed that Donna did not actually come back, but rather the person who came back was a reflection of Donna, under the control of Kane, who then vanishes back into the mirror, with a reflection of Scott at her side.

Pat and Bruce struggle to find Carol Anne, but Bruce is captured and eventually Pat is forced to prove her love for Carol Anne in a final face-off against Kane. The ending is somewhat unclear, but apparently Tangina somehow manages to convince Kane to go into the Light with her. Donna, Bruce and Carol Anne are returned to Pat, whereas it is never revealed, if Scott returned or is still trapped on the Other Side.. The final scene shows lightning flashing over the building and Kane's laughter is heard.

  • Tom Skerritt as Bruce Gardner
  • Nancy Allen as Pat Gardner
  • Heather O'Rourke as Carol Anne Freeling
  • Zelda Rubinstein as Tangina Barrons
  • Richard Fire as Dr. Seaton
  • Lara Flynn Boyle as Donna Gardner
  • Kipley Wentz as Scott
  • Nathan Davis as Reverend Henry Kane
  • Roger May as Burt
  • Paul Graham as Martin Moyer
  • Meg Weldon as Sandy
  • Stacy Gilchrist as Melissa
  • Joey Garfield as Jeff
  • Christian Murphy as Dusty
  • Roy Hytower as Nathan

Gallery [ ]

Poltergeist III 1

Production [ ]

Director Gary Sherman thought the idea having the setting in the city was just as scary as isolated suburbia. His feeling was, that there are people on the other side of the wall, and no one cares, that you are in trouble. [1]

Unlike the previous films, nearly all of the special effects were live and were performed on stage. The only visual effect added in post-production was the lightning casting over the John Hancock Center in the very final shot of the picture. Sherman himself designed the special visual effects.

Corey Burton provided the voice work for Kane, although he was uncredited for this effort.

Heather O'Rourke's death and a revised ending [ ]

By the time Poltergeist 3 started production in the spring of 1987, Heather O'Rourke had been ill for several months, with what was misdiagnosed as Crohn's disease, and subsequently underwent medical treatment during parts of the filming, which took place in Chicago . Principal photography for the movie began on Monday April 13, 1987 and lasted for 11 weeks, ending on Friday June 19, 1987, with June 10, 1988 as its scheduled release date. After Heather completed filming, she returned home to California, with her illness apparently in remission. However in late January 1988, Heather suddenly became ill again, her condition rapidly deteriorated, and she died on Monday February 1, 1988 , during Poltergeist 3' s post-production period, just 5 weeks after her 12th birthday.

Shortly before Heather O'Rourke's death, the studio had requested that the ending of the film be reshot. However, with her death, this made filming a new ending very difficult, given how central her character was to the film. Rather than cancel the project with so much of the film already completed, the ending was written in a way that a body double could be used in Heather's place. This is why Carol Anne's face is never seen when she comes back from the Other Side during the finale of the movie. The new ending for the film was filmed in March 1988. Poltergeist 3 was dedicated to the memory of Heather O'Rourke (1975-1988).

Critical reception [ ]

The film received extremely negative reviews from critics, resulting in a 15% rating on RottenTomatoes.com. Meanwhile, Zelda Rubinstein's performance was given generally mixed reviews, causing to grant both nominations for a Saturn Award and a Razzie Award (which she also received previously for the first sequel ) at the same time. However, despite the generally unforgiving reviews for the film overall, a substantial amount of the film's miniscule amount of praise was directed primarily towards Heather O'Rourke's performance.

Box office [ ]

While Poltergeist III made back its $9.5 million budget, it wound up being the lowest grossing and least attended film in the Poltergeist trilogy. The film opened at #5, making $4,344,308 on its opening weekend, averaging about $2,953 from 1,471 theaters. The bottom fell out from then on, as the film then fell out of the top 10 in only its second weekend, dropping 52 percent to only $2,093,783 (1,467 theaters, $1,427 average) ranking at #11, and bringing the 10-day come to $8,165,286. Poltergeist 3 ended up with a domestic box office total of $14,114, 488. The film sold 3.434 million tickets at 1988's ticket price of $4.11, compared with 25.410 million tickets for the first film, and 11.050 million tickets for the second film. [2]

See also [ ]

  • Poltergeist: The Legacy
  • Poltergeist
  • Stigmatized property
  • Night Skies (aborted Spielberg film)

References [ ]

  • ↑ E: True Hollywood Story: Curse of Poltergeist
  • ↑ Poltergeist III (1988)

Poltergeist III (1988) - Official Trailer (HD)

External links [ ]


  • Noise and Talk - Philosophical essay about Poltergeist and television by Johannes Grenzfurthner of monochrom .
  • 1 Freddy Krueger (original timeline)
  • 2 Michael Myers (original timeline)
  • 3 Rose Red (2002)
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Trivia / Poltergeist III

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  • Box Office Bomb : Budget, $9.5 million. Box office, $14,114,488 (US). Killed off the Poltergeist theatrical movies until a reboot in 2015. Also had the unfortunate situation of being released shortly after the death of its 12-year-old star Heather O'Rourke , causing the studio to take great lengths to advertise the film without making it look like they were exploiting her passing.
  • Died During Production : Heather O'Rourke died during post-production, requiring the ending to be reshot with a stand-in.
  • Enforced Method Acting : Corey Burton smoked half a pack of cigarettes before recording his lines as Kane - in order to make his voice suitably raspy. He continued smoking throughout filming.
  • Fatal Method Acting : A near-miss. The car's explosion when Patricia and Bruce are being chased caused the whole set to catch fire - nearly taking out a crew member who was trying to rescue from cameras. Heather O'Rourke arrived on set the next day to hear about the incident. As soon as she confirmed no one was hurt, she asked "did you get the shot?"
  • Dedicated in memory of Heather O'Rourke , who tragically and unexpectedly passed away (she was only twelve years old) four months before the film was released.
  • The line in the closing credits: "The role of Reverend Kane was previously played by Julian Beck" (he died before Poltergeist II: The Other Side was finished), might have also served said purpose.
  • Old Shame : Director Gary Sherman is not fond of the film, primarily because the experience of completing the film despite Heather O'Rourke 's passing is something he does not want to relive. But he is proud of the special effects shots he did for it.
  • Posthumous Credit : Heather O'Rourke died four months before the film was released. The film was dedicated to her memory.
  • Reality Subtext : Heather O'Rourke had a noticeably chubby looking face in the movie due to the medication for her Crohn's disease swelling up her cheeks. Filming lasted from April to June of 1987. In early 1988, Heather died at only twelve years old, from surgical complications.
  • Technology Marches On : If the 80's fashion doesn't date the film to the modern-day viewer, surely Carol Anne playing with a Speak & Spell will.
  • In the original ending, when Patricia jumps through the glass pane into the apartment, she finds Carol Anne, Donna, Scott, Bruce and Tangina frozen and dying. She then also becomes imprisoned in ice and gets attacked by Kane and her evil mirror reflection who want the necklace. Patricia tries to repel them and declares unconditional love for her family, but trips over frozen Tangina and falls to the floor. Suddenly, Tangina frees her arm from the ice and grabs the necklace. She convinces Kane that she is the one who can take him to the other side, not Carol Anne. Kane puts his hand on the necklace, but instead of ascending, his face cracks and he explodes. The blast frees everyone, but annihilates Tangina and causes a violent thunderstorm. Patricia, Carol Anne, Donna, Scott and Bruce finally leave the mirror dimension. Carol Anne sees a reflection of smiling Tangina in the mirror who waves at them and sheds a tear.
  • Craig T. Nelson declined the request to be in the film, saying "two was enough". There was talk of him appearing in a fourth film, but the idea was quickly cancelled following Heather O'Rourke 's passing.
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poltergeist budget

The Tragic Real-Life Story Of The Poltergeist Cast

The Freelings frantically search for Carol Ann in 'Poltergeist' (1982)

"They're heeeeere !" Who can forget those chilling words from little Carol Ann (Heather O'Rourke) as ghostly apparitions projected out of a television and into the Freeling family household in the classic 1982 horror film  Poltergeist ? "The TV People" led by the evil Reverend Kane (Julian Beck) would go on to terrorize audiences (as well as the Freelings) in three movies, including 1986's Poltergeist II: The Other Side  and the final film in the trilogy, 1988's Poltergeist III .

All three films are filled with memorable, spine-tingly moments such as the hideous clown doll that pulls Robbie Freeling (Oliver Robins) under his bed, or perhaps the nightmarish tree that smashes through his bedroom window and literally tries to devour him. Another etched-in-brain scene for many is from the second film, when Steve ( Craig T. Nelson ) swallows a possessed worm while guzzling a bottle of tequila, which leads to him eventually vomiting out an H.R. Giger monstrosity. What happens in these movies is truly the stuff of nightmares, but to many, it's what happened in real life to some of the cast members that's far more tragic.

Even if you're just a casual moviegoer or horror fan, you've probably heard of "the Poltergeist curse." It's been the subject of many online articles, TV specials and mini-documentaries, including E! True Hollywood Story: Curse of the Poltergeist and most recently, episode three of Shudder's Cursed Films . Sadly, four lead actors from the trilogy all suffered deaths within a six-year span following the original film's release, leading many to believe that the movie sets were somehow cursed. This led to other various myths and exaggerated claims about what happened on the set — but before we get into that, let's look at the four main deaths that paved the way for the now infamous curse.

Dominique Dunne

Perhaps one of the most grisly and tragic deaths was that of 22-year-old actress Dominique Dunne, who played the eldest sister in the first film, Dana Freeling. Her character was mentioned in Poltergeist II as being off to college, but the reality was, any ideas screenwriters might have had for her character in the sequel had to be scrapped entirely due to Dunne's untimely death just months after the original movie was released. 

On the evening of October 30, 1982, Dunne was brutally strangled by an aggravated ex-boyfriend. The assailant, identified as sous chef John Sweeney, showed up at her West Hollywood home in hopes of repairing their relationship and moving back in with her. An argument erupted on Dunne's driveway, where the deadly attack took place. When police arrived at the scene, Sweeney was quoted as saying "I've killed my girlfriend!" 

At the time, Dunne was still alive; she was rushed to Cedar's-Sinai Medical Center, where she remained in a coma for five days and never regained consciousness. On November 4, 1982, just three weeks before what would have been her 23rd birthday, she was removed from life support and pronounced dead. Dunne was considered a rising star at the time and had just landed the role of Robin Maxwell in the 1983 science-fiction miniseries  V , which she was rehearsing for the night she was assaulted.

Julian Beck

Arguably one of the creepiest villains in horror history is Reverend Henry Kane, the human form of "The Beast" played by thespian Julian Beck. He's the gaunt, 19th century-looking cult leader who spends most of Poltergeist II trying to infiltrate the Freeling residence and abduct Carol Ann — and yes, he's also the same dude who possessed the aforementioned tequila worm. Even though he completed principal photography of the film, Beck would never live to see the theatrical release of Poltergeist II since he passed away on September 14, 1985 — during the film's post-production period and a full eight months before its premiere. 

Unlike Dominique Dunne's shocking murder, Beck passed away after a long battle with stomach cancer, something he had been diagnosed with in 1983 . So while his death is certainly unfortunate, it also definitely wasn't out of left field. Beck was dying of stomach cancer during the production and the entire crew was well aware of his diagnosis. Some believe it even influenced his chilling final performance in a film.

Will Sampson

Some remember actor Will Sampson as Chief Bromden from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest , but horror fans know him as Taylor, the Native American shaman from Poltergeist II . Sampson passed away due to post-operative kidney failure following a heart and lung transplant. Again, this is another death of a cast member that eerily occurred not long after the release of a Poltergeist movie. Sampson passed away on June 3, 1987 , but much like Beck's situation, he had a preexisting medical condition. Sampson suffered from scleroderma, a chronic degenerative condition that caused him severe malnourishment and other complications with his heart, skin, and lungs. He was only age 53 at his time of death.

Heather O'Rourke

The most well-known death that sparked and fuels the " Poltergeist curse" fire to this day was the shocking loss of Heather O' Rourke, who played Carol Ann — the young, angelic face of the entire franchise. During production of Poltergeist III in 1987, O'Rourke was undergoing treatment for Crohn's disease, which would turn out to be a misdiagnosis. In the third episode of  Shudder's   Cursed Films docuseries, director Gary Sherman shares several memories and speaks very fondly of the young actress, saying that, aside from O'Rourke's "chipmunk cheeks" — a side effect caused by the bowel inflammation medications she was taking at the time — she remained in high spirits and overall seemed physically fine and enjoyed her time on the set. Little did he know or anyone else know that something fatal was brewing within. 

Fast forward to January of 1988, when O'Rourke became severely ill and her health started deteriorating at an alarming rate. On February 1, 1988, she was rushed to the hospital, where she  ultimately died due to septic shock caused by undetected intestinal blockage. This blockage ruptured and the toxins released in her body proved to be too much. During an operation the 12-year-old O'Rourke was undergoing the same day of her death, it was also revealed that she did not have Crohn's disease, but an acute bowel obstruction due to a congenital stenosis — something that could've been surgically corrected had it been detected sooner. With only four months until the film's release, her death caused the studio to force Sherman to shoot an entirely new ending using a double, something the director was strongly against. He preferred that the movie not be released at all, but MGM ultimately had its way. O'Rourke's tragic end would be the fourth death of a Poltergeist major cast member in a six-year span.

Lou Perryman

While the deaths of Dominique Dunne, Julian Beck, Will Sampson, and Heather O'Rourke are seen as part of the supposed "curse," there is another death that some fans like to bring up to further pile on the evidence, but it happened 17 years after the release of the original movie and it's very likely someone you don't recall seeing. Actor Lou Perryman, who had a very minor role as a construction worker named Pugsley, was gruesomely murdered in his home by Seth Christopher Tatum — an ex-con with a history of mental health problems. On April 1, 2009 , Tatum was on the run after a violent altercation with his mother's ex-boyfriend when he randomly came across Perryman's home (the two had never met) and killed him. His reason? Just to steal his car. The case was settled two years later when the killer, who'd stopped taking his medication for bipolar disorder shortly before the murder, was sentenced to life in prison .

Oliver Robins is alive and well

It's apparent there's a lot of real-life death surrounding the Poltergeist movies, and while some like to believe it has to do with a curse, others believe it's simply a string of unfortunate coincidences. You might also hear other false or exaggerated Poltergeist myths, such as all three kids from the original film died, which is totally untrue. Robbie Freeling, played by Oliver Robins, is alive and well. In a 2015 interview with the Daily Mail , when asked about the strange deaths surrounding the franchise, he told them he believes there is no curse. "To be completely honest, I don't think anyone that was involved in the movie ever really took the curse seriously. There is no curse — it is just tragic coincidences," he said. "People may try and connect the dots and make something out of it, but they are possibly going to make connections that probably aren't there. They do make for great spooky stories, but at the end of the day, they really aren't true."

Did real human skeletons cause the curse?

If there is a Poltergeist  curse, what caused it? One widely-discussed theory is the fact that real skeletons were used by the effects crew in the first two movies, most notably in the muddy swimming pool scene from the original with Diane Freeling, played by JoBeth Williams. Desecration of human remains plays a big role in the first film as the probable cause of the Freelings' pesky poltergeist problem. How ironic would it be if these real skeletons somehow jinxed the cast? This theory doesn't exactly hold up, though — Williams is still alive and well, as is daddy Freeling himself, Craig T. Nelson.

One man who is strongly against the notion that these real skeletons led to the deaths of the actors is special make-up effects artist Craig Reardon, who worked on Poltergeist . "The subject of the skeletons that were used in Poltergeist , to my utter amazement has created sort of an online mythology, and not a pretty one," said Reardon when interviewed for Shudder's Cursed Films . "Apparently, there's a contingent of people out there who believe that the fact that real human skeletons were used are some kind of pretext to 'explain' why two actresses that worked in the film subsequently died, which is not only just conceptually ridiculous, but is personally offensive to me."

As Reardon went on to point out, "human skeletons have been used in movies for years and years." Examples cited in his interview include  House on Haunted Hill  and the 1931  Frankenstein.  "No low-budget B film is gonna pay anybody to sculpt a human skeleton when all you had to do was go to a biological supply house and get a human skeleton. You know, wake up and small the budget. That's really the way it worked," he added. "The idea of having a few of them on the set of Poltergeist and killing two lovely young girls is a pretty pernicious idea."

Zelda Rubinstein slams the curse

Perhaps one of the most famous Poltergeist characters of all, arguably only second to Carol Ann, is the clairvoyant ghost-vanquisher Tangina "This house is clean" Barrons, played to perfection by Zelda Rubinstein, who passed away at the age of 76 in 2010 due to complications that followed a mild heart attack. Most never consider her death part of the curse due to her age, cause of death, and how far removed it was from the close string of deaths between 1982 and 1988. And that's likely how she would want it. Much like Oliver Robins, Rubinstein always felt the idea of a Poltergeist  curse was just superstitious nonsense. In fact, you might even say she found it to be downright preposterous. 

In a 1988 interview during a Showbiz Today segment on CNN, she candidly spoke about the curse in her signature gracious manner but ended it on a classy yet blunt note. "I owe it to Heather to present her case, as most honestly and lovingly as I can. I loved this child very much and I am still very grieved at her passing," said Rubinstein. "Heather died because of an undetected, congenital, anatomical defect. Julian Beck died from cancer in his mature years. Will Sampson passed away after receiving a heart and lung transplant. It's my understanding he had an environmental disease. And Dominique Dunne died at the hands of an extremely ill-directed, passionate boyfriend. These are reasons, I do not call this a jinx. I think that it's pretty much a courtesy to put to an end this superstitious crap ."

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What Is The 'Poltergeist' Curse? Is Spielberg's Beloved Horror Film Truly Hexed?

Why have so many actors featured in the "Poltergeist" franchise suffered from mysterious deaths?

poltergeist budget

A house built on an ancient Native American burial ground. A child who travels to the great beyond. Spiritual mediums battling the forces of evil. And most bizarrely of all, a handful of mysterious deaths.

Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg's 1982 film "Poltergeist" is a beloved horror classic. Using inventive special effects and compelling character development, the movie is frequently ranked amongst the greatest entries into the genre of all time. "Poltergeist" would go on to spawn several sequels (and a critically reviled reboot) — but each attempt at continuing the franchise is met with considerable fear. That's because many fans of the film believe these scary movies, in reality, are cursed. So what is the "Poltergeist" curse... and is it true?

The original "Poltergeist" trilogy tells the story of the Freeling family and their terrifying encounters with the supernatural. Gifted with a magical essence, the youngest daughter of this average suburban household, Carol Anne, is relentlessly pursued by a cavalcade of malicious spirits, including that of a sadistic doomsday cult leader named Kane.

poltergeist budget

JoBeth Williams looks on as Craig T. Nelson holds Oliver Robins in a scene from the film "Poltergeist," 1982. Photo by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Getty Images

The legend of the so-called Poltergeist Curse began the same year the first movie was released. Actress Dominique Young, who made her debut in "Poltergeist" as the elder sister of Carol Anne, was strangled to death by her former boyfriend, John Thomas Sweeney, in the wake of an argument between the two. According to a New York Times article at the time , Dunne was put on life support after the attack from her former beau but passed away five days later. Sweeney would go on to be found guilty of voluntary manslaughter, sparking outrage amidst the perpetrator's family, who had hoped less serious charges would be pursued, according to a 1983 article from The Freelance Star .

Next in the string of spooky deaths was that of Julian Beck, who played the aforementioned apocalyptic prognosticator Kane in "Poltergeist II." Beck would not live to see the release of the sequel, which would be his final film: He passed away at the age of 60 after a battle with stomach cancer on September 14, 1985, according to The New York Times .

A third death of an actor associated with the film started rousing spectral suspicions. Will Sampson had played a kindly ghost named Taylor who protected Carol Anne in the second film of the series. He died on June 3, 1987, after a lengthy illness caused by a chronic degenerative condition, according to The Herald Journal . He was 53 years old.

Not long after that, Heather O'Rourke, the young actress who played protagonist Carol Anne in all three films, would pass away rather suddenly. Doctors had been attempting to repair an acute bowel obstruction caused by congenital stenosis of the intestine, but could not save the young thespian in time, according to the LA Times . O'Rourke was pronounced dead on February 1, 1988. She was 12 years old.

There was one other death as well: actress and activist Zelda Rubinstein, who played the plucky, diminutive psychic in the three original films, passed away from natural causes at the age of 76, according to CNN . Her death is not usually connected to the so-called curse, as she was not exactly cut down in her prime.

The shocking nature of O'Rourke's death solidified for many that something suspicious was afoot. Rumors about which members of the cast would die next began swirling about (and were more difficult to debunk before the advent of the internet): For a time, some mistakenly believed that Oliver Robins, the actor who played Carol Anne's brother Robbie Freeling in the first two films, had died in a car crash or had been mistakenly strangled by the mechanical clown doll in the first movie, according to Snopes , a fact checking website that covers urban legends, and Bloody Disgusting , a website that covers horror films. A more extreme version of the rumor had some claiming that every actor who played a main character in the film had died. This, also, is patently untrue: Craig T. Nelson (Steve Freeling), Jo Beth Williams (Diane Freeling), and Tom Skerritt (Bruce Gardner) are all very much alive.

When "Poltergeist" was rebooted in 2015, some wondered whether the stars would be safe. Although the movie was widely panned , it turns out no one has perished (yet!) as a result of their involvement. That being said, director Gil Kenan noted some paranormal phenomena during filming.

"Lights that could turn on anywhere else in the neighborhood would blow out the second you’d try to light them on [the set],” Kenan wrote in a Reddit AMA . “Also, I used a lot of aerial drone photography in the film, and the drone-pilots were never able to lock in the GPS signal in this field. We would have to move 10 feet away to launch the craft."

“The house that I rented during filming was straight-up legit haunted by a female spirit dressed in black,” Kenan continued. “And I became aware of her within the first few days of staying in the house. And only after I left did I receive a call from the previous owner, who had moved back in, who was terrified by the goings on in the house, and wanted to see if I had experienced any of it. So it was an incredible real-life inspiration for filming that followed me home.”

A series of relatively explainable deaths does not a curse make, but superstitions run wild in Hollywood, where the span and scope of the "Poltergeist" legend has grown in the audience's imaginations. In a series about the terror of the afterlife, fans have obviously let their fears run wild into the real world.

[Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Getty Images]

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American Poltergeist

American Poltergeist (2015)

Horrific visions torment Taryn when she, her brother and college pals move into an infamous old house. Then, her bloody hallucinations become all too real. Horrific visions torment Taryn when she, her brother and college pals move into an infamous old house. Then, her bloody hallucinations become all too real. Horrific visions torment Taryn when she, her brother and college pals move into an infamous old house. Then, her bloody hallucinations become all too real.

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  • Goofs When Taryn is going through the storage box up in her room, the shadow of the boom mic is clearly visible moving around on the wall behind her.

Michael : Dianna? Dianna?

Dianna : [Dianna appears out of nowhere] Yes?

Michael : Oh! Hey, uh, does this door lead to the basement?

Dianna : I believe so.

Michael : Great! Uh, do you have the key for it, 'cause I'd like to stick some sporting equipment inside if possible.

Dianna : It was locked when I moved in. No key.

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American Poltergeist

2015, Horror/Mystery & thriller, 1h 33m

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American poltergeist   photos.

Strange events plague a group of friends in a haunted Massachusetts house.

Genre: Horror, Mystery & thriller

Original Language: English

Director: Mike Rutkowski

Producer: Richard Benveniste , Shawn Michael Lukaszewicz , Mike Rutkowski , Donna Spangler

Writer: Mike Rutkowski , Nicole Holland

Release Date (Streaming): Aug 30, 2016

Runtime: 1h 33m

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  1. Poltergeist (1982 film)

    Poltergeist is a 1982 American supernatural horror film directed by Tobe Hooper and written by Steven Spielberg, Michael Grais and Mark Victor from a story by Spielberg. It stars JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson and Beatrice Straight, and was produced by Spielberg and Frank Marshall.

  2. Poltergeist (1982)

    Movie Details Ranking on other Records and Milestones Financial analysis of Poltergeist (1982) including budget, domestic and international box office gross, DVD and Blu-ray sales reports, total earnings and profitability.

  3. Poltergeist (2015 film)

    However, it was a moderate box office success, grossing $95.4 million worldwide against a budget of $35 million. Plot Eric and Amy Bowen are a married couple looking to buy a house for themselves and their three children: 16-year-old daughter Kendra, 9-year-old son Griffin and 6-year-old daughter Madison.

  4. 'Poltergeist': Film Review

    In 1982, Poltergeist saw the brilliant pairing of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 's low-budget horror director Tobe Hooper with far more mainstream screenwriter and producer Steven Spielberg for...

  5. Poltergeist (1982)

    99+ Photos Horror Thriller A family's home is haunted by a host of demonic ghosts. Director Tobe Hooper Writers Steven Spielberg Michael Grais Mark Victor Stars JoBeth Williams Heather O'Rourke Craig T. Nelson See production, box office & company info Watch on Max with Prime Video Channels More watch options Add to Watchlist

  6. Poltergeist (2015)

    Financial analysis of Poltergeist (2015) including budget, domestic and international box office gross, DVD and Blu-ray sales reports, total earnings and profitability. Poltergeist (2015) - Financial Information

  7. Poltergeist (franchise)

    The Poltergeist films collected a total of approximately $132 million at the United States box office. Fox 2000 Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer released a "revisionist" reboot of the series [1] on May 22, 2015. [2] Films Poltergeist (1982)

  8. Poltergeist movie review & film summary (1982)

    Roger Ebert June 01, 1982 Tweet A bad night for JoBeth Williams in "Poltergeist." Now streaming on: Powered by JustWatch Special effects in the movies have grown so skilled, sensational, and scary that they sometimes upstage the human actors. And they often cost a lot more.

  9. 18 Things You Never Knew About 'Poltergeist'

    The budget for "Poltergeist" was a reported $9.5 million (some sources say $10.7 million). It earned back $76 million in North America and another $47 million overseas. 14.

  10. Poltergeist (2015)

    4.9 /10 60K YOUR RATING Rate POPULARITY 3,342 878 Play trailer 1:43 16 Videos 99+ Photos Horror Thriller A family whose suburban home is haunted by evil forces must come together to rescue their youngest daughter after the apparitions take her captive. Director Gil Kenan Writers David Lindsay-Abaire Steven Spielberg Michael Grais Stars Sam Rockwell

  11. Poltergeist

    Poltergeist. A family whose suburban home is haunted by evil forces must come together to rescue their youngest daughter after the apparitions take her captive. ... Budget $35,000,000. Release ...

  12. Poltergeist II: The Other Side

    Released in the spring of 1986, Poltergeist II: The Other Side was a financial success, earning nearly $75 million worldwide. Critical reviews were negative, but the film nevertheless followed its predecessor with a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, as well as two Saturn Awards . Plot

  13. Poltergeist (1982)

    Poltergeist is an American 1982 supernatural horror film, directed by Tobe Hooper, produced by Steven Spielberg, and released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer on June 4, 1982. It is the first and most successful of the Poltergeist film trilogy, and was nominated for three Academy Awards. The film was ranked as #80 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments and the Chicago Film Critics Association named it ...

  14. Poltergeist

    Opening $6,896,612. 890 theaters. Release Date Jun 4, 1982. Running Time 1 hr 54 min. Genres Horror Thriller. In Release 217 days/31 weeks. Widest Release 1,060 theaters. IMDbPro See more details ...

  15. Poltergeist III (1988)

    The wiki in: American films, Unfinished, Films, and 9 more Poltergeist III (1988) Sign in to edit Poltergeist III They're back... again. IMDb rating of 4.6 Directed By Gary Sherman Produced By Barry Bernardi Gary Sherman (executive producer) Written By Gary Sherman Brian Taggert Starring Tom Skerritt Nancy Allen Heather O'Rourke Zelda Rubinstein


    Rate 40 Metascore Carol Anne is staying with her aunt in a high-rise building, where the supernatural forces haunting her make their return. Director: Gary Sherman | Stars: Heather O'Rourke, Tom Skerritt, Nancy Allen, Zelda Rubinstein Votes: 19,831 | Gross: $14.11M 4. Poltergeist (2015) PG-13 | 93 min | Horror, Thriller 4.9 Rate 47 Metascore

  17. 'Poltergeist': The Chilling Story Behind the Film's Mythical Curse

    In 1982, Poltergeist shook horror fans to their core. In the spooky story, a typical suburban family, The Freelings, become victims of malevolent spirits. ... "Wake up and smell the budget ...

  18. Poltergeist III / Trivia

    Trivia /. Poltergeist III. Box Office Bomb: Budget, $9.5 million. Box office, $14,114,488 (US). Killed off the Poltergeist theatrical movies until a reboot in 2015. Also had the unfortunate situation of being released shortly after the death of its 12-year-old star Heather O'Rourke, causing the studio to take great lengths to advertise the film ...

  19. Poltergeist (1982) 4K UHD Trailer

    This September 20, 2022, bring POLTERGEIST into your home, for the first time on 4K UHD!Visit us at our official website at Amblin.com.

  20. The Tragic Real-Life Story Of The Poltergeist Cast

    On the evening of October 30, 1982, Dunne was brutally strangled by an aggravated ex-boyfriend. The assailant, identified as sous chef John Sweeney, showed up at her West Hollywood home in hopes of...

  21. The 'Poltergeist' Curse: The Deaths Of Dominique Young, Julian Beck

    A house built on an ancient Native American burial ground. A child who travels to the great beyond. Spiritual mediums battling the forces of evil. And most bizarrely of all, a handful of mysterious deaths. Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg's 1982 film "Poltergeist" is a beloved horror classic. Using inventive special effects and compelling ...

  22. American Poltergeist (2015)

    5 Photos Horror Thriller Horrific visions torment Taryn when she, her brother and college pals move into an infamous old house. Then, her bloody hallucinations become all too real. Director Michael Rutkowski Writers Nicole Holland Michael Rutkowski Stars Donna Spangler Luke Brandon Field Simona Fusco See production, box office & company info

  23. American Poltergeist

    Strange events plague a group of friends in a haunted Massachusetts house.