Behind-The-Scenes Facts About 'Poltergeist,' And Why It Was A Haunted Film

Ashley Hunte
Heather O'Rourke in the 1982 film Poltergeist.
IMDb | MGM via IMDb

1982's Poltergeist was definitely a game changer when it first released. Even now, four full decades since it first hit cinemas, the film is considered a horror classic (and a must-watch during spooky season).

A lot of work went into making this film, and some of it attributes to the rumor that it's haunted. Here are some pretty interesting (and creepy) facts about 1982's Poltergeist.

Real skeletons were used in the film (maybe).

One of the most well-known rumors about Poltergeist is that it used real human skeletons in scenes.
Unsplash | Sabina Music Rich

Rumors about this have been swirling around for literal decades at this point. Some will claim it to be fact, others just speculation, but there's a chance that real skeletons were used in scenes where skeletons appeared (because apparently, actual bone was cheaper than plastic ones).

But... we'll never know for sure.

JoBeth Williams with a skeleton in Poltergeist.
IMDb | MGM via IMDb

Whether the claims are real, or just overblown speculation to make the movie's backstory even creepier, the fact remains that it could be true, and that's probably creepy enough in itself.

Multiple cast members died throughout the production of the film and its sequels.

Furniture swirling around in a bedroom.

Throughout filming or shortly after the release of the movies of the original Poltergeist trilogy, four cast members passed away tragically. These deaths have fueled the rumors that the film series is cursed.

The first death was Dominique Dunne.

Dominique Dunne among other Poltergeist cast members.
IMDb | MGM via IMDb

Dunne, who played Dana Freeling, was strangled by her ex-boyfriend, John Thomas Sweeney, while in the midst of an argument, and passed away in November of 1982. Her death came just months after Poltergeist released in theaters in June of that year.

Julian Beck passed before the sequel's release.

Julian Beck with Heather O'Rourke in Poltergeist II.
IMDb | MGM via IMDb

Poltergeist II: The Other Side ended up being Beck's final film role. He had been diagnosed with stomach cancer in 1983, and passed shortly after filming wrapped for the movie, at age 60.

Will Sampson, who also appeared in the sequel, passed away after its release.

Will Sampson with Zelda Rubenstein in Poltergeist II.
IMDb | MGM via IMDb

Unlike the other actors, Sampson's death occurred a year after the film's release. Sampson, who portrayed Taylor the Medicine Man, died of kidney failure in 1987.

The fourth death strangely connected to the film series is that of Heather O'Rourke.

Heather O'Rourke in Poltergeist III, what would be her final film role.
IMDb | MGM via IMDb

O'Rourke had a promising career as a child actress, but unfortunately passed before the third film of the franchise, Poltergeist III, was set to be released.

The actress played Carol Anne Freeling in all three films.

Heather O'Rourke portraying Carol Anne for the first time in Poltergeist.
IMDb | MGM via IMDb

In 1987, she was misdiagnosed with Crohn's disease, but would later suffer a cardiac arrest and pass away in hospital. Her cause of death is believed to be related to a congenital abnormality in the intestines.

It's for these reasons that many believe the films to be cursed.

Robbie staring at the large, menacing tree branch outside his window.

After all, the amount of deaths that surrounded the series (plus the skeleton rumor) make it pretty easy to think some of the ghosts from the films haunted the cast in real life.

The first film follows a similar story to a 'Twilight Zone' episode.

Carol Anne saying "they're here" menacingly.

The episode titled "Little Girl Lost" features a girl who gets stuck in an alternate dimension through the walls in her bedroom. It's incredibly similar to the plot of what would become Poltergeist (just replace walls with a TV).

Apparently, Richard Matheson never received any credit for the idea.

The Twilight Zone Logo over black and white stars.
Giphy | Paramount+

Though it's undeniable that Steven Spielberg and the other writers of the film were inspired by Matheson and The Twilight Zone, Matheson says he never got any credit for it.

Spielberg had apparently wanted Stephen King to write the script.

Prolific horror author Stephen King, who almost wrote the script for Poltergeist.

Spielberg ended up co-writing the final script, but he apparently wanted King to write it. Apparently, King was asking for too much money, so Spielberg had no choice but to refuse.

Spielberg was incredibly involved with the film's production.

Carol Anne being carried away while in her bedroom.

At the time, Spielberg was also producing and directing E.T., which also released in 1982. He wasn't allowed to direct both films, so Spielberg left Poltergeist to fellow director Tobe Hooper.

But Spielberg was still around for filming.

Robbie picking up a bent fork.

In fact, in the scene when Marty rips his own face off, it's Spielberg's hands that are doing the actual ripping! This is because they only had one bust to use to create the effect. Martin Casella, who played Marty, was afraid of ruining it.

Though, Spielberg's involvement lead to a bit of controversy on set.

Diane Looking on in shock and horror.

Namely, many believe that Spielberg himself is the true director of the film (despite the fact that he literally wasn't allowed to film it).

This is (obviously) disputed by Tobe Hooper.

Carol Anne placing her hands on the TV screen.

Though Spielberg helped a lot with production, Hooper is the sole director. He claims that a lot of confusion stems from the L.A. Times seeing Spielberg on set, and not knowing who was really directing.

Zelda Rubenstein, who played Tangina, only spent six days on set.

Zelda Rubenstein as Tangina in Poltergeist.
IMDb | MGM via IMDb

Despite filming taking place over 12 weeks, Rubenstein was only around to film for less than a week of it. But apparently, everything she did made it into the final film.

Which, for a bit, she thought was never going to release.

Tangina saying, "Not let's go get your daughter."

After filming her scenes, Rubenstein didn't hear from any of the cast and crew for a full year. But then she was contacted to do some voiceovers, and then invited to a screening.

The infamous tree scene was inspired by a co-writer's childhood.

Michael Grais, who co-wrote the film alongside Spielberg and Mark Victor, added this scene based on a childhood memory. While in his home during a storm one night, a tree branch crashed through a window in his house.

And the scene itself was actually shot in reverse.

The moment the tree breaks the window in Robbie's room.

While we watch Robbie (played by Oliver Robbins) get swallowed by a tree, he's actually being spat up. The whole thing was filmed and then reversed in order to create the effect.