Poltergeist (1982) is a memorable supernatural horror film from co-producer/co-writer Steven Spielberg who teamed with director Tobe Hopper – known for his cult horror classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). It was Spielberg’s first smash hit as a co-producer, who was paired with Frank Marshall, who later produced Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988). The film was the highest-grossing (domestic) horror film of 1982 and the eighth highest-grossing film overall in the same year.
This classic ‘haunted house ghost story’ is fascinating to watch, with its extraordinary special effects created by George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic team, and a screenplay by Spielberg, Michael Grais, and Mark Victor. However, in the early ’80s, it was criticized for only receiving a PG rating, given its intense scenes of horror – accentuated by the new Dolby sound system technology. In reaction (in part), the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) in 1984 created a new ratings category in between PG and R ratings – PG-13.
This Spielberg production was released at the same time as another suburban tale with visitors: E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982). It could also be interpreted as a threatening, scarier version of director Spielberg’s pre-E.T. film: Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).
Compared to both films, Poltergeist was the dark flip side for Diane and Steve Freeling (Williams and Nelson) in the Cuesta Verde housing development of suburban California, with ordinary objects that turned threatening (for example, a suburban tract dream home, a backyard tree, a favorite clown doll, a closet, and a TV screen).
The famous poster reflected one of the more memorable, spookier moments of the film, with young 5 year-old Carole Anne (Heather O’Rourke) pressed against a television showing nothing but white noise, and saying:
Another tremendous trick scene was the one in which the camera slowly panned away from a kitchen table – and then returned to view a stack of chairs. Here, a behind-the-scenes look at how some of the visual effects were accomplished in the film.