In the mystic, metaphysical realm of the poltergeist, nothing remains the same. The real becomes the surreal; the familiar is offset by the unfamiliar. It is a nightmare founded in fact.
In MGM's "Poltergeist," produced by Steven Spielberg and Frank Marshall and directed by Tobe Hooper from a screenplay by Spielberg, Michael Grais & Mark Victor, the nightmare begins in the home of Steve and Diane Freeling (CRAIG T. NELSON and JOBETH WILLIAMS), an attractive suburban couple with three children, who suddenly find themselves at the center of a terrifying poltergeist phenomenon.
Almost overnight, the Freelings' quiet world of Sunday afternoon football games and PTA meetings is terrorized by violent and supernatural intrusions from a world beyond.
Although volumes have been written on the subject, poltergeists still remain an unexplainable phenomenon –– a fact that captured the imagination of Steven Spielberg, whose previous films have captivated millions with their gripping reality and dazzling adventures. From the terror of "Jaws" and the awe of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" to the electrifying escapades of "Raiders of the Lost Ark," Spielberg has proven that he has his finger on the pulse of the movie going public, or as one well-respected critic wrote, "Steven Spielberg knows how to tell a story on screen."
"Poltergeist means noisy ghost, or in the vernacular, bratty ghost," Spielberg explains. "It's not to be taken lightly in our movie, they are anything but bratty. They are violent and very volatile."
Director Tobe Hooper adds that "Poltergeist" can best be described as "a sensational roller coaster ride that is absolutely terrifying and exciting at the same time."
Spielberg and Hooper met four years ago after he had seen "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre." "It's a real cult film, I know," says Spielberg, "but one of the most truly visceral movies ever made. Essentially it starts inside the stomach and ends in the heart. As a filmmaker who likes to see everything, I loved it."
The two filmmakers met again in 1980. "Steven told me he wanted to produce more films and asked me to direct for him," said Hooper.
"Poltergeist" also marks the reunion of Spielberg and Frank Marshall, who produced the blockbuster success, "Raiders of the Lost Ark." Spielberg's previous credits as producer include "Continental Divide," "Used Cars," and "I Wanna Hold Your Hand."
If Spielberg is noted for placing familiar people and places in unfamiliar situations, then Hooper's hallmark is his ability to sustain the terror and tension once they are there. Add to this "Poltergeist" formula a cadre of special effects artists, including Academy Award winner Richard Edlund ("Star Wars," "The Empire Strikes Back," "Raiders of the Lost Ark") and the technicians of George Lucas' optical effects house, Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) and the combination promises to have moviegoers on the edge of their seats.
Spielberg allows that there are some similarities between "Poltergeist" and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." "I never believed that UFOs were antagonistic phenomena," he says, "I always thought that they were something wondrous and hopeful. I feel somewhat the same way about hauntings."
"Both films actively center on the children," continues Spielberg, "The difference is that while 'Close Encounters' is about awe and wonder, 'Poltergeist' creates great jeopardy and terror."
"There is no denying that the poltergeist is a citizen of the world," wrote Dr. William G. Roll, a former Duke University parapsychologist and current project director of Psychical Research Foundation, thereby confirming what scholars and skeptics have debated for years –– the existence of unusual phenomena that manifest themselves through mysterious movements of objects. Reports of their activities include the disappearance and reappearance of household objects, movement of furniture, blasts of wind, flashes of light and electrical charges, and incidents of biting and apparitions.
Poltergeist intrusions are quite different from hauntings. Physical and sometimes violent, poltergeists erupt spontaneously, linger for a period of time –– then just as inexplicably, disappear. A poltergeist intrusion rarely lasts more than two months and more often than not, will be associated with a living individual under the age of 20. Hauntings are typically non-physical in nature and can go on indefinitely.
Poltergeists are studied by parapsychologists, following in the footsteps of the science's founder, Dr. J.B. Rhine. Rhine's work in the 1930s blazed the trail for the current research, which is undertaken by scholars at the world's leading universities, doctor at prominent medical institutions (principally at Maimonedes Medical Center in New York) and by individuals like Edgar D. Mitchell, the sixth man to walk on the moon and pilot of the lunar landing module of Apollo 14.
MGM's "Poltergeist" is fiction, but the phenomenon is securely rooted in fact.
"Every fourth person you know probably has had an experience with a poltergeist or knows someone who has," Spielberg stated, "You just have to ask around."
Tobe Hooper tells of his poltergeist experience following his father's death when the rocking chair started rocking all by itself and china and glasses and knick-knacks moved about his family's home. Beatrice Straight, who portrays a parapsychologist in the film vividly recalls a ghost who took up residence in her Connecticut country house. Dominique Dunne, who plays the eldest of the Freelings' three children, had a strange experience during the first week of shooting. A set of bookshelves that had been secured to the walls, popped out of their brackets, showering books all over the floor.
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