|ABOUT THE PRODUCTION|
"We're just making a movie to entertain the folks," grinned producer Frank Marshall.
Without pretentions, Spielberg and Marshall hope that "Poltergeist" is "a very scary movie" –– but they choose to say little else about it.
Aside from a few minor cuts and abrasions suffered by the Freelings, the filmmakers chose not to rely on blood-letting, gore and untimely deaths as the catalyst for their jolts of horror.
"There are no knifings, no murders, and no decapitated heads," said Spielberg. "We do have one scene which appears to be instantly violent and gory, but it turns out to be a quick hallucination."
"It is an uphill battle," continued Spielberg, "especially these days when competing with films that generate good box-office through bloodletting and spectacular violence. Having joined a similar genre, we don't offer blood or violence as a means of explaining 'Poltergeist.'"
He is quick to add, however, that "some of the scariest things in our film happen in broad daylight."
The filmmakers earmarked a full one-third of the production budget for special effects. "Believe it or not, there are over 100 optical effects shots in this movie," notes Spielberg. "In 'Raiders of the Lost Ark,' we only used about forty throughout the entire film."
At the helm of the massive special effects effort was George Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic Operation (ILM) undertaking "Poltergeist" as their last project prior to the start of "Return of the Jedi," the next chapter in the "Star Wars" saga.
The special effects in "Poltergeist" range from matte paintings –– to superimpositions –– to state-of-the-art optical innovations. "We are blazing all sorts of new trails," said Spielberg.
Even with the large number of special effects, Spielberg wanted to keep within the range of plausibility. "There are things in this movie that motion picture audiences have never seen before."
ILM's visuals are but a part of "Poltergeist's" elaborate special effects. Wind, rain, smoke, moving furniture, and a whole assortment of practical, mechanical effects had to work in front of the cameras during production.
Los Angeles may have its earthquakes, but hurricanes are unheard of in this city, so MGM's Soundstage 12 was used to create one. The effects were so authentically devastating, one passerby recommended the set for federal disaster aid.
Mike Wood, who spearheaded the day-to-day operation of the special effects and his crew seldom had a moment's rest throughout the twelve week shooting schedule.
Craig Reardon's make-up is another of the integral elements special effects package. His life-like creations enhance numerous scenes, creating another dimension of awe and wonder, plus dose of terror.
Elaborate sets were built on three soundstages at MGM Studios, where portions of "Poltergeist" were filmed.
"These sets were unique because we had to install a swimming pool and needed a crawlspace for special effects," Spielberg explained. "Since we couldn't dig through the concrete floor of the soundstage and had to construct another set on the stage with a removable floor, we had to build the key set fifteen feet above the ground."
Production designer Jim Spencer created both the interior and exterior of the Freeling House, plus the backyard and swimming pool on MGM's Stage 12. Spencer also had to match the exterior of the house to the one that served as principal dwelling during the company's eight days of location shooting in Simi Valley, California.
The upstairs bedrooms were constructed on another stage and equipped with a device that could trigger a simulated earthquake. The entire master bedroom was constructed on a moveable tract to allow room for cameras and special effects.
"What you see on the screen is a typical suburban household," Spielberg said, "but when you see the number of special effects that had to occur, you'll see why we had to go to Hollywood and shoot it the old-fashioned way."
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