It is not a stretch to say that the horror film community is still experiencing the trends that were set by Poltergeist. Indian burial ground curses, film set curses, cursed children… like, all the curses can find their roots in this film.
Poltergeist follows a family as they move into a new home and soon begin to experience some strange and supernatural happenings. Eventually their youngest daughter becomes the focal point of the haunting and disappears. The family fights desperately to bring her back. It is eventually revealed that the house is being haunted because it is constructed on an old Indian burial ground. While the trope of the ancient curse is mostly used in a tongue-in-cheek fashion these days, at the time it was still a very scary concept, and as opposed to being a MacGuffin, Poltergeist holds on to that card until the end and treats it as a twist. The twist is revealed during the films climax as the patriarch of the family witness skeletons rising from the ground (due to flooding rains, not zombies).
This scene in particular actually segways perfectly into another interesting point about the movie…
A few of the skeletons that were used in the filming of that scene are real human skeletons.
This fact, along with the premature deaths of several of the stars of the film has led many to believe that the movie set was cursed. The actress who played the youngest daughter died at the age of twelve from complications of a bowel obstruction. The actress who played the oldest daughter dies at the age of twenty-two after her ex-boyfriend choked her into a coma.
There are also a lot of questions surrounding who deserves the real credit for the direction of the film. Steven Spielberg or Tobe Hooper?
Steven Spielberg is credited as a producer and Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2) is credited as the official director. However, a lot of people have questioned just how true that is. Both Poltergeist and E.T. were in production around the same time, and were in fact released in the same year. Spielberg was under contract during the production process of E.T. and was not allowed to direct any other movies. It has been rumored that he storyboarded Poltergeist completely solo and even served as the director while on set… and he was on set every day except for during a short trip to Hawaii with George Lucas (What a fun sentence!).
The question of who gave Poltergeist its unique flair most likely will never have a solid answer, but will remain one more aspect of what continues to make this film relevant over thirty years later. This is one of our favorites to watch this time of year because it has that classic Amblin feel, while also being really scary. It was a different time too. This was a time when a lot more was accepted and tolerable compared to our heightened sensitivity of 2016. The summer of 1982 was perhaps the best summer and year for movies ever (Poltergeist, E.T., Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Blade Runner, Conan the Barbarian, The Road Warrior, The Thing, Tron, etc.).
Regardless of whom directed it and what “curses” were involved it is evident that Poltergeist is one of the greatest movies to watch during the Halloween season and rightly deserves a spot on our must-see 31 Days of Halloween list.