Poltergeist (film series)

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Poltergeist is an American horror film series distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer during the 1980s. The films revolve around the members of the Freeling family, who are stalked and terrorized by a group of ancient ghosts that are attracted to the youngest daughter, Carol Anne. The original film was co-written by Steven Spielberg. The Poltergeist films collected a total of approximately $132 million at the United States box office.

MGM and Fox 2000 Pictures will co-finance a "revisionist" reboot of the Poltergeist series, to begin filming in late 2013.[1]


Film Director Writer(s) Producer(s)
Poltergeist (1982) Tobe Hooper Michael Grais, Mark Victor, Steven Spielberg Frank Marshall and Steven Spielberg
Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986) Brian Gibson Michael Grais and Mark Victor
Poltergeist III (1988) Gary Sherman Gary Sherman and Brian Taggert Barry Bernardi
Poltergeist (2015) Gil Kenan[1] David Lindsay-Abaire[1] Roy Lee, Sam Raimi, Robert Tapert[1]

Plot summary[edit]

Poltergeist is the original film in the trilogy, directed by Tobe Hooper and co-written by Steven Spielberg and released on June 4, 1982. The story focuses on the Freeling family, which consists of Steven (Craig T. Nelson); Diane (JoBeth Williams); Dana (Dominique Dunne); Robbie (Oliver Robins); and Carol Anne (Heather O'Rourke), who live in a California housing development called Cuesta Verde. Their home is eventually invaded by ghosts. The ghosts communicate only with Carol Anne through the family's television set, and are under the control of a demon known as the "Beast." The ghosts, attracted to Carol Anne's life force and believing she will help lead them into the "Light", abduct her through her bedroom closet, which acts as a portal to their dimension. Most of the film involves the efforts to rescue her on the part of her family, a group of parapsychologists and a spiritual medium named Tangina Barrons (Zelda Rubinstein). Carol Anne is eventually retrieved from the other side and, following a second attack by the Beast that reveals the ghosts had originated from an improperly relocated cemetery underneath the neighborhood, the family flees Cuesta Verde, while the house caves in on itself and is sucked into another dimension.[2]

The first sequel, Poltergeist II: The Other Side, directed by Brian Gibson and released on May 23, 1986, is set a year following the events in Poltergeist and offers an alternate explanation of the ghosts' origin. The film also develops the identity and backstory of the Beast, who had lived during the 19th century as a religious zealot named Reverend Henry Kane (Julian Beck). Kane was the leader of a utopian cult, who had sealed themselves in an underground cavern in anticipation of the end of the world, located directly below what later became the Freelings' property. Kane is anxious to possess Carol Anne in order to continue manipulating his followers after death. The ghosts follow and attack the Freelings at their current household. Aided by an American Indian shaman named Taylor (Will Sampson), the Freelings manage to escape from Kane and his followers a second time.[2][3]

The final film in the original trilogy, Poltergeist III, was directed and co-written by Gary Sherman and released June 10, 1988. In order to protect Carol Anne, the Freelings have sent her to temporarily live with her skeptic relatives, Pat and Bruce Gardner (Nancy Allen and Tom Skerritt) and their daughter Donna (Lara Flynn Boyle), who reside in a Chicago skyscraper. However, Carol Anne's recollection of her experiences during her psychiatric sessions enable Kane and his followers to locate her and make contact through the building's ubiquitous mirrors.[2][4] After the ghosts abduct Carol Anne, Donna and her boyfriend Scott (Kipley Wentz), Pat and Bruce enlist the help of Tangina to retrieve them, who eventually sacrifices herself to save the family by escorting Kane into the Light.

The new version of Poltergeist, according to a press release, will be directed by Gil Kenan, and will center on "a family struggling to make ends meet [that] relocates to an outdated suburban home". Like the original, the youngest daughter is kidnapped by the spirits possessing the house.[1] In July 2013, Rosemarie DeWitt was cast as the matriarch,[5] and that September, Jared Harris was cast as Carrigan, the host of a paranormal-themed TV show.[6]

Box office performance[edit]

Film Release date (US) Budget Box office revenue Reference
United States Foreign Worldwide
Poltergeist June 4, 1982 (1982-06-04) $10,700,000 $76,606,280 $45,099,739 $121,706,019[7]
Poltergeist II: The Other Side May 23, 1986 (1986-05-23) $19,000,000 $40,996,665 N/A $40,996,665
Poltergeist III June 10, 1988 (1988-06-10) $9,500,000[7] $14,114,488 N/A $14,114,488
Total $39,200,000 $131,717,433 $45,099,739 $176,817,172

Critical response[edit]

Film Rotten Tomatoes
Poltergeist (1982) 87% (53 reviews)[8]
Poltergeist II: The Other Side 39% (18 reviews)[9]
Poltergeist III 13% (15 reviews)[10]
Poltergeist (2015) TBA
Average ratings 46.33%

Main cast[edit]

The following table shows the cast members who played the primary characters in the film series.

Character Film
Poltergeist Poltergeist II: The Other Side Poltergeist III
Carol Anne Freeling Heather O'Rourke
Steven Freeling Craig T. Nelson
Diane Freeling JoBeth Williams
Dana Freeling Dominique Dunne
Robert Freeling Oliver Robins
Dr. Martha Lesh Beatrice Straight
Ryan Mitchell Richard Lawson
Dr. Marty Casey Martin Casaella
Tangina Barrons Zelda Rubinstein
Jessica Wilson Geraldine Fitzgerald
Taylor Will Sampson
Bruce Gardner Tom Skerritt
Pat Wilson-Gardner Nancy Allen
Donna Gardner Lara Flynn Boyle
Dr. Seaton Richard Fire
Scott Kipley Wentz
Reverend Henry Kane / "The Beast" (Mentioned only) Julian Beck

Nobel Craig (Vomit Creature)1

Nathan Davis

Corey Burton (Voiced)2


1. Henry Kane in his "Vomit Creature" incarnation is portrayed by Nobel Craig.
2. Though Henry Kane was portrayed by Nathan Davis, he was voiced by Corey Burton.


A spin-off television series, Poltergeist: The Legacy, ran from 1996 to 1999, though it does not have any connection to the films other than the title.

The Poltergeist curse[edit]

The "Poltergeist curse" is a rumored curse attached to the Poltergeist trilogy and its crew, derived from the fact that four cast members died in the six years between the releases of the first and third films.[2][12] The rumor is often fueled by the fact that real skeletons were used as props in various scenes of Poltergeist and Poltergeist II.[13] The rumor and the surrounding deaths were explored in a 2002 episode of E! True Hollywood Story titled "Curse of Poltergeist".

  • Dominique Dunne, who played the eldest daughter Dana in the first film, died on November 4, 1982, at age 22 after being strangled by her abusive former boyfriend John Thomas Sweeney.[14] He was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to six years in prison, but was paroled after serving three and a half years.[12]
  • Julian Beck, 60-year-old actor who played Henry Kane in Poltergeist II: The Other Side, died on September 14, 1985, of stomach cancer diagnosed before he had accepted the role.[15]
  • Will Sampson, 53 years old, who played Taylor the medicine man in Poltergeist II, died as a result of post-operative kidney failure and pre-operative malnutrition problems on June 3, 1987.[16]
  • Heather O'Rourke, who played Carol Anne in all three Poltergeist films, died on February 1, 1988 at the age of 12 during surgery to repair an acute bowel obstruction.[17][18][19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e "MGM, Fox 2000 To Co-Finance & Distribute ‘Poltergeist’; Production To Start This Fall". Deadline Hollywood. June 20, 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d Lee, Joseph (4 September 2008). "A Bloody Good Time 9.04.08: Poltergeist Franchise Breakdown". 411mania.com. Retrieved 26 February 2011. 
  3. ^ Kelhoffrr, Josh (23 June 2010). "They’re Back: The Story of the Inevitable Sequel". Poltergeist Online. 
  4. ^ Kelhoffrr, Josh (23 June 2010). "Spirits in the City: The Third and Final Sequel". Poltergeist Online. 
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ Yamato, Jen (September 4, 2013). "[http://www.deadline.com/2013/09/jared-harris-lands-poltergeist-lead/". Deadline Hollywood.
  7. ^ a b "Box Office History for Poltergeist Movies". The-Numbers. Nash Information Services. Retrieved 26 February 2011. 
  8. ^ "Poltergeist – Rotten Tomatoes". Flixster. Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved May 31, 2013. 
  9. ^ "Poltergeist II: The Other Side – Rotten Tomatoes". Flixster. Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved May 31, 2013. 
  10. ^ "Poltergeist III – Rotten Tomatoes". Flixster. Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved May 31, 2013. 
  11. ^ "Interview with the Voice of Kane". PoltergeistIII.com. Retrieved 27 February 2011. 
  12. ^ a b Mikkelson, Barbara. "Poltergeist Deaths", Snopes.com, August 17, 2007
  13. ^ "Poltergeist & The Poltergeist Curse". Paranormal Entertainment. 26 December 2010. Retrieved 26 February 2011. 
  14. ^ "Dominique Dunne, Actress, Dies After Being Choked", The New York Times, November 5, 1982
  15. ^ S. Freedman, "Julien Beck, 60, is Dead; Founded Living Theater", The New York Times, September 17, 1985
  16. ^ B. Folkart, "Role in Cuckoo's Nest; Will Sampson, Gentle Indian Giant, Dies," Los Angeles Times, June 4, 1987
  17. ^ Baker, Bob (May 26, 1988). "Suit Blames Doctors in Death of Young Actress". Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California, US: Tribune Company). p. 35. ISSN 0458-3035. OCLC 3638237. Retrieved August 7, 2008. 
  18. ^ "Heather O'Rourke, 12; Starred in 'Poltergeist'". The New York Times. February 3, 1988. Retrieved January 21, 2013. 
  19. ^ Folkart, Burt A. (February 2, 1988). "'Poltergeist' Star Heather O'Rourke Dies at Age of 12". Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California, US: Tribune Company). p. 3. ISSN 0458-3035. OCLC 3638237. Archived from the original on May 17, 2011. Retrieved May 17, 2011. 

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