the 1982 movie poltergeist used real skeletons as – tymoff

The 1982 movie Poltergeist stands as a classic in the horror genre, captivating audiences with its spine-chilling narrative and supernatural phenomena. Directed by Tobe Hooper and produced by Steven Spielberg, this film tells the story of a family terrorized by malevolent spirits. However, what sets Poltergeist apart from other horror films isn’t just its gripping storyline or eerie special effects. It’s the controversial use of real human skeletons in its production that has perpetuated a chilling legacy and contributed to the legend of the “the 1982 movie poltergeist used real skeletons as – tymoff.”

The Origins of the Controversy

The controversy surrounding Poltergeist primarily stems from the climactic scene where Diane Freeling, portrayed by JoBeth Williams, falls into a swimming pool filled with skeletal remains. The scene is terrifying on its own, but the real horror came to light when it was revealed that the skeletons used in the scene were real.

Why Real Skeletons Were Used

In the early 1980s, using real skeletons in film and television was not as uncommon as one might think. Real human skeletons were often cheaper and more readily available than convincing plastic replicas. Special effects artist Craig Reardon confirmed this during an interview, noting that real skeletons were used because they were less expensive and more realistic than plastic ones, which often looked unconvincing on camera.

Ethical Implications and Hollywood Practices

The revelation that real human remains were used in Poltergeist sparked a debate about the ethics and morality of such practices in Hollywood. Many people were horrified to learn that human remains could be used in such a manner for the sake of entertainment. This practice raised questions about consent and the respect owed to the deceased.

In the context of Hollywood at the time, it wasn’t entirely out of the ordinary to use real skeletons. For instance, real skeletons were used in other films such as The House on Haunted Hill (1959) and The Amityville Horror (1979). However, the widespread publicity and success of Poltergeist brought the issue to the forefront of public consciousness, leading to more scrutiny and changes in industry standards.

The Poltergeist Curse

The use of real skeletons has also contributed to the legend of the “Poltergeist Curse.” This curse is believed by some to be responsible for the untimely deaths and misfortunes that plagued the cast and crew of the Poltergeist franchise. The most notable tragedies include the murder of Dominique Dunne (who played the eldest Freeling daughter, Dana) in 1982, and the death of Heather O’Rourke (who played the youngest daughter, Carol Anne) in 1988 due to medical complications.

These tragedies, coupled with the revelation about the use of real skeletons, have led many to speculate that the production of the film was cursed. While there is no scientific evidence to support the existence of a curse, the series of unfortunate events has undeniably contributed to the movie’s eerie legacy.

Production Insights

On a technical level, the decision to use real skeletons was driven by practical concerns. In the 1980s, movie budgets were often tight, and special effects teams had to make do with what was available. Plastic skeletons, which might seem like an obvious choice, were not as readily available or as realistic-looking as one might hope. As a result, real skeletons, which were often sourced from medical supply companies, became the practical option for filmmakers aiming for authenticity.

In Poltergeist, the skeletons were coated with a special kind of gel to make them appear slimy and decayed. This added to the terrifying visual impact of the scene, enhancing the horror element that Hooper and Spielberg aimed to create. JoBeth Williams later recounted in interviews how unsettling it was to perform in the pool scene, particularly after learning that the skeletons were real.

Cultural and Psychological Impact

The use of real skeletons in Poltergeist taps into deep-seated human fears and cultural taboos surrounding death and the treatment of the dead. This choice by the filmmakers didn’t just serve to make the scene more realistic; it added a layer of genuine horror that resonates on a psychological level. Knowing that real human remains were used in the film can make viewers feel uneasy, adding to the film’s overall sense of dread and fear.

This practice also raises interesting questions about the lengths to which filmmakers are willing to go to achieve realism and authenticity in horror films. In a genre that thrives on pushing boundaries and evoking strong emotional responses, the line between ethical and unethical practices can sometimes become blurred.

Modern Perspectives

In today’s film industry, the use of real human remains would likely be met with significant backlash and could even lead to legal issues. Advances in technology have provided filmmakers with more tools to create realistic effects without resorting to such controversial measures. CGI and advanced prosthetics now offer realistic alternatives that respect ethical considerations while still delivering the desired visual impact.

Reflecting on the practices of the past allows for a greater understanding of how the horror genre has evolved. Modern audiences are more informed and often more critical of the methods used to achieve on-screen scares. This shift has encouraged filmmakers to be more innovative and considerate in their approach to creating horror films.


The 1982 movie Poltergeist remains a landmark in horror cinema, not just for its terrifying narrative and groundbreaking special effects, but also for the controversy surrounding its production. The use of real skeletons in the film has left an indelible mark on its legacy, contributing to the mythos of the “Poltergeist Curse” and sparking debates about the ethics of such practices in Hollywood.

While the decision to use real skeletons was driven by practical concerns, it has had a lasting impact on the film’s cultural and psychological resonance. The story of Poltergeist serves as a reminder of the lengths to which filmmakers have gone in the past to achieve realism and the importance of ethical considerations in the pursuit of artistic expression.

As the film industry continues to evolve, the lessons learned from Poltergeist help shape the standards and practices that ensure respect for both the living and the dead, while still delivering the scares that audiences crave. The legacy of Poltergeist is a testament to the enduring power of horror cinema and the complex interplay between art

and ethics in filmmaking. It’s a classic example of how behind-the-scenes choices can profoundly influence a film’s impact and legacy, both positively and negatively.

Reflecting on Poltergeist’s Influence

The influence of Poltergeist extends beyond its own franchise. It has set a precedent in the horror genre, prompting filmmakers and audiences alike to ponder the lengths to which horror can and should go. The film’s success and the subsequent fascination with its production details highlight a broader trend in horror cinema where the boundary between reality and fiction is explored and often blurred.

Read More: yellowsstone

Educational Value

The Poltergeist story is often used in film studies and ethics classes as a case study. It provides a compelling narrative for discussions on ethical practices in filmmaking, the use of special effects, and the responsibilities of filmmakers towards their cast, crew, and the broader societal implications of their work. By examining Poltergeist, students and enthusiasts can gain insights into the evolution of special effects, the changing standards of ethical practices in the industry, and the psychological impact of horror films on audiences.

The Future of Horror Films

Looking to the future, the horror genre continues to innovate, drawing on new technologies and storytelling techniques. While the use of real skeletons in Poltergeist may be a relic of the past, its legacy informs modern horror films. Today’s filmmakers are more equipped with advanced technologies that allow them to create hyper-realistic effects without ethical compromises. CGI, animatronics, and advanced prosthetics provide alternatives that maintain high standards of realism.

Moreover, the narrative techniques and psychological insights from Poltergeist continue to inspire new generations of horror filmmakers. The focus has shifted towards creating atmospheric tension, complex characters, and psychologically engaging plots, rather than relying solely on shock value. This evolution has expanded the horror genre, making it richer and more diverse.

The Role of Audience Awareness

In the era of social media and instant information, audiences are more aware and critical of the filmmaking process. This awareness has driven demand for transparency and ethical practices in the industry. The story of Poltergeist serves as a reminder that audiences care about how films are made, not just the final product. This shift is pushing the industry towards more responsible and ethical practices, ensuring that the pursuit of realism does not come at the cost of human dignity and respect.


The 1982 movie Poltergeist is more than just a horror film; it is a significant cultural artifact that highlights the intersection of art, ethics, and the human fascination with the macabre. The use of real skeletons on set, driven by practicality, has left an indelible mark on the film’s legacy, contributing to its lasting impact and the mythos of the “Poltergeist Curse.”

As we reflect on Poltergeist, it is essential to appreciate its contribution to the horror genre while also acknowledging the ethical debates it has sparked. The film industry has evolved significantly since the 1980s, with advances in technology and a greater emphasis on ethical practices ensuring that such controversies are less likely to occur today.

The legacy of Poltergeist serves as a powerful reminder of the importance of ethical considerations in filmmaking. It challenges filmmakers to balance the pursuit of artistic realism with respect for human dignity, pushing the boundaries of horror while adhering to evolving standards of ethical practice. As horror cinema continues to evolve, the lessons from Poltergeist remain relevant, guiding the genre towards a future where innovation and ethics go hand in hand.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *