On this day in horror history, MGM unleashed Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg’s Poltergeist with Craig T. Nelson, Heather O’Rourke, and Zelda Rubinstein in 1982.
Nominated for three Academy Awards – Best Sound Editing, Best Visual Effects, Best Original Score for Jerry Goldsmith, it grossed $76.6M in the United States, making it the highest-grossing horror film of 1982 and eighth overall for the year.
The film was conceived as a sequel to Close Encounters of the Third Kind called Night Skies. Spielberg’s contract prevented him from directing another film while he made E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial so Spielberg selected Tobe Hopper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre) to helm. Hooper wasn’t keen on the sci-fi elements and suggested a ghost story. Spielberg and Hooper collaborated on the first treatment.
The film spawned two sequels, Brian Gibson’s Poltergeist II: The Other Side, Gary Sherman’s Poltergeist III, and Gil Kenan’s 2015 remake. It was originally slapped with an R rating (PG-13 didn’t exist until 1984) but Spielberg and Hooper succeeded in having it changed to PG for “adult situations/language, violence.”
For those that might not know, the film tells the tale of strange and creepy happenings that beset an average California family, the Freelings — Steve (Craig T. Nelson), Diane (JoBeth Williams), teenaged Dana (Dominique Dunne), eight-year-old Robbie (Oliver Robins), and five-year-old Carol Ann (Heather O’Rourke) — when ghosts commune with them through the television set. Initially friendly and playful, the spirits turn unexpectedly menacing, and, when Carol Ann goes missing, Steve and Diane turn to a parapsychologist and eventually an exorcist for help.
It was directed by Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre) from a script written by Steven Spielberg, Michael Grais, and Mark Victor from a story by Spielberg who produced along with Frank Marshall. It stars Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams, Dominique Dunne, Oliver Robins, Heather O’Rourke, and Zelda Rubinstein.
The horror classic sports an 85% approval rating over on Rotten Tomatoes with a Critics Consensus that reads: Smartly filmed, tightly scripted, and — most importantly — consistently frightening, Poltergeist is a modern horror classic.