The production crew used real human skeletons because it was cheaper to purchase them instead of plastic ones.
Both of the terrors that plague Robbie came from Steven Spielberg's own fears as a child, a fear of clowns and a tree outside his window.
Drew Barrymore was considered for the role of Carol Anne, but Steven Spielberg wanted someone more angelic. It was Barrymore's audition for this role, however, that landed her a part in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.
Heather O'Rourke, who played the little girl Carol-Anne, and Dominique Dunne, who played the teenage daughter, are buried in the same cemetery: Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles. Dunne was strangled into brain-death by her boyfriend in 1982, the year of the film's release. Six years later, O'Rourke died of intestinal stenosis.
The hands which pull the flesh off the investigator's face in the bathroom mirror are Steven Spielberg's.
The clown puppet used in the film is on display in Planet Hollywood in Caesar's Palace, Las Vegas.
Robbie has a poster in his room for Superbowl XXII, which would not take place for another six years. Heather O'Rourke died in San Diego the day after Superbowl Sunday of 1988 which was played in San Diego as well.
Heather O'Rourke was chosen for the film when she was eating lunch with her mother and sister at an MGM commissary. Steven Spielberg came up to them and wanted O'Rourke for the part of Carol Anne. She initially failed the screentest because she kept laughing her way through the audition, even when she was supposed to be afraid. Spielberg thought she was too young to take the part seriously, but he still recognized something special in her, so he asked her to come back for another audition, and this time, bring a scary storybook with her. He also asked her to scream, so she screamed and screamed until she started crying. This audition got her cast as Carol Anne.
The house used to film this movie is located in Simi Valley, California where it still stands today. The family who owned it when this movie was filmed still live there today.
The swirling, flickering lights coming from the closet during the rescue scene were achieved using a very simple effect by having an aquarium full of water in front of a spotlight. Then a fan blew on the surface of the water to make it swirl.
The shot of the chairs that position themselves in the amazing balancing act on the table was all done in one take. As the camera panned along with JoBeth Williams, who was getting some cleaning materials, several crew members quickly set an already organized pyramid of chairs on the table, then took the single chairs away before the camera scrolled back. See Goofs entry.
Heather O'Rourke kept the pet goldfish Carol Anne has in the film.
The word "poltergeist" is German for noisy ghost.
In reality, Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams are only 14 and 11 years older than Dominique Dunne, who plays their teen-aged daughter.
The late 00's saw a homage to Poltergeist in a DirecTV commercial. Craig T. Nelson reprised the role of Steve Freeling, complaining to Carol Anne and the audience that the static on the TV set is just bad cable reception and quips "Not getting rid of cable. THAT'S gonna come back to haunt me!" Heather O'Rourke's family were pleased with the ad, for keeping her memory alive.
The scene where Diane is attacked in her bedroom by an invisible force was actually filmed in a rotating box with a stationary camera. This gave the appearance she was being dragged up the wall and across the ceiling.
Spielberg hired Tobe Hooper after being impressed with his work on The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
The film was originally given a R rating, but the filmmakers protested successfully and got a PG rating (the PG-13 rating did not exist at the time).
JoBeth Williams had a supernatural experience during the making of the film. Whenever she came home from filming, the pictures on the walls of her house were crooked. Everytime she fixed them they would hang crooked again. Zelda Rubinstein also had an experience when a vision of her dog came to her and said goodbye to her. Hours later, her mother called her and told Rubinstein that her dog had passed away that very day.
The theme music is known as "Carol Anne's theme". It was originally titled "Bless this House" and was written like a lullaby as a contrast to the horror in the film. There are lyrics which can be found on the Internet.
Many people believe there's a curse on the Poltergeist franchise, that may have been caused by the use of real skeletons on-set, e.g. several actors in the franchise have died, and this became the focus of The E True Hollywood Story.
The crawling steak was done by using a real steak which was laid over a slot cut between the tiles in the counter top. Two wires were fastened to the bottom of the steak and a special effects operator, hidden under the counter, simply moved the wires to make the steak crawl like a caterpillar. A similar operation was done when Diane presents to Steven the chairs that move across the room by themselves. A wire was fastened to one of the chair's legs under the set. An operator first wobbled the chair with the wire, then dragged the chair across to its destination.
The cemetery Steve and Teague are talking in front of has a tree identical to the one that tried to eat Robbie; a subtle clue that the Freeling house was built over a cemetery.
One of the rare films where Steven Spielberg has a writing credit.
On top of the master bedroom television set sits an Atari Video Computer System console with its two joysticks; later known as the Atari 2600.
Time magazine and Newsweek tagged the Summer of 1982 as "The Spielberg Summer" because Poltergeist and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial were released a week apart from one another in June.
Steven Spielberg and Tobe Hooper wanted virtually unknown actors to play the Freelings because they wanted to add a realism to the family that would off-balance the ghost story. They felt that if the audience watched well-known stars, then it would take away from the realistic feel of the characters.
Steven Spielberg's first film as a producer.
PG | 1h 54min | Horror, Thriller | 4 June 1982 (USA)
A family's home is haunted by a host of ghosts.
Director: Tobe Hooper
Writers: Steven Spielberg (screenplay), Michael Grais (screenplay)
Stars: JoBeth Williams, Heather O'Rourke, Craig T. Nelson