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What You Didn't Know About The Skeletons In Poltergeist

"Poltergeist" brought together two legends of 20th-century cinema with very different sensibilities. We have director Tobe Hooper, best known for the original "Texas Chainsaw Massacre." Hooper's work was gritty, dark, and something of a downer. Coming from a much more family-friendly sensibility, we have co-writer and co-producer Steven Spielberg. Spielberg's movies are high-budget and kid-inclusive. Put 'em together, and you have "Poltergeist," a gritty horror movie with an Amblin sheen and soundtrack, heavily featuring child actors. Moviegoers loved the way the two auteurs' sensibilities interacted, as well as the acting of Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams, Heather O'Rourke, and Zelda Rubenstein.

"Poltergeist" is also notable for its use of practical effects. As the film was made in 1982 (ie: before everything switched to CGI), the otherworldly nature of the Freelings' haunting had to be done with old fashioned in-camera trickery, makeup, and props. It's these props that are particularly of note. The Freeling family's house is haunted, it turns out, because it was built on a cemetery. The tombstones were moved; the skeletons were not. And the skeletons in "Poltergeist" are real.

Poltergeist used real human remains — did it curse the production?

According to Snopes, special effects makeup artist Craig Reardon testified under oath that the skeletons in "Poltergeist" were real human remains. His deposition reads, "I acquired a number of actual biological surgical skeletons is what they're called. They're for hanging in classrooms in study. These are actual skeletons from people. I think the bones are acquired from India." At the time, it was cheaper to acquire human remains than make realistic skeletons out of plastic. This is the reason given for why the skeletons in Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean ride were also allegedly real back in the day (per Atlas Obscura).

Some people think that "Poltergeist" was a cursed production, because many people associated with the movies died tragically. Dominique Dunne, who played the older Freeling daughter, was killed by her ex-boyfriend. Heather O'Rourke, the youngest Freeling in the film, died suddenly at the age of 12 of an undetected bowel disorder. And two actors in the film's sequel died shortly after that movie's release. Some people attribute the "cursed" nature of the film to the use of real bodies in filming. An episode of "E! True Hollywood Story" was devoted to the legend.