the 1982 movie poltergeist used real skeletons as - tymoff

The 1982 Movie Poltergeist Used Real Skeletons As – Tymoff

“Poltergeist” (1982) is a classic horror film that has captivated audiences for decades. Its chilling storyline and groundbreaking special effects set a new standard for the genre. However, the movie is also notorious for a controversy that continues to haunt it: the use of real skeletons in its production. This article delves into the origins, impact, and ongoing legacy of this eerie decision.

the 1982 movie poltergeist used real skeletons as - tymoff
the 1982 movie poltergeist used real skeletons as – tymoff

The Legacy of “Poltergeist” (1982)

Synopsis of the Movie

“Poltergeist” tells the story of the Freeling family, whose home becomes haunted by malevolent spirits. As their youngest daughter, Carol Anne, gets abducted by these entities, the family must confront terrifying supernatural forces to rescue her. Directed by Tobe Hooper and produced by Steven Spielberg, the film is renowned for its suspenseful plot and innovative special effects.

Impact on Horror Genre

“Poltergeist” had a profound impact on the horror genre, blending traditional haunted house themes with modern cinematic techniques. Its success paved the way for numerous sequels and inspired countless other films in the horror canon.

The Controversy Surrounding Real Skeletons

Origins of the Controversy

The controversy began when rumors surfaced that real human skeletons were used in the film’s climactic pool scene. Special effects artist Craig Reardon later confirmed that real skeletons were indeed used, as they were cheaper and more readily available than plastic replicas at the time.

Public Reaction

The revelation shocked audiences and sparked debates about the ethics of using real human remains in film production. Many found the practice disrespectful and macabre, leading to widespread criticism and a lasting stigma associated with the film.

Why Use Real Skeletons?

Practical Effects in the 1980s

During the 1980s, practical effects were the backbone of horror films. Realistic props were essential for creating believable scenes, and real skeletons offered an authenticity that plastic models couldn’t match.

Cost Considerations

Surprisingly, real skeletons were more cost-effective than high-quality plastic ones. Acquiring skeletons from medical supply companies was a common practice, as they were less expensive and provided a more lifelike appearance on screen.

Ethical Implications

Respect for the Deceased

Using real human remains in entertainment raises significant ethical concerns. Respect for the deceased and their families is paramount, and many argue that using skeletons for profit is a form of exploitation.

Industry Standards

This controversy prompted the film industry to reconsider its practices. Today, stricter regulations and ethical guidelines ensure that such use of human remains is avoided, prioritizing respect and dignity.

Behind the Scenes

Cast and Crew Reactions

The cast and crew of “Poltergeist” had varied reactions to the use of real skeletons. Some were unaware of their authenticity until after filming, while others were reportedly uncomfortable with the decision. This added an eerie layer to an already unsettling production experience.

Director and Producer Insights

Director Tobe Hooper and producer Steven Spielberg have remained relatively quiet on the issue. However, their choice reflects the industry’s priorities at the time—realism and cost-efficiency often took precedence over ethical considerations.

Cultural Impact

Horror Community

Within the horror community, the use of real skeletons has become a notorious piece of film lore. It adds a grim authenticity to the film and has sparked numerous discussions about the lengths filmmakers will go to achieve realism.

Media Coverage

The media has extensively covered the skeleton controversy, keeping the story alive in public consciousness. Documentaries, articles, and interviews have all explored this macabre aspect of “Poltergeist.”

Myth vs. Reality

Confirmations and Denials

While some involved in the production have confirmed the use of real skeletons, others have denied or downplayed the extent of their use. This mix of confirmations and denials has fueled the mystery and speculation surrounding the film.

Evidence Presented

Photographic evidence and testimonies from special effects artists support the claims of real skeletons being used. This evidence has cemented the controversy as an integral part of the film’s history.

The Curse of “Poltergeist”

Mysterious Deaths

The so-called “Poltergeist curse” refers to the untimely deaths of several cast members, leading some to believe that the film is cursed. These tragic events have only heightened the film’s eerie reputation.

Long-Lasting Superstitions

Superstitions about the curse continue to this day, with some fans attributing it to the use of real skeletons. Whether one believes in the curse or not, it adds an intriguing layer to the film’s legacy.

Legal and Moral Lessons

Changes in Industry Practices

The controversy and subsequent backlash led to changes in industry practices. Today, the use of real human remains in films is heavily regulated, and filmmakers are more conscious of ethical considerations.

Current Standards

Modern special effects and CGI have made it easier to create realistic props without the need for real skeletons. This shift reflects a broader commitment to ethical filmmaking and respect for human dignity.

Audience Perception

Then vs. Now

Audience perception of the film has evolved over time. While initially praised for its realism, the revelation about real skeletons has added a layer of unease for many viewers.

Lasting Memories

Despite the controversy, “Poltergeist” remains a beloved classic. Its impact on the horror genre and the enduring fascination with its production continue to captivate audiences.

Other Movies with Similar Controversies

Comparison with Other Horror Films

“Poltergeist” is not the only film to face such controversies. Other horror films have also used real human remains or faced similar ethical dilemmas, contributing to ongoing discussions about the limits of realism in filmmaking.

Impact on Genre Trends

These controversies have influenced trends within the horror genre, prompting filmmakers to balance realism with ethical considerations. The legacy of “Poltergeist” serves as a cautionary tale for future productions.


The use of real skeletons in “Poltergeist” (1982) remains one of the most chilling and debated aspects of the film. This decision, driven by practical and financial considerations, has had lasting implications for the movie industry. While it adds a unique layer of authenticity to the film, it also raises significant ethical questions. As we continue to enjoy and analyze “Poltergeist,” it’s essential to reflect on its cultural impact and the lessons learned from its production.


Q1: Were real skeletons really used in “Poltergeist”?
Yes, real skeletons were used in certain scenes of the movie, particularly the infamous pool scene.

Q2: Why did they choose to use real skeletons?
Real skeletons were chosen because they were cheaper and more realistic than plastic replicas.

Q3: What was the public’s reaction to this revelation?
The public reaction was one of shock and horror, leading to significant criticism and ethical debates.

Q4: How has this controversy affected other films?
The controversy led to changes in industry practices, with stricter regulations on the use of human remains in film production.

Q5: Is the “Poltergeist” curse real?
The “Poltergeist” curse is largely considered a superstition, but the untimely deaths of several cast members have fueled ongoing speculation.

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