The 1982 Movie Poltergeist Used Real Skeletons As – Tymoff

the 1982 movie poltergeist used real skeletons as - tymoff

the 1982 movie poltergeist used real skeletons as – tymoff movie Poltergeist has long been a staple in the horror genre, renowned for its groundbreaking special effects and chilling storyline. However, one of the most unsettling aspects of the film lies not in its supernatural plot but in a haunting behind-the-scenes truth: the production used actual human skeletons. This revelation has sparked widespread intrigue and debate, cementing the movie’s legacy with an eerie, real-world twist.

New Special Effects and Real Skeletons

In the making of “Poltergeist,” special effects makeup artist Craig Reardon made a startling confession under oath: the skeletons used in the infamous swimming pool scene were real. This disclosure was met with shock and disbelief, as it was uncommon for film productions to utilize actual human remains for props. According to Reardon, the decision was purely economic. At the time, using real skeletons was more cost-effective than crafting realistic-looking replicas.

Swimming Pool Scene

One of the most memorable scenes in “Poltergeist” features actress JoBeth Williams’ character trapped in a half-finished swimming pool, surrounded by skeletons that emerge from the muddy water. The scene’s intensity is heightened by the knowledge that these skeletons were once real people. Williams, who performed the scene, was unaware of the bones’ authenticity until filming concluded. This revelation added a layer of real-life horror to the fictional terror portrayed on screen.

Cast’s Reaction

Actress Dominique Dunne, who also worked on the film, was unaware that the skeletons she interacted with were genuine. The cast’s ignorance about the true nature of these props has led to speculation about the potential psychological impact on the actors. The unsettling truth behind these scenes might have contributed to the film’s palpable sense of dread and realism, unknowingly intensifying the actors’ performances.

Ethical Implications

Using real human skeletons in “Poltergeist” raises significant ethical questions. Using human remains in film and other media has long been controversial. Critics argue that it is a disrespectful treatment of the deceased, reducing individuals to mere objects for entertainment. This ethical dilemma continues to provoke debate about the boundaries of art and the respect owed to human remains.

Historical Context

During the 1980s, Hollywood was less stringent about sourcing and using specific props. Real human skeletons were often imported from India, where it was legal to export bones for medical and educational purposes. This practice has since been heavily restricted due to ethical concerns and changes in international laws. The case of “Poltergeist” serves as a notable example of how industry standards and societal values evolve over time, reflecting a growing sensitivity toward ethical considerations in filmmaking.

the 1982 movie poltergeist used real skeletons as – tymoff

Economic Considerations

Budgetary constraints drove the decision to use real skeletons. Creating realistic fake skeletons required a significant investment in materials and labour, whereas acquiring real skeletons was comparatively inexpensive. While effective from a production standpoint, this cost-cutting measure has left a controversial legacy that overshadows the film’s artistic achievements.

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Impact on Film Legacy

“Poltergeist” is remembered not only for its compelling story and impressive special effects but also for the dreadful fact that it utilized actual human remains. This piece of trivia has become an integral part of the film’s lore, intriguing fans and scholars alike. It adds a layer of real-world horror that enhances the movie’s mystique and enduring appeal.

Psychological Horror

The psychological horror of knowing that real skeletons were used in the film adds an unsettling dimension for viewers. This knowledge transforms the audience’s experience, making the already frightening scenes even more disturbing. The blurring of fiction and reality contributes to the film’s effectiveness as a horror movie, engaging viewers on a deeper, more visceral level.

Curse of Poltergeist

The use of real skeletons has also been linked to the so-called “Poltergeist curse.” Several cast members, including Dominique Dunne and Heather O’Rourke, faced tragic and untimely deaths after the film’s release. While the curse is likely a coincidence, it has fueled speculation and urban legends, adding to the film’s dark mystique.

Lessons for Modern Filmmaking

The controversy surrounding “Poltergeist” has led to re-evaluating ethical practices in the film industry. Modern productions are more likely to prioritize ethical sourcing and respect for human remains, reflecting broader societal changes. This shift underscores the importance of maintaining ethical standards in all aspects of production.

the 1982 movie poltergeist used real skeletons as – tymoff

Viewer Reactions

Audience reactions to the revelation about the real skeletons have been mixed. Some fans find the fact morbidly fascinating, while others are disturbed by the ethical implications. This range of reactions highlights the complex relationship between art, ethics, and audience perception.

Special Effects Evolution

Advances in special effects technology since the 1980s have mostly rendered the use of real skeletons obsolete. Today’s filmmakers can create highly realistic props and effects using digital technology and advanced materials, eliminating the need to resort to ethically questionable practices.

Educational Value

The story of “Poltergeist” and its use of real skeletons offers valuable lessons for film students and aspiring filmmakers. It is a cautionary tale about the importance of ethical decision-making in the creative process. Understanding the history of these practices can inform better choices and foster a more respectful approach to filmmaking.

Cultural Impact

“Poltergeist” has left an indelible mark on popular culture. The revelation about the real skeletons has become part of its identity, influencing how the film is viewed and remembered. This fact has been referenced in various documentaries, articles, and discussions about horror films, cementing “Poltergeist” as a cultural touchstone.

the 1982 movie poltergeist used real skeletons as – tymoff

Industry Standards

The film industry today operates under stricter guidelines and regulations regarding the use of human remains. These standards are designed to ensure respectful treatment of the deceased and to prevent ethical breaches like those seen in the production of “Poltergeist.” This shift towards more ethical practices reflects a broader trend of increased accountability and responsibility in Hollywood.

Fan Engagement

For many fans, using real skeletons adds an extra layer of intrigue and engagement with “Poltergeist.” It provides a unique talking point and a deeper connection to the film’s production history. This movie element continues to spark discussions and theories, keeping the film relevant and engaging for new generations of horror enthusiasts.

the 1982 movie poltergeist used real skeletons as – tymoff

Horror Film Traditions

The use of actual human remains in “Poltergeist” can be seen as part of a broader tradition in horror filmmaking where authenticity and shock value are paramount. While contemporary filmmakers may achieve this through different means, the desire to create a genuinely terrifying experience remains a constant in the genre.

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Ethical Considerations Moving Forward

The lessons learned from “Poltergeist” continue to influence ethical considerations in the film industry. Filmmakers are now more likely to weigh the potential consequences of their choices, considering the impact on the audience and the broader ethical implications. This conscientious approach is vital for the continued evolution and integrity of the industry.


The 1982 movie “Poltergeist” stands as a landmark in horror cinema, not just for its supernatural storyline and special effects but for the unsettling truth that it used real human skeletons in its production. This decision, driven by economic considerations, has sparked ongoing debates about ethics in filmmaking. It serves as a poignant reminder of the importance of ethical practices in the creative arts. As the industry evolves, the legacy of “Poltergeist” endures, reminding us of the delicate balance between artistic expression and ethical responsibility.

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