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As director of such box office blockbusters as "Jaws" "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark," Steven Spielberg has demonstrated a remarkable talent for placing ordinary people in the most extraordinary situations. As producer of MGM's supernatural thriller, "Poltergeist," he has done it again –– conceiving a story about a typical suburban family caught in the center of a terrifying supernatural phenomenon.

"Every fourth person you know has probably had an experience with a poltergeist or a ghost, or knows somebody who has. You just have to ask around," Spielberg noted.

Just as "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" explored the mystical world of UFOs, "Poltergeist" ventures into the expanding field of parapsychology. "I call 'Poltergeist' a supernatural thriller much as we called 'Close Encounters' science-speculation," explained Spielberg. "Poltergeists are a lot like UFOs in that there is not one alternative explanation challenging the poltergeist phenomenon."

Another similarity between "Close Encounters" and "Poltergeist" is their setting –– a typical suburban neighborhood populated by tract homes and middle class families.

"I really based the neighborhood on suburban Scottsdale, Arizona, where I grew up," admitted Spielberg. "It is the lifestyle of suburban America; two-car garages, tract homes and cul-de-sacs, the U-Totem down the street and an elementary school within walking distance. The Freeling family in "Poltergeist" is not atypical of the people I knew and grew up with in Scottsdale."

Virtually all of "Poltergeist" takes place in and around one house and the cameras only leave the neighborhood twice. But if all of this suburban familiarity makes you too comfortable, consider how you felt about taking a dip in the ocean after "Jaws" or how you stared into the sky after "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." Once again, Spielberg has set the blissful tranquility of suburbia awry.

"Poltergeist," both the film and the phenomena, treads the thin line between the scientific and the spiritual, a tightrope that scientists and theologians have walked themselves for generations, and an area that Spielberg explored with the oft-cited spiritual tone of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."

"'Poltergeist' has some incredibly spiritual things in it," he allowed. "It also has a good amount of humor. But overriding all, is the sheer intensity of terror and fright unloaded on this ordinary family when the spectral light comes to earth, piercing a hole in time and space into their home."

Ghosts? Spirits? Spectral light?

"I took the premise that poltergeists are disembodied spirits or souls from people long since passed, who come back or have never left," he explains. "In our film, they are spirits or ghosts who don't know they are dead, and who need a guide to take them into the next plane of existence through a gateway of spectral light. The terror is intensified with the notion that the phenomenon could happen to anyone."

You can lock your doors and bolt your windows, but Steven Spielberg has done it again.

MGM's "Poltergeist" is a Steven Spielberg Production of a Tobe Hooper film. The screenplay was written by Spielberg, Michael Grais & Mark Victor based on a story by Steven Spielberg. Directed by Tobe Hooper and produced by Steven Spielberg and Frank Marshall, the film stars JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson and Beatrice Straight. The film is being released in the United States and Canada by MGM/United Artists Distribution and Marketing.



"Fascination and thrills in a safe experience" is what Tobe Hooper, director of MGM's supernatural thriller, "Poltergeist," believes motion picture audiences look for at the movies. "There is a curiosity in the unusual," he said, "and a chance to experience something vicariously that they might not ordinarily get to do. The movies - and our movie is a great example - give people the chance to experience something quiet fantastic in a very safe way.

"'Poltergeist'" he added "is best described like one of those sensational new rollercoasters - Montezuma's Revenge or The Corkscrew. It'll send you up and down. It is scary, frightening and terrifying, but it winds up being very kind to you in a way that transcends the movie. There are no murders, no blood. It is like those little packages of Chinese firecrackers that explode in little crackles and scare people for a moment but ultimately make everybody happy."

Hooper's whimsical reference hints at the personality behind the man who brought you "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and the television version of Stephen King's bestseller "Salem's Lot." His reputation ranks him high on the list of top directors in the horror/terror genre. "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" is part of the permanent collection of The Museum of Modern Art, in New York, and Hooper's place in film history is assured.

One of the most controversial films ever made, "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" is actually tame when compared to more recent films of the horror terror genre. But Hooper's achievement with "Chainsaw," was not merely the creation of a terrifying story, but the creation of a nightmare from which you cannot wake up. It is both terrifying and believable and that, most critics agree, is why the movie is a classic. "Every time we think it can't get worse, it does get worse –– a supremely bum trip that will not stop," wrote San Francisco writer Michael Goodwin, "There is no relief, and that's interesting –– simply because no one has ever done it before."

"The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" is one of Steven Spielberg's favorite films and that is a major reason why he selected Hooper to direct "Poltergeist" for him.

But his reputation as a master of horror films overshadows another side of Tobe Hooper, the side that longs to direct a comedy or a drama.

"Horror movies have been good to me and I like to make them but since "'Chainsaw'" I haven't had the chance to work with other material," he explained. "My first films were comedies. I once did a short, called "The Heisters" which was a comedy and that gave me great pleasure."

I love to hear the sound of six hundred people laughing," he smiled, "I seldom see my own movies with an audience but I have heard them scream. I like to hear them laugh, too."

A native of Austin, Texas, Hooper was almost born in a movie theatre when his mother went into labor with him while watching a movie. When his father, who owned motor courts, and who coined the word "motel" with a friend, bought a block of businesses in St. Angelo, Texas, the deal included a movie theatre which became Hooper's babysitter and the place where he spent the better part of his youth watching the world go by at twenty-four frames a second.

It's been a good five years since Hooper left Texas but he didn't leave his penchant for hot foods behind. Jalapeno peppers powered him during the long days on the set and Indian curries are a favorite when time permits. The hotter the better, he says. In fact his favorite is exotic ten star curry, a dish so ferociously hot that it reportedly is known to make grown-ups cry.

His passion for culinary delights matches his passion on film. You feel hot foods. You experience them. They are more than just eating. "I love the heat. It makes you sweat," he said, "It'll open your pores and let you know that your body is working."

His movies are a lot like that. You don't just watch them, you experience them.

MGM's "Poltergeist" is a Steven Spielberg Production of a Tobe Hooper film. The screenplay was written by Steven Spielberg, Michael Grais & Mark Victor based on a story by Steven Spielberg. Produced by Steven Spielberg and Frank Marshall, directed by Tobe Hooper, the film is being released in the United States and Canada by MGM/United Artists Distribution and Marketing.



"It's like a thrill ride at an amusement park," says JoBeth Williams of MGM's new supernatural thriller, "Poltergeist." Williams stars as Diane Freeling, a wife and mother of three, whose family is suddenly caught in the center of a terrifying supernatural phenomenon. As the film races to its cinematic peak, it challenges the wits and resources of both the Freelings and the audience alike.

"The scariest things in life are the normal, mundane situations that suddenly go awry," Williams contends. In MGM's "Poltergeist" produced by Steven Spielberg and Frank Marshall and directed by Tobe Hooper, the Freeling's ordinary world of Sunday afternoon football games and PTA meetings is terrorized by violent and supernatural intrusions known as poltergeists.

"At first, Diane Freeling treats the poltergeist as some sort of toy," Jobeth explains. "It's different, it seems harmless and it's fun." But the fun quickly turns to fear and the familiar setting is disrupted by the unfamiliar activities of an unseen, unknown spirit that has mysteriously entered the Freeling home. Without immediate reason or apparent explanation, a beautiful family is thrust into jeopardy.

During this nightmare, the family finds that their sense of humor is the only thing that helps them to ease the tension and the terror. "It's rare that you see a horror movie where the family has a sense of humor," Williams observes, "but the Freelings manage to maintain theirs. It preserves their sanity in the midst of the maelstrom."

During the production of "Poltergeist," the actress' own sense of humor was frequently tested by the physical nature of her role. "The last part of the movie took place during a tremendous storm," Williams recalled. "We had a newly dug swimming pool on the set and I was asked to fall into it, slithering down into the mud and water, with giant wind machines blowing rain on me. I wound up just covered with filth. It was simply marvelous."

Williams made her feature film debut in the award winning "Kramer Vs. Kramer" playing the lawyer who spends a night with Dustin Hoffman and has an embarrassing encounter with his young son. Her recent films include "Stir Crazy," as a sassy social worker who falls in love with Gene Wilder, and "The Dogs of War," co-starring Christopher Walken.

MGM's "Poltergeist" is a Steven Spielberg Production of a Tobe Hooper film. The screenplay was written by Steven Spielberg, Michael Grais & Mark Victor based on a story by Steven Spielberg. Directed by Tobe Hooper and produced by Steven Spielberg and Frank Marshall, the film is being released in the United States and Canada by MGM/United Artists Distribution and Marketing.



A lamp tips over for no apparent reason. A small object sails across the room, but nobody threw it. A desktop rises all by itself. Strange knocking sounds break the pause in a dinner party conversation. A chill wind passes over in a perfectly warm room.

Usually incidents such as these are jokingly dismissed as the presence of a ghost or poltergeist. It happens to lots of people. But it isn't always a laughing matter.

"There is no denying that the poltergeist is a citizen of the world."1 With those words, Dr. William G. Roll, a former Duke University parapsychologist and current project director of the Psychical Research Foundation, confirms what scholars and skeptics have debated for years--the existence of an unusual phenomenon that manifests itself through mysterious movements of objects. These "noisy or boisterous ghosts," as the word 'poltergeist' translates from its German origin, date back as far as recorded civilization itself.2 Reports of their activities include the disappearance and reappearance of household objects, movement of furniture, blasts of wind, flashes of light and electrical charges, incidents of biting and apparitions.

Poltergeists, like hauntings, seem to take up residence in houses or buildings. The critical difference between the two lies in the nature and duration of the episodes. Hauntings are typically non-physical and can continue for years. Poltergeists are physical and sometimes violent, they erupt spontaneously, continue for a period of time and then just as inexplicably disappear. A poltergeist intrusion will rarely last more than two months and more often than not will be associated with a living individual under the age of 20. The baffling behavior of the poltergeist prompts many people to conjure up the notion of spirits and hauntings, a natural assumption since a haunting implies that a spirit has remained at or returned to it's earthly habitat.3

"In contrast to popular superstition," notes Dr. Thelma Moss a leading psychical researcher whose office at UCLA fields many of the reports of Los Angeles haunted houses, "most Los Angeles haunted houses are not old, abandoned mansions. They are typically middle-class, recently built, comfortable homes which are lived in by several members of a family, most of whom have had some experience with the apparitions.4

The serious study of the poltergeist phenomena is part of parapsychology, a relatively new field of science that has grown enormously in both credibility and the scope of its research since its founding in the 1930s by Dr. J.B. Rhine.

Some of the events revealed may seem incredible but even a cursory excursion into the parapsychological puzzle uncovers documentation and scrutiny by astronaut Edgar D. Mitchell, the sixth man to walk on the moon and pilot of the lunar landing module of Apollo 14; a Nobel Prize-winning physicist Sir William Barrett; scholars at the world's leading universities and medical doctors at prominent research institutions (principally at Maimonedes Hospital in New York.)

"In nature," wrote Claude Bernard in his Introduction to Experimental Medicine, "what is absurd according to our theories is not always impossible."


Poltergeists are not everyday occurrences and when they do occur they are not always reported. Nevertheless, many have made their way into history, some have been scientifically studied, and a few are highlighted here.

30AD - Deacon Helpidus, physician to King Theodoric of what is now Germany, was pelted by mysterious showers of stones.

856AD - The house of a priest in the European town of Kemdem was the target of mysteriously thrown stones and peculiar raps were heard on the walls.6

1850 - Yerville, France - Two boys, ages 12 and 14, were plagued by a poltergeist. The incidents included knocks and raps, the movement of the boy's desks, slaps by invisible hands and an apparition. This case is in the record of the court of M. Folloppe, Justice of The Peace, as it was the subject of an unusual lawsuit.7

1906 - Austria - A blacksmith and his two apprentices, ages 16 and 18, found themselves victims of a mischievous poltergeist who flung tools and pieces of iron about the shop, injuring all three. An investigation of the incident revealed the following report:

    "The first phenomenon was a piece of iron about the size of a walnut touching me lightly on the top of my felt hat and from there dropping to the floor. Later on, I was struck by a small blade of steel on the back of the neck. On another day, I watched the boys drilling a hole in a piece of iron. Suddenly the younger of the two screamed out and was nearly bent double with pain and fright; an iron instrument had struck him pretty sharply on the left temple. On a third occasion, I saw a small picture on one of the walls fluttering to the middle of the shop. It did not fall, but rather behaved like a sheet of paper.8

1911 - Derrygonnelly, Ireland - Nobel Prize-winning physicist Sir William Barrett, professor of Physics at Dublin University reported:

    "I closely observed each of the occupants lying on the bed. The younger children were asleep and Maggie, the twenty year old, was motionless. Nevertheless, knocks were going on everywhere around; on chairs, the bedstand, walls, ceiling. The closest scrutiny failed to detect any movement on the part of those present that would account for the noises, which were accompanied by a scratching sound. Suddenly, a large pebble fell in my presence on the bed; no one moved to dislodge it even if it had been placed for the purpose. When I replaced the candle on the window sill in the kitchen, the knocks became even louder, like those made by a heavy carpenter's hammer driving nails in the flooring.9

1960 - Sauchie, Scotland - Poltergeists centered on an 11 year-girl, Virginia Campbell, who had just moved to Sauchie from Ireland leaving behind most of her possessions. She was desperately unhappy. Soon, odd things seemed to happen. On one occasion at school, Virginia's teacher saw the hinged-top to the girl's desk fly open as she tried diligently to keep it closed. Later, the teacher saw the desk behind the girl levitate a few inches from the floor. A minister visited the girl's home and heard loud percussive rapping sounds which seemed to eminate from Virginia's bed, yet she was lying perfectly still. While investigating the sound he saw a linen chest rise and fly into the air. Two medical doctors recorded a series of raps, sawing noises and other auditory phenomena.10

1961 - Felix Fuld Housing Project, Newark, New Jersey - Mrs. Maybelle Clark and her 13-year-old grandson, Ernest Rivers, shared an apartment with an invisible force apparently determined to destroy all Mrs. Clark's breakable belongings. This poltergeist was particularly unusual because it would also steal money from wallets and return it with interest!11

1962 - Indianapolis, Indiana - Mysterious "bat-like" bites appeared on the arms of Mrs. Renate Beck, her mother, Mrs. Lina Gemmecke and Mrs. Beck's 13 year old daughter, Linda, according to a newspaper report on March 13, 1962. Strange movements and breakage of objects were also reported. It was in the midst of these breakages that "Mrs. Beck felt the sting on her left arm and discovered three small puncture marks resembling the bite of a bat. Mrs. Gemmecke felt similar pains at intervals and found identical marks on her left knee and left arm. In total, the Indianapolis poltergeist was responsible for 76 common poltergeist movements, 25 series of knocks and 14 puncture incidents. All but 5 of the incidents took place between March 10 and 24, when there were 110 incidents all told.12

1962 - Clayton, North Carolina - Strange flashes of light invaded the home of Mrs. Pearl Howell and her two grown children, Frances and Robert. A series of flashes, some stronger than others, and many resembling a neon light, puzzled this Carolina town during the summer of 1962.13

1967 - Miami, Florida - "The Miami poltergeist" created havoc in a local warehouse, breaking numerous mugs, ashtrays, vases and other crockery. In the words of Susy Smith, a popular writer on psychical research, it was "a poltergeist gone berserk." Dr. William G. Roll, the foremost authority on the subject, and Dr. J.G. Praitt of the University of Virginia, subjected the Miami poltergeist and it's apparent target, a nineteen year-old shipping clerk named Julio, to a serious and strenuous investigation.14

1968 - The Rosenheim Poltergeist - In her book The Probability of The Impossible, Dr. Thelma Moss, a leading scholar at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) writes:

    The Rosenheim poltergeist is far and away the most famous poltergeist in history. Its activities, including frequent calls to ask for the time (four calls per minute were recorded to the local time number,) so disturbed the German Post Office and telephone company that the telephone system was completely overhauled, and then sealed off. In fact, postal authorities tore up the offices, and the road outside, trying unsuccessfully to find out how the telephones could ring when no one was dialing the number. The poltergeist also, obligingly, made its activities visible on film for Professor Hans Bender of the University of Freiburg. Eventually, these phenomena, which continued for several months, were given an intensive investigation by two physicists, Karger and Zicha, of the eminent Max Planck Institute of Physics. Their conclusion:

      The phenomena are not explicable by the available means of theoretical physics. The phenomena (including interference with the telephone) did not seem to be produced with the help of electrodynamic effects. The events only occurred in the presence of a certain human being, a case unforeseen in physics arises in which the investigation of the human being can initiate new fundamental physical discoveries.15


No one knows with any certainty what poltergeists are nor how or why they exist. The fact is that these phenomena are real and several theories have been advanced to explain them.

Early psychic researchers felt that poltergeists were indeed spirits of the dead. Further research and evidence uncovered in poltergeist and haunting investigations supports this idea. At least three modern parapsychologists, Ernesto Bozzano, Ian Stevenson and D. Scott Rogo lend their insights to the spiritistic theory.

Bozzano reached his conclusion after an exhaustive study of 304 cases of hauntings. 80% were linked to a death and usually the apparition represented the figure of the deceased. He also found the following:

    a) phantoms of the dead can haunt places where they did not die and, in some cases, where they had not even lived.

    b) hauntings consist of telekinetic (the ability to move objects through projections of thought) movement of objects that indicates some sort of physical presence.

    c) hauntings seem particularly linked with deaths, while other tragedies or emotions do not seem to engender hauntings.

    d) hauntings are not continual but intermittent

    e) when certain actions are carried out--such as exorcism, prayers for the dead and other specific acts--the hauntings often cease.16

Ian Stevenson tried to find a human connection to poltergeists but ultimately concluded that:

"...Sometimes there occurs physical phenomena during poltergeist disturbances which can only with difficulty ascribe to living human agency, even when equipped with important paranormal powers...such cases suggest some discarnate agency.. I have not myself been able to imagine how such effects could be solely produced by the unconscious mind of a living agent."17

Rogo states his theory simply. "Poltergeists might be some sort of independent apparition created or projected by the principal agent."18

Both Rogo and Stevenson raise the question of an agent or medium link with the living--in their search for an explanation. Dr. William C. Roll and Dr. Hans Bender have discovered some very convincing data that suggests this human connection.

Roll and Bender have found that the poltergeist seems to be a non-verbal communicator, generally associated with the living, representing the expression of repressed hostility. Dr. Roll is the major proponent of the PSI (pronounced sigh) Field theory which basically states that there is an energy field charged with the paranormal powers of psychokinesis (the direct influence of mind on matter), ESP and survival (life after death) phenomena. This field, he finds, appears to surround the human body and operates with a decreasing effect beyond a 16 foot radius of the target individual. This energy field has also been discovered to include what appears to be vortices or whirlpools, which accounts for the speed and abrupt behavior of objects moved by the poltergeist. Vortex fields, they note, are often found in nature, especially around planets and stars.

The second stage of Roll's thinking explains the psychological aspects of the poltergeist. It is believed that the poltergeist can be the result of a subconscious release of tension, a non-verbal expression of repressed hostility, that charges the PSI field, causing the poltergeist phenomena. Evidence of hostility, adolescent tension and feelings of frustration have been noted in a majority of the individuals who seem to be at the center of a poltergeist intrusion.19

The PSI Field theory also helps to explain the phenomena, for it is possible that during a tragedy or much psychic energy is released and charges the field effect that can last for years.

Finally, there seems to be evidence that ghosts and other communications with the dead have a purpose, as if the dead have one last and final mission to carry out on earth. Once that contact, that communication, is accomplished, the episodes seem to cease.

MGM's "Poltergeist" is a Steven Spielberg Production of a Tobe Hooper film. The screenplay was written by Steven Spielberg, Michael Grais & Mark Victor based on a story by Steven Spielberg. Directed by Tobe Hooper and produced by Steven Spielberg and Frank Marshall, the film is being released in the United States and Canada by MGM/United Artists Distribution and Marketing.



1. Dr. William G. Roll, The Poltergeist, p. 25

2. D. Scott Rogo, in Psychic Exploration, Mitchell, P. 388

3. Roll, p. 8

4. Dr. Thelma Moss, The Probability of the Impossible, p. 321

5. Rogo, in Mitchell, p. 388

6. Ibid, p. 388

7. Roll, p. 24

8. Moss, p. 328

9. Moss, p. 329

10. Rogo, in Mitchell, p. 389

11. Roll, p. 39

12. Roll, p. 51

13. Roll, p. 64

14. Roll, p. 104

15. Moss, p. 332

16. Rogo, p. 387

17. Rogo, p. 392

18. Rogo, p. 393

19. Roll, p. 143-161


Dr. William G. Roll, The Poltergeist, A Signet Book, New American Library, 1972 New York

Dr. Thelma Moss, The Probability of the Impossible, New American Library, Plume Books, New York, 1974

Edgar D. Mitchell, Editor, Psychic Exploration: A Challenge for Science, A Paragon Book, G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York 1979