Poltergeist has been haunting ’80s children — and their descendants — for 40 years. But the 1982 blockbuster, directed by Tobe Hooper and produced by Steven Spielberg, has been haunted itself by the so-called “Poltergeist Curse,” an city legend that is taken root since the deaths of 4 solid members from the unique movie and its two sequels.
Those solid members embrace two members of the Freeling household, the suburban clan headed up by Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams, whose house is invaded by offended spirits. Five months after the movie’s launch, Dominique Dunne — who performed the eldest Freeling daughter, Dana — was murdered by an ex-boyfriend. And in 1988, her youthful onscreen sibling and Poltergeist’s literal poster child, Heather O’Rourke, handed away at age 12 following a severe case of intestinal stenosis. (The different oft-cited curse victims are Julian Beck and Will Sampson, each of whom appeared in the 1986 sequel, Poltergeist II: The Other Side.)
As the final Freeling sibling standing, Oliver Robins — who performed center child, Robbie — has naturally thought so much about the “Poltergeist Curse,” and the way it ties into the legacy of the haunted home franchise.
“I hope there isn’t a curse, because I’m still around,” the child actor-turned-filmmaker tells Yahoo Entertainment forward of Poltergeist‘s return to theaters as half of the TCM Big Screen Classics Series hosted by TCM and Fathom Events. (Screenings will likely be held on Sept. 25, 26 and 28; go to Fathom Events for showtime and ticket info.)
“I do believe in the paranormal to some degree, but I don’t think there’s a curse because those deaths can be explained,” Robins continues. “You had these tragedies happen, but they were going to happen whether [the actors] were in the movie or not. Like with Heather, she had a medical condition for which she wasn’t treated. So I don’t think they are interconnected.”
That stated, as a fixture on the horror conference scene, Robins is aware of that the “Poltergeist Curse” is one of the the explanation why the film nonetheless attracts new viewers who may in any other case skip it in favor of newer frightfests. “I really believe that if you’ve heard about the curse and it gets you to see the film, you’re not going to be on the edge of your seat because of curses — it’s because it’s a great movie. I like to look at the positive side of even the darkest thing.”
Robins can also be completely satisfied to dispel one other fantasy that is lengthy surrounded Poltergeist: that Spielberg really directed the movie moderately than Hooper. The E.T. director did co-write the screenplay and was an lively presence on set, to the level the place some crew members have credited him as being its major artistic voice. But Robins insists that Hooper was at all times calling the pictures, at the least when he was on-camera.
“Tobe directed me in all my scenes,” he says of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre auteur, who died in 2017. “Steven was there every day and wrote the original screenplay, so it was from his heart. Tobe was following Steven’s vision and if people say it’s a Spielberg movie, that’s because we’re following a script by Steven Spielberg. But at the end of the day, Tobe told me where to stand, where the camera should be placed and everything else. So he truly was the director.”
Robins does credit score Spielberg with recognizing and inspiring his youthful curiosity in filmmaking, although. “I used to make these Super-8 movies while we were shooting,” he remembers. “I brought them in for Steven to see, and he said, ‘Wow! I have a gift for you Oliver.'” That reward turned out to be an upgraded movie digicam with all types of bells and whistles. “You could do anything with it: wind it back, double exposures, shooting sound. So I got to know Steven in a different capacity as an aspiring young filmmaker.”
To rejoice 40 years of Poltergeist, we spoke with Robins about some of the movie’s traditional scares, and his personal real-life shut encounters with the paranormal.
It’s at all times wild to me to suppose that Poltergeist and E.T. got here out inside per week of one another again in 1982. Both motion pictures are nice style items, however they’re additionally actually relatable portraits of households. You even have your personal “penis breath” second the place you and Heather are buying and selling insults at the eating desk!
Yeah, that really was the Spielberg summer time. It sounds slightly conceited, however we knew that Poltergeist was gonna be unbelievable. Even once we have been capturing it, they have been already speaking about sequels as a result of we have been having such a good time. We simply wished to remain collectively, and it was so unhappy once we ended manufacturing on the first one. What’s so fascinating about that scene with Heather is that Tobe was like, “Just be a kid. Do what you would do and ad-lib all those lines.” So half of these strains in the scene — like the place I name her a barf bag and he or she calls me a doggy bag — have been simply us being children. We forgot the crew was there! [Laughs]
You hadn’t been in so much of movies prior to creating Poltergeist. Did they inform you off the high how scary the film was going to get?
No, they actually did not they usually stored every part actually secret, too. When we auditioned, we had some sides, however they did not inform us the story. I had hassle studying to learn and my mother stated, “I’m not going to read the script to you. If you want to learn to read, read the screenplay for Poltergeist.” So that is really how I realized to learn! And that is the first time I realized the film was scary in any respect.
What did you suppose as you have been studying all these scary moments on the web page?
I used to be amazed by it, and I did not know the way they have been gonna do it. [Producer] Frank Marshall was so nice on the set, and he made it really feel prefer it was gonna be a sport day by day. He would say, “OK, we have this great tree, and this is what you’re gonna do.” I used to be a rough-and-tumble child, so for me it was like being at an amusement park. Loads of folks do not know this, however in the ultimate scene at the Holiday Inn, there is a signal that claims, “Welcome Dr. Fantasy & Friends.” Frank’s nickname was Dr. Fantasy! He does magic methods and is a superb magician himself.
Did that make it troublesome to behave scared throughout these scenes when in actuality it was a lot enjoyable for you?
I actually credit score JoBeth Williams, as a result of I had so little performing expertise and Tobe anticipated me to come back to set ready. I stated to her, “What do I do?” She talked me although these scenes, and advised me to faucet into one thing I used to be personally actually afraid of. Believe it or not, I believed that I grew up in a haunted home. We lived in this townhouse on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in the Seventies and there was this one room that also had crimson velvet partitions left over from the 1860s when it had been a whorehouse proper after the Civil War. That room was darkish and scary, and I at all times used to suppose that I may hear folks strolling up the stairs at evening. My mother would say, “No, that’s just the house settling.” But to today, I consider I heard folks strolling up the stairs. So I channeled these emotions [into Poltergeist], interested by these ghosts and feeling like there is no one there to guard me.
Did you may have every other paranormal experiences in that home?
No, I by no means actually noticed something — it was simply that gut-wrenching feeling. I do do not forget that I had slightly playhouse in my room, and I at all times thought that somebody in that playhouse was ready for me! I’d sit in my mattress and pull the covers up over my head. If there was a ghost there, I’ve to credit score it with my efficiency! [Laughs]
A couple of years in the past, I went to this [haunted] sanitarium in Kentucky with a pair of actors [from other horror movies]. We have been all pondering, “This is kind of a joke,” however we ended up seeing issues that we will not perceive to today — like we noticed issues darting from door to door. So it’s important to hold an open thoughts. I believe science will ultimately clarify every part that we name the paranormal, however there are actually issues we do not get in this world.
You talked about the tree scene earlier — how was that stunt achieved?
Well, that concerned two weeks of being lined in molasses and being hit with sugar glass and rain! People have to grasp that there wasn’t CGI again then, so all of the results have been sensible. Basically, they’d three or 4 completely different bushes: one which appeared actually massive, one other one for the arms and one other one to swallow me. That was a heavy obligation particular impact. I used to be standing on a platform and Tobe stated, “We need to simulate you getting eaten, so you need to pull away like you’re struggling to get away from the tree.”
But in truth I needed to really decrease myself down, so they might add all the particular results. So I’d decrease myself on the platform and scream, “It’s eating me!” Every shot took so much of time to do, they usually needed to make it very protected. I keep in mind when the tree’s arms have been coming into the room, the stunt coordinator, Glenn Randall, advised me: “Oliver, I want you to cover your eyes, because we want to shoot sugar glass at you.” I by no means received damage or something like that. I do do not forget that the arms as soon as got here by means of and knocked me off the mattress as a result of they did not have them at the proper angle. But they have been extremely cautious. It simply goes to point out you that when you rush one thing or haven’t got the proper folks on set, that is when errors occur and folks get damage in the course of.
For the scene the place Heather’s voice is popping out of the tv and also you’re all looking for her, did they really play her voice on set?
No, we might discover our locations on set they usually’d have a stick, and would inform us to comply with the stick as a result of that is the place her voice was. All the voiceover and ghost results have been executed months later, so in each scene we’re actually performing in opposition to nothing. I keep in mind asking Tobe, “What exactly am I screaming at?” And that is what Tobe advised me: “We don’t know Oliver, but it’s the scariest thing you can possibly think of.” [Laughs]
The “monster in the closet” scene is one of my favorites. How troublesome was that to movie?
That scene was shot in what they referred to as “the Gimbal Room.” It was on the similar MGM stage the place they filmed all of Fred Astaire’s dances. I do not forget that the room really rotated to the left, and the digicam was positioned under me. And then we had these wires that have been hooked up to the wall, and we needed to act like we have been being sucked into the closet. We got varied eyelines for the place to look whereas we have been holding onto the bedposts. It was my understanding that they needed to blow up every body and have results artists paint out the wires. We did not see the creature’s esophagus in any respect. That was an optical phantasm that they put in later. They additionally had fish tanks that they mirrored the gentle by means of and an enormous wind blower that will blow our hair. I did not know what it was going to appear to be till I did ADR on the movie!
As you are operating out of the home after that scene, all these skeletons begin popping up in your approach. Was that every one fastidiously choreographed?
Oh yeah, it was very choreographed. The floor of the set would open up they usually’d pop a coffin by means of, so he needed to hit a particular mark. There have been so many issues you may repair at present in post-production, however again then you definately could not repair them and must re-shoot. At a minimal, we might do 12 takes on any given shot to ensure we had it. And I used to be really scared throughout that sequence. When there is a coffin popping up in entrance of you, it would not take that a lot performing to be terrified! I requested the prop guys, “Are the skeletons real?” They stated they have been, however I do not know in the event that they have been simply making an attempt to scare me. I do not know if that is true, however afterward I heard they did use actual skeletons. [Both Williams and some of the film’s crew members, have since said that several of the skeletons featured in that scene were real.]
What was your favorite scene that you just weren’t on set for?
I’d have appreciated to have seen JoBeth in the pool the place all the skeletons are popping up out of the water. That was not in an precise yard, however on a soundstage, too. I cherished being on set, however the labor union was like, “You gotta go home,” so that they needed to drag me off. Otherwise I’d have frolicked and watched that scene.
I believed you may need picked the face peeling second.
I really was there for that one! Believe it or not, these are Steven’s palms. Tobe was directing him, saying, “OK Steven, your hands have to go here.” So he was the actor and people are his palms and he is really tearing at his face. I believe it was Rick Baker who created that mould and the solely had one of them in order that they needed to get it proper.
I keep in mind Poltergeist II being even gnarlier than the unique film. Was that the plan — to have the motion pictures get scarier as they went alongside?
You know, I wasn’t aware of that info. It was in all probability simply commerce. I used to be 14, and did not have the greatest working relationship with [director] Brian Gibson on that set. My understanding is that MGM was in monetary problem at that time, and wished to close down manufacturing, so he was beneath duress the total time, which made it actually robust. And I used to be a precocious, obnoxious teenager with a thoughts of my very own, so I actually talked again to him. Poltergeist II did not actually have the similar vitality or vibe as the first one, and I believe that was past anybody’s management. We did not have that household component as a result of we have been beneath duress from all these exterior forces. As a filmmaker myself, it is laborious to disregard these issues as a lot as you may need to.
Was there ever any dialogue about you returning for Poltergeist III?
They by no means contacted me, so I did not actually find out about it. I in all probability would’ve executed it, however at that time, I wished to go to USC movie faculty so I used to be actually targeted on my research. If I had been advised that I needed to skip a biology ultimate to concentrate on performing, I’d have been like, “No, biology has to come first.” [Laughs]
Heather’s dying was an enormous shock to everybody: Was it laborious to lose her that approach?
It actually was. I hadn’t actually misplaced that many individuals in my life at that time, and I used to be so shut along with her. She was my buddy, and used to remain over at my home. I did not know something was improper along with her. It was such a horrible tragedy, and I actually did not know how one can take care of it. It was type of a turning level in my life the place it made me get up to that actuality that life is finite and day by day is actually treasured.
You talked about that you just’re not essentially a believer in the paranormal, however do you are feeling her presence if you rewatch the movie?
I do really feel her that she’s there, though that would simply be half of my thoughts. She was such a fantastic actress, and so sensible and precocious. I’ve labored with kids as a director since that point, and also you type of take as a right how superb she took to it. I’ve directed children that do not hear and might’t take route, however Heather was like slightly grownup when she was on set. She was very particular, and that is why Steven and Tobe employed her for that position.
When you go to horror conventions now, what’s the response you are at all times completely satisfied to listen to from followers?
The factor that at all times sticks with me is when followers which might be grown-ups like me deliver their children and attempt to specific to them why this film is nice, they usually use me for that second. They’re making an attempt to share that second after they have been 10-years-old watching Poltergeist with their very own 10-year-olds and when the children meet me, all of it comes alive. I prefer to be a component of that, and I really like speaking about Poltergeist with followers. When the film got here out, I at all times questioned what folks the place pondering after they noticed it, and now I get to listen to all these tales. The key factor is that the movie itself is a superb film that clearly has endurance, as a result of we’re nonetheless speaking about it 40 years later.
Poltergeist returns to theaters Sept. 25-28 as half of Fathom Events’s TCM Big Screen Classics collection; go to Fathom Events for showtime and ticket info