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Film / Poltergeist

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Carol Anne

Poltergeist (1982) is a horror movie directed by Tobe Hooper and co-written and produced by Steven Spielberg, chronicling the terrifying paranormal events that surround the Freelings, an ordinary suburban family, whose home is invaded by spirits that show a special interest in their five-year-old daughter, Carol Anne.

It was followed by two sequels: Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986) and Poltergeist III (1988).

The franchise is often said to be cursed, because several people associated with it, including stars Dominique Dunne and Heather O'Rourke, died prematurely. "The Poltergeist Curse" has been the focus of an E! True Hollywood Story. The first film is also known for persistent rumors that Spielberg directed most of the movie.

This film was ranked as #80 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments and the Chicago Film Critics Association named it the 20th scariest film ever made.


A remake, co-financed between MGM and 20th Century Fox, was released May 22 2015, with Sam Raimi as producer and Gil Kenan as director.

The sequels have their own pages at Poltergeist II: The Other Side and Poltergeist III.

If you are looking for a trope about mischievous ghost vandals, you can see it under the "Main" tab.

The 1982 movie and the 2015 reboot/remake contain examples of:

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    Poltergeist (1982) 
  • All There in the Manual: Spielberg gave James Kahn free rein on the novelization, leading to it having tons of backstory (including Tangina's battles with demons on the spirit plane, a spectral Southern Belle who protected Carol-Anne on the Other Side, an even more nightmarish Nightmare Fodder sequence of Marty in the kitchen, and—perhaps most critically—a more thorough explanation of why the ghostly activity started now rather than when the family first moved into the house) that was never even hinted at in the film.
  • Big "WHY?!": Steve grabs his land-developer boss and screams at him for having relocated the headstones of the cemetery on which his haunted house was built, while leaving the bodies. His rant of accusation ends with a furious double example of this trope.
  • Bloody Horror:
    • There's the scene where Marty hallucinates ripping his face off in the bathroom, and dripping blood into the sink.
    • There's another scene nearing the end of the film, after rescuing the daughter the mother and the daughter come out of the ghost's world, and they're both coated with blood-tinted globs of mucus.
    • Robbie has some blood on his face following Carol Anne's disappearance, which is alarmingly gruesome to see on a child.
  • Collapsing Lair: The ghosts fail to take any of the family back to the other side, so they settle for taking the house instead. The entire house collapses and disappears into the Other Dimension. note 
  • Cool Gate: The ghosts create one in Carol Anne's closet, with the exit in the living room ceiling.
  • Creepy Child: Carol Anne has her moments. Witness her sing-song "theeeeeeyyyyy're heeeeerrreee!" after some ghosts try to reach for her through the TV screen and her parents wake up to see her sitting in front of the TV.
  • Creepy Doll: The clown doll was a bit unsettling before it started grabbing kids, too. Robbie already is scared of it before it attacks him, and tries to cover it with a blanket.
  • Cutting Corners: The realtor had to move a cemetery to develop his neighborhood, and did so... or rather, because it was too expensive, just moved the headstones and kept the corpses right where they were, probably hoping someone didn't digged deep enough to run into one of them.
  • Drugs Are Good: Diane and Steven are shown smoking a marijuana cigarette together and having a great time.
  • Evil Is Visceral: Carol Anne's closet turning into a squidgy, pink, mucous throat-esophagus sort of thing with a tentacle reaching out to grab her and pull her in.
  • Extreme Mêlée Revenge: The clown comes to life, sneaks up on Robbie and attempts to suffocate him. Robbie overcomes the clown, throws it on the bed, and tears it apart, screaming, "I HATE YOU! I HATE YOU!"
  • Foreshadowing: After the immortal statement of, "They're here!", we see a bulldozer tearing up ground for the pool. As it does, it digs up the cigar box Tweetie was buried in. [[spoiler:Previewing the reveal of what the development is built on.
  • Forgotten Trope:
    • In the 80's, analog television sets would produce a screen of static when not tuned to a specific channel. Nowadays, not so much. (Although many younger people are likely familiar with static purely because of shows and movies continuing to show static on nonfunctioning televisions long after they stopped working that way.)
    • In the 80s and earlier, networks would stop broadcasting late at night. Younger generations have grown up with 24 hour television, so they won't catch the significance of the television turning to static, then commonly known as "dead air"...
    • Nowadays, hotel televisions are typically tied in place with cables to prevent theft, so the final shot of the father evicting a TV from their hotel room is also dated.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: There are some hints during the film, stronger during the second half, that Dana goes on dates with guys and has sex with them, without her parents knowing: just the day after they recover Carol Anne from the other side of the closet, Diane tells Dana that later, they'll go to a hotel; when she tells which one, Dana just goes like "oh, yes", and giving some fun smile, looking like she's daydreaming, letting us know that she knows it and that something special for her happened there. Then Dana changes the subject and leaves and we don't know anything of her until the very end of the movie, when she gets out of the car screaming "WHAT'S GOING ON??!!". Look for her neck, to the left and to the right of it, you can see love bites.
  • Go into the Light: Tangina tries to convince the ghosts to do this, while having Diane warn her daughter to stay away.
  • Hearing Voices: Carol Anne first hears the ghosts whispering to her through television static in the television set.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Carol Anne has long golden hair and she is very kind and innocent with a pure heart (she's actually specifically targeted by the evil spirits because of her pureness).
  • Helium Speech: Tangina has a very high voice, to the point that it sounds artificial, all the time. It is the actress' normal voice though.
  • Imaginary Friend: The Freelings first think Carol Anne has imaginary friends when they notice her talking to "people" on a TV that's on a static channel. Subverted when it turns out the "TV people" really are ghosts, and real.
  • Indian Burial Ground: Early in the movie it's briefly mentioned that an Indian burial ground is nearby Cuesta Verde. Later it turns out that's not related to the hauntings; the real source of that is that Steve's neighborhood was built on top of an improperly relocated Christian cemetery (the bodies are still there).
    Steve: You son of a bitch! You moved the headstones but you left the bodies, didn't you? You left the bodies and you only moved the headstones! YOU ONLY MOVED THE HEADSTONES!! WHY?! WHY??!!
  • Innocent Blue Eyes: Carol Anne has blue eyes and, as explicitly stated in the movie, is especially pure and innocent.
  • Ironic Nursery Tune: The opening theme is a sweet theme sounding like a nursery theme. Soon after the opening scene the movie turns to horror.
  • I See Dead People: Carol Anne can see and hear ghosts and communicate with them, initially through the TV set, later everywhere in the house.
  • Last Note Nightmare: The ending theme starts out with children singing... And then, at the very end of the end credits, disturbing laughter is heard.
  • Light Is Not Good: The light is good; it's just not good for things that don't need to go there, like the living.
  • Locked into Strangeness: After rescuing Carol Anne from the Other Side, Diane develops a white streak of hair at each temple. She is reluctant to dye the streaks back, speculating to her older daughter that they look "punk".
  • Long Hair Is Feminine: Carol Anne's long blonde hair is iconic and she's definitely a girly girl.
  • Mama Bear: Diane is willing to go through absolute hell to keep her children safe.
    Diane: NO! NOT MY BABIES!!!'
  • Mood Whiplash: From a horrific scene of exploding raw steak, maggoty chicken and Marty tearing his own face off (he's hallucinating), we segue into a near-mystical manifestation of gracefully-glowing light. Justified when it's revealed that there's an insanely-malign ghost sharing the house with a bunch of inoffensive/trapped ones.
  • Monster Clown: A clown doll turn evil and attacks Robbie, but this is just the ghosts' distraction in order to kidnap Carol Anne.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: The demon who is the main antagonist is first referred to as only "The Beast".
  • No-Tell Motel: The motel the family heads to at the end of the film has a reputation for being used to fool around, seeing how Dana chuckles saying "I know that place..." when Diane mentions it.
  • Novelization: The story of the movie was written into a novel by James Kahn.
  • Offscreen Reality Warp: The ghosts demonstrate their "Mad Skillz" at chair stacking during a brief period when the camera is not on them.
  • Rapunzel Hair: Carol Anne's hair reaches at least down to her waist, sometimes it appears even longer.
  • Red Herring: When characters tell there's an Indian burial ground near the Freelings' house, the viewer (and probably the characters themselves, In Universe) would think that that would be the source of the ghostly disturbances. But it turns out it has nothing to do with anything.
  • Say My Name: CAROL ANNE! CAROL ANNE! CAROL ANNE! Her name is very frequently called or shouted. Probably justifiable because she's missing in her own house during most of the movie, and her parents want her to come back.
  • Shout-Out: While Diane and Steven are in bed, we see they are watching the film "A Guy Named Joe." This is a movie from 1943 where a dead Air Force pilot comes back to Earth as a ghost to pass his knowledge onto an up and coming rookie. Spielberg would go on to remake this film later in his career under the title "Always."
  • Skunk Stripe: After going to the Other Side to rescue Carol Anne, Diane, who's naturally brown-haired, has a streak of white hair at her temple.
  • Snowy Screen of Death: The ghosts first communicate with Carol Anne through an untuned television set.
  • Shoo Out the Clowns: The first twenty minutes of this film are very light-hearted, like when Steve and his neighbor and dueling with their remotes. After Carol Ann utters "They're here..." the film becomes considerably darker. The neighbors later reappear in a scene where Steven and Diane go to ask them if they experience any "disturbances" too (to which the neighbors look at them like they're crazy, and which is played for laughs). Once the film turns really dark, the neighbors aren't shown or mentioned again.
    • They actually reappear to rescue Diane from the pool corpses, but then it is very brief and they've completely lost their comedic tendencies.
  • The Soulsaver: The psychic Tangina helps a group of friendly yet lonely ghosts (lost souls) trapped in the astral plane go into the Light.
  • Tear Off Your Face: The psychic's assistant, Marty, hallucinates that he pulls off his own face.
  • Third Act Stupidity: Steven and Diane Freeling act with reasonable intelligence throughout most of the movie—not perfectly, but then they didn't have an idea that it could be so dangerous. However, after managing to rescue Carol Anne from a demonic ghost, they decide that Diane, Robbie and Carol Anne will stay in the house overnight. Not only that, but they let Robbie and Carol Anne stay alone in the same room that Carol Anne was originally stolen from. Would you take that kind of risk with your kids?
    • Well, in fairness, Tangina HAD said that the house was "clean". Little did she know...
  • True Blue Femininity: Carol Anne's pajamas are blue and very feminine.
  • Whole Plot Reference: To "Little Girl Lost", an episode of The Twilight Zone.
  • Tempting Fate: After getting back Carol Anne from the Other Side, Tangina exclaims confidently "This house is clean," thinking that with Carol Anne back on the physical plane, the poltergeist's link to the house was severed. Nope - it was regrouping... and it was pissed...
  • Tertiary Sexual Characteristics: Carol Anne's very feminine frilly blue pajamas trimmed with satin ribbons.
  • When Trees Attack: The tree near the Freelings' house turns evil and its branches go through the kid's window to take and attack Robbie.

    Poltergeist (2015) 
  • Amicable Exes: Brooke and Carrigan.
  • Ascended Extra: He's not really an extra, but Griffin, the counterpart of Robbie from the original film series, is essentially the reboot's main protagonist and hero. He has the most focus of the Bowens, and is actually the one who saves Maddie from the other dimension, as opposed to the original's Diane (the counterpart of the reboot's Amy).
  • Big Brother Instinct: Griffin to Maddie, especially after leaving her to guard herself which causes her to be taken to the other dimension. While the others are busy offering themselves to go to the other dimension and become Maddie's guide, Griffin wastes no time to do it himself. His mom is apparently very supportive of him to have this instinct, too.
    Amy: Be brave. If you're scared, Maddie's going to be scared too. You're her big brother. You have to be an example to her.
  • Big Sister Bully: Kendra is initially this to Griffin and Maddie (or at least just Griffin). She softens up throughout the film due to all they go through.
  • Body Motifs: Lots and lots of "hand" imagery.
  • Cassandra Truth: Griffin's pleas about the poltergeists are denied all the time. At least until Kendra experiences it first-hand and Maddie goes missing.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Two of the gifts the dad buys (the cell phone and the camera drone) play a role detecting the ghosts and then Maddie, respectively.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Kendra is a fan of Carrigan Burke, an occultist and the host of a paranormal investigation reality show. Carrigan himself is later called by Brooke to help rescue Maddie.
  • Creepy Doll: In all its terrifying glory. And there's a closet full of them.
  • Dysfunction Junction: The Bowens are almost heading to this territory at the start, due to Eric losing his job while continuously preventing Amy from seeking job so she can write a novel. Losing a job means that the family have to move in to a lower-class neighborhood that their children dislike. Ironically, the problem that should have been the worst influence on the relationship, the poltergeists, actually ends up making them reconcile and team up to repel it, though Maddie's disappearance might have something to do with it, too.
  • Eldritch Location: The other dimension.
  • Everybody Lives: Should be no surprise, since the series is known for this trope despite being a high-end horror fiction.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Knowing that the Bowens will always be hunted by the spirits because of their attraction to Maddie, Carrigan ends up deciding to enter the other dimension to guide them to the light instead. However, the ending implies that he survives, which The Stinger outright confirms.
  • Here We Go Again!: The house the Bowens are looking into at the end gives off the same vibe as their previous haunted house, complete with ominous tree. They respond by driving off before the realtor has a chance to finish her sales pitch.
  • I'm Your Biggest Fan: Kendra and Boyd say some variation of this while meeting with their favorite idol, Carrigan. He just brushes it off.
  • If We Get Through This...: Surprisingly subverted. Carrigan promises Griffin to reveal how he got the scar on his forehead once Maddie is rescued and if Griffin survive. Since all of them make it through the night, Poltergeist style, Griffin does indeed reveal how he got that: it's completely mundane and not related to the supernatural at all.
  • I Will Find You: All of the Bowens after Maddie's gone will do everything to have her back. Exemplified best with Griffin when he denies Boyd's suggestion to use the paranormal activity for profit.
    Griffin: I just want to have my sister back.
  • Layman's Terms: Not stated outright, but Brooke's Techno Babble explanation about the other dimension definitely doesn't suit Kendra and Griffin well. Sophie ends up having to explain it through papers.
  • Manly Tears: "I don't care about that whole supernatural thing. I just want to have my daughter back." Well said, Eric, well said.
  • Middle Child Syndrome: Griffin thinks he has this complex. He's not old enough to be given responsibilites like Kendra, and he's not young enough to warrant extra attention like Maddie. Plus, he's the only son of the trio.
  • Momma's Boy: A positive example. It's obvious that out of all her children, Amy adores Griffin the most, probably because he's the only boy.
  • Never Got to Say Goodbye: Specifically averted. Because he's unsure whether he will survive going to the other dimension, Carrigan says this to Brooke beforehand. Fortunately, he survives.
  • Please Don't Leave Me: Said ad verbatim by Maddie to Griffin. He regrets it later, since that's the last words he heard before Maddie goes to the other dimension.
  • Primal Scene: Griffin walks in while his mom is lying half-dressed on bed and his dad undoing his trousers (but not underwear, thankfully).
  • The Remake: With some refreshing change in details.
  • Satellite Character: Out of the three members of the Department of Paranormal Research, Sophie stands out the least, since she barely gets lines other than those related to explaining the paranormal thing. Brooke gets the distinction as leader and ex-wife of Carrigan, and Boyd is Carrigan's fan and even has a certain independent opinion that establishes his money-hungry nature, but Sophie's defining trait is being an investigator and nothing more. It is particularly significant since she's also the Token Minority of the film.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Rather than tempt fate and spend the night in their "cleaned" house, the Bowens pack up what they can after they retrieve Maddie from the other side and get the hell out of Dodge only to find the ghosts haven't been exorcised and really want their guide back.
  • Spoon Bending: When the family discovers that all of their cutlery has been distorted at the beginning of the movie, that is their (and the viewer's) first clue that the house is being haunted. Of course, everything gets downhill from there.
  • Squee!: Kendra and Boyd, but especially Kendra, when Brooke calls in Carrigan. If you look closely in some scenes where Kendra is not the focus, you can see that she's locked in a perpetual smile while looking at Carrigan.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: Not quite, but Eric disapproves of Amy seeking a job so she can pursue her dream: writing a novel.
  • The Stinger: Confirms that Carrigan does indeed survive after having entered the other dimension.
  • Supernatural-Proof Father: It takes some time to convince Eric that nothing makes sense in the house, and the poltergeists are real.
  • Token Minority: The only non-white person in the film who has a major role is Sophie, a member of Brooke's Department of Paranormal Research, who is black. There's also Kendra's Black Best Friend, Lauren, but she has a very minor role and only appears in webcam video.
  • Two-Faced Aside: Eric assures his wife that Carrigan's plan will work. As soon as she's left the room, he asks "Are you sure this will work?"
  • Wham Line: After they flee their house, Kendra gets Carrigan to say his Catchphrase that the house is clean. Then...
    Kendra: I can't believe he said it. "This house is clean."
    Maddie: But it's not.
  • Working with the Ex: Brooke and Carrigan were formerly married, but separated because Brooke wanted to pursue formal education. They remain on good professional terms, though.


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