AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Summary View of Movie
Name Occurs Before Title Offscreen Credit Print Viewed By AFI
Poltergeist
Director: Tobe Hooper (Dir)
Release Date:   4 Jun 1982
Duration (in mins):  114
Print this page
Display Movie Detail


Cast: JoBeth Williams  (Diane Freeling)
  Craig T. Nelson  ([Steven] Steve Freeling)
  Beatrice Straight  (Dr. [Martha] Lesh)
 

Summary: Inside the Freeling family home in the suburban California community of Cuesta Verde, Steve Freeling dozes in front of a flickering television. The golden retriever, E. Buzz, walks through the bedrooms where housewife Diane Freeling and her children, sixteen-year-old Dana, eight-year-old Robbie, and five-year-old Carol Anne, are asleep. Carol Anne rises from her bed, descends the stairs, and sits in front of the screen’s static transmission. She speaks to the television, causing her parents and siblings to awaken in confusion. The next day, Diane notices that Carol Anne’s pet bird died. Downstairs, Steve watches football with a group of friends when the broadcast is suddenly interrupted by the television program, Mister Roger’s Neighborhood. Realizing the signal is crossed with his neighbor Ben Tuthill's, Steve goes outside and demands that Ben stop changing the channel. As Diane and Carol Anne bury the bird in a cigar box, Robbie climbs a tall, knobby tree and notices storm clouds looming overhead. That night, Diane tucks the children into bed and turns on the closet light to calm Carol Anne’s fear of the dark. In the master bedroom, Steve and Diane smoke marijuana, and Diane worries that their plan to build a swimming pool in the backyard could be dangerous with Carol Anne’s recent sleepwalking. Unable to sleep because of the rain, Robbie walks in on his inebriated parents, and Steve returns his son to his bedroom. When Robbie expresses his dislike of the tree outside his window, Steve tells him that his real estate development company built their home next to the old tree so it would protect their family. After he leaves, however, a loud boom of thunder forces Robbie and Carol Anne to retreat to their parents’ bed. While they sleep, the television turns to flickering static yet again. Carol Anne awakens and sits in front of the screen. As she reaches toward it, the ghostly image of a skeletal hand emerges from the picture, swirls through the air, and blasts through the wall above the bed. The room shakes violently, and Carol Anne announces, “They’re here.” In the morning, Steve insists that the disturbance was an earthquake, and multiple construction workers begin digging the pool. Over breakfast, Diane asks Carol Anne what she meant by saying, “They’re here,” and Carol Anne tells her that the “TV people” have arrived. Suddenly, Robbie’s milk glass shatters, his utensils bend, and the kitchen television set turns to static. When Diane notices Carol Anne transfixed by the fuzzy screen, she changes the channel. Upstairs, E. Buzz barks at the wall above the master bed. Later, Diane notices that the kitchen chairs have rearranged themselves around the room, and Carol Anne blames the invisible “TV people.” When Steve returns from work that evening, Diane takes him to the kitchen, where she demonstrates how an invisible force slides the chairs and Carol Anne across the room. During a tornado storm that night, a tree branch breaks through the children’s bedroom window and grabs Robbie. As Dana and her parents run outside to pull Robbie to safety, a vacuum force sucks the children’s toys, furniture, and Carol Anne into the closet. The Freelings return, but are unable to find their daughter. Upstairs, Robbie and Diane hear Carol Anne’s distant voice coming from the master bedroom’s static television screen. Three days later, Steve consults with a University of California, Irvine, psychology professor named Dr. Martha Lesh and her two associates, Ryan and Dr. Marty Casey. He brings them to the bedroom, where the children’s belongings float through the air. Dr. Lesh explains the strange occurrences are caused by a temporary poltergeist intrusion. Diane switches the television to a static transmission and speaks out loud to Carol Anne, asking if she can answer. Carol Anne’s voice replies, crying out that she is afraid of “the light.” Dr. Lesh urges Carol Anne to stay away from the light. Believing the presence to be a hoax, Dr. Casey runs upstairs. Moments later, a white glow emanates from the living room ceiling, as multiple pieces of antique jewelry fall to the ground. As Carol Anne yells that someone is coming for her, Diane claims that she felt her daughter’s spirit pass through her body. A gust of wind knocks the family to the floor, and Dr. Casey returns with a large bite wound on his abdomen from attempting to enter the children’s bedroom. That night, Dr. Lesh tells Robbie about the light many people believe they see before death. After they fall asleep, Dr. Casey attempts to cook a steak in the kitchen, but the meat slides across the counter and begins to mutate. He runs to the bathroom, where the light causes him to imagine flesh melting off his face. Meanwhile, Ryan’s video camera records the upstairs bedroom door opening, emitting a bright light and the swirling apparition of a figure descending the stairs. The poltergeist vanishes through the living room ceiling, and the group replays the tape. The video depicts a cluster of vivid orbs floating through the room, indicating the presence of more than one ghost. In the morning, Robbie and E. Buzz leave for their grandmother’s house, and Dr. Lesh takes the mysterious jewelry to her lab but promises to return with help. Steve’s boss, Mr. Teague, stops by the house and expresses his concern over Steve’s supposed sick leave from work. While walking up a hill overlooking the community, Mr. Teague reveals that the Freelings’ current home was constructed on top of a relocated cemetery but he assures Steve that the bodies were interred elsewhere. Later, Dr. Lesh returns with a clairvoyant named Tangina Barrons, who inspects the house and determines that Carol Anne is still alive. She claims that the souls inhabiting the house do not know they have died, and that Carol Anne must help them cross over into death; however, a demon called “the Beast” has been controlling her to keep the spirits away from the light. Diane speaks to Carol Anne and tells her to run toward the light so that the spirits will follow her. When Tangina opens the bedroom door, Steve throws a rope into the brightly illuminated closet, which falls out the portal’s exit in the living room ceiling. Diane kisses her husband before tying the rope around her waist and entering the closet. Tangina instructs Carol Anne to go into the light, but Steve panics and pulls the rope back. The Beast’s gigantic, ghostly skull appears in the doorway as Diane and Carol Anne’s bodies, covered in pink ectoplasm, drop onto the floor downstairs. Once they regain consciousness, Tangina proclaims the house is clean. Sometime later, the Freelings pack their belongings into a moving van, hoping to leave before morning. As Steve meets with Mr. Teague and the children go to bed, Diane draws a bath. Suddenly, Robbie’s clown toy grabs him around the neck and drags him under the bed. Diane hears him scream, but a force pushes her up onto the ceiling and into the hallway. The growling Beast blocks her from entering the children’s bedroom and she runs outside, slipping into the muddy swimming pool pit, filled with human skeletons. The neighboring Tuthills hear her screams and pull Diane to safety. She runs back to the bedroom, where Robbie and Carol Anne cling to the bed as a wind sucks them toward a glowing orange hole in the wall. As she pulls them to safety, Steve arrives home with Mr. Teague, and multiple coffins containing decomposed corpses unearth themselves from under the house. Steve yells at his boss for moving the cemetery headstones without transplanting the bodies. The Freelings drive away in their car while Mr. Teague watches the house emit a fiery light and implode. After the family checks into a motel, Steve pushes the room’s television set outside onto the balcony. 

Distribution Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Director: Tobe Hooper (Dir)
  Dennis Jones (Prod mgr)
  Pat Kehoe (1st asst dir)
  Bob Roe (2d asst dir)
Producer: Steven Spielberg (Prod)
  Frank Marshall (Prod)
  Kathleen Kennedy (Assoc prod)
Writer: Steven Spielberg (Scr)
  Michael Grais (Scr)
  Mark Victor (Scr)
  Steven Spielberg (Story)

Subject Major: Children
  Family relationships
  Ghosts
  Suburban life
  Television
 
Subject Minor: Abduction
  Afterlife
  Bedrooms
  Cemeteries
  Clairvoyants
  Corpses
  Extrasensory perception
  Haunted houses
  Houses
  Housing industry
  Land developers
  Parentage
  Psychologists
  Skeletons
  Storms
  Swimming pools

Display Movie Detail
The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
Advanced Search
Support our efforts to preserve hisotory of film
Help AFI Preserve Film History

© 2017 American Film Institute.
All rights reserved.
Terms of use.