Poltergeist is a work of fiction produced by Steven Spielberg and directed by cult horror icon, Tobe Hooper. While it may be a fictional account of a family who discovers that their house is built on a cemetery whose inhabitants were never moved to a new location it is not necessarily a Hollywood script.
New Orleans is a city whose very history could lend credibility to the plot of Poltergeist the Movie.
Once upon a time, long before St Louis Cemetery #1 was built, our ancestors did not know that we were below sea level. They buried their dead like everyone in the United States normally does, caskets in the ground. When the French Quarter began to be inhabited, St. Peter’s cemetery was scheduled to be moved. Ryan Gray of UNO, when interviewed by WNOL stated that “Historical accounts said there was no longer any room and you couldn’t dig without hitting a body.”
It wasn’t until recently that the 600 block of Rampart in the French Quarter was renovated to include a pool, much like Craig T. Nelson attempted to do in Poltergeist. 13 caskets were unearthed in The French Quarter.
While it is unknown if this location is haunted we know from experience that The French Quarter is teeming with paranormal activity. The closet to what Poltergeist explains is the Madame LaLaurie Plantation on Rue Royal. She imprisoned her slaves in the floorboards of her mansion on the third floor. They were mistaken as ghosts as their pained pleas called for help and later died. The LaLaurie Plantation is one of the most haunted locations in New Orleans.
The actual Poltergeist movie is based in a planned community in California. A greedy developer takes cemetery plots and pays to move the headstones. In order to save time and costs he does not remove the caskets. Craig T. Nelson (Coach/The District) plays one of his realtors named Steve Freeling who loves his life in the planned community. Living there gives him the advantage of selling to other families who are looking for a house.
Now, anyone who reads my paranormal examiner page: http://modenook.com/paranormal-in-new-orleans/kristina-stancil knows that construction stirs up paranormal activity. In attempt to increase his family enjoyment in the area, he decides to build a pool. As a realtor, he also realizes how this will increase the property value by putting in a pool. Mr. Freeling is the top realtor for his boss’ company. The houses are somewhat cookie cutter and are very close to each other.
His wife, Diane Freeling (Jobeth Williams) is a stay at home mom. She is the first to discover that her house is haunted. It starts as a benign haunting. Cabinet doors are opened, glasses break, chairs are stacked in crazy patterns, and chairs slide across the kitchen floor. An excited Diane places a football helmet on their daughter and lets the ghosts slide her across the floor to show her bewildered husband.
The benign haunting doesn’t bother them, although they are a little wary when their daughter talks to the people on the TV after the station has gone off the air and is nothing but white noise. They eventually contact a paranormal team when their two youngest children, Carol Ann and Robby’s room turns into a swirling vortex. The haunting begins to escalate because it is later revealed Satan is haunting their house and he wants Carol Anne.
One of the investigators is in the bathroom and he hallucinates that he is peeling his face off. He is too terrified to return. The female doctor and one of her analysts, Ryan consists to stay while they wait for Zelda to come in and cleanse the house. Unfortunately, Carol Ann has been sucked into the beyond. Satan appears to her as a child and while she feels somewhat safe, if not homesick for her family, he appears to her as a child. The beast lies to her and to the trapped souls.
While the Doctor has told Diane to keep Carol Anne away from the light to heaven, Zelda says the other spirits are attracted to Carol Anne’s innocent life force. The pure soul is also attractive to Satan, who is using Carol Anne to control the other spirits. Satan finally reveals himself to them all as he threatens Steven when he approaches the door behind Zelda.
Once they realize that the house has many hearts they test the portal by throwing tennis balls. They tie a rope around Diane and send her through the closet despite Satan trying to scare Steven into releasing the rope and losing his wife and youngest daughter forever. He stays strong despite the fear and feeds the rope slowly to Ryan, who is waiting downstairs.
Diane falls to the floor with Carol Anne in a death grip. They are both completely covered with ectoplasm, the slime that ghosts are said to leave behind. Only, in a classic horror style, Zelda declares the house clean, but it’s not. As Jamie Kennedy’s character Randy explains in Scream, “This is when the supposedly dead killer comes back for one final scare.”
The movie while somewhat easy on the scares with a few in your face surprise scares picks up toward the end of the movie. The Freelings decide to move and put their house on the market. The oldest daughter Dana goes out with friends for dinner and Steve decides to wrap up a few last things at work. He promises that he will be home in time to leave for the hotel. Dana teases her mother about the gray streak she gained walking in the beyond to save Carol Ann and decides to dye her hair to its normal color.
They trust Zelda and for whatever length of time between her leaving and the packing of the moving truck, Diane decides she’s going to dye her hair, take a bath, and put the two younger children, Robby and Carol Anne to bed. They are small enough that she and Steve can carry them to the car when they leave for the night.
Unfortunately Satan does not give up on the souls so easily. He possesses the clown that Robby despises. The clown attempts to take Robby while the closet flies open and the vortex begin to swirl in the closet. Robby is able to destroy the clown, knock something over, and make a loud enough noise to alert his mother. Carol Ann is in a state of composed terror, rocking back and forth chanting, ‘not again.’
Diane fights to get to her children but the door is electrified and she can’t get through the door. The kids have a large window and a big tree she can climb. The caskets are beginning to rise in the yard and when Diane rushes outside to attempt to get to the tree, she slips in the mud. She falls into the pool and the skeletons try to drown her. The neighbors finally hear her screams. They pull her out of the pool and she screams at them for help. She rushes up the stairs and clings to the door frame, hand stretched trying to reach Robby who is also reaching for her. She screams for him to reach for his sister and he finally reaches her. She can’t pull them free from the room until, desperate and fearful she’s going to lose both children she cries out, “GOD HELP ME!”
Robby and Carol Ann fly into her arms and they flee the house attempting to get around the caskets which are popping up everywhere. Steve’s boss drops him off and he rushes to the house when he sees the activity is swirling out of control. When he’s somewhat sure his family is safe he forces his boss to look at what he’s done. He gets his kids in the car and they rush to safety as a coffin pops up right in front of his boss. Dana arrives home and is instantly in a state of panic as she sees the destruction and haunted activity swirling around her home. Her father screams at her to get in the car. They finally arrive at the hotel and slam the door shut. Steve Freeling is then showed wheeling the television out of the hotel and pushing it as close to the railing as much as possible, facing away from the room.
Of course, this is not the end of hauntings that plague the Freeling family. Two sequels were made after the 1982 original. The first sequel features the whole family and a psychotic preacher from the 1800 wants Carol Anne.
The third features Carol Ann staying with her aunt and uncle (played by Tom Skeritt) and a young Lara Flynn Boyle as her older cousin. Tragically this would be Heather O’Rourke’s last movie. Rumors would fly around about how she died from a heart attack due to the trauma of making these movies. She actually had a medical condition that the family would sue her pediatrician over. Heather O’Rourke would not be the only person associated with The Poltergeist Trilogy to die tragically. Dominique Dunn who played Carol Ann’s teenage sister, Dana would be murdered shortly after Poltergeist was released. Her father Dominick Dunne would later become known for “Power, Privilege, and Prestige” a drama about real life murders in the upper echelons of society which brought him to New Orleans investigating the murder career of Robert Durst.
Poltergeist has a bizarre legacy attached to it and I think it adds to its cult popularity. The script could very well have been based on New Orleans and its bizarre history. It’s big budget and Spielberg’s name attached to it does not take away from what is a very creepy movie. It is by far one of my favorite horror movies.
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