The Insane Story Behind the Real Skeletons Used in POLTERGEIST


You may have heard the story of how the skeletons that were used during the climax of the movie were real. Many people I’ve talked to treat this story as just a tale, but this is not a tale or a rumor, this story of using real human skeletons in the movie is 100% true! In fact, Special effects makeup artist Craig Reardon revealed the details of the skeletons under oath during a deposition.

The scene that the skeletons show up in is when JoBeth Williams’ character, Diane Freeling, falls in the pool that is being put in and the skeletons start popping up out of the water around her and she is utterly terrified! No joke, every time I swim in a pool this scene pops up in my head!

The reason that real skeletons were used in the movie is that it was cheaper and more cost-effective than making and using plastic ones.

JoBeth Williams was not made aware that there were real skeletons were used in the scene until after she ended shooting with it. In an interview that aired on entertainment channel VH1 in December 2002, Williams said:

“I would have to go into this huge tank of what I thought were mud with these skeletons — which, by the way, I thought were plastic, but later found out they were real skeletons. It was a real nightmare.”

Williams went on and expand on that in a separate interview that aired as part of the TV Land show TV Land: Myths & Legends back in 2008. She said:

“You have to understand that this sequence took probably four or five days to shoot. So I was in mud and goop all day every day for like four or five days with skeletons all around me [as I was] screaming. In my innocence and naiveté, I assumed that these were not real skeletons. I assumed that they were prop skeletons made out of plastic or rubber. I found out — as did the whole crew — that they were using real skeletons, because it’s far too expensive to make fake skeletons out of rubber. And I think everybody got real creeped out by the idea of that.”

That’s incredibly creepy! It’s crazy that no one told anyone before they started shooting! It was the ‘80s, though, and people could get away with all kinds of weird things in the ‘80s!

Williams also shared that the use of these skeletons created such an unease around the Poltergeist set that it carried over into the making of the sequel, Poltergeist II: The Other Side. She added that co-star Will Sampson, a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, performed an “exorcism” on the set of that film.

As for how the skeletons actually ended up in the film, in 1982 special effects makeup artist Craig Reardon was deposed as part of a lawsuit filed against Spielberg by screenwriters Paul Clemens and Bennett Michael Yellin. They claimed that an Amblin employee acted as a “ghostwriter” who took portions of their own script and submitted them to the Poltergeist production team as their own ideas. Clemens and Yellin’s suit argued that there were 67 “points of similarity” between Spielberg’s film and their own. During his deposition, Reardon said:

“I acquired a number of actual biological surgical skeletons is what they’re called. They’re for hanging in classrooms in study. These are actual skeletons from people. I think the bones are acquired from India. But at any rate, we got 13 of these. And we dressed them so that they looked not like bleached, clean, bolted together skeletons but instead, disintegrating cadavers. And, you know, added sculptured rubber and things to them so they would have a kind of dramatic leering spooky aspect and not be dull — what am I trying to say — clinical type corpses, you know.”

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