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Concept Art Friday —Poltergeist

October 30, 2020

With today being the Friday before the most horrifying day of them all — I’m talking Halloween, not Election Day — I think it’s time we tackle one of my favorite horror films: 1982’s Poltergeist. So let’s get sucked into the closet, y’all.

The idea for the film originated with a quasi-sequel to Close Encounters of the Third Kind. That film, entitled Night Skies, was to be directed by Steven Spielberg. But, unhappy with the progress they were making, he decided to split the concept into two separate films instead. Those films were Poltergeist & E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. Below is an unused creature design from Spielberg’s Night Skies.

Though Spielberg handed Poltergeist over directing responsibilities to Tobe Hooper, his aesthetic is all over the film. And there’s still a ton of controversy over whether Spielberg (as producer) actually did direct the movie. Interestingly, the two films hit theaters within weeks of each other. Here he is… not directing? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Again, these films were made AT THE SAME TIME. Spielberg would jump between sets. Here he is with the children of both films:

For me, the most memorable moment of the film is when Diane (played by the great JoBeth Williams) meets face to face with (what I believe to be) the film’s primary baddie: THE BEAST. Here you can see an early sketch and the sculpture itself by the talented Craig Reardon.

But it turns out THE BEAST wasn’t always as ethereal and otherworldly. At one point, the filmmakers thought of making THE BEAST more human. Here you see some recently unearthed test footage showing this iteration of the baddie greeting Diane instead. 

Next time you watch Poltergeist, keep an eye out for evidence of deleted scenes. For example, when Diane is pushed to the ceiling, she was to fight off an amorphous monster. That segment was cut, but you know the spot on the wall that the dog fixates on? That’s the monster!

Poltergeist still intrigues viewers decades later. It was incredibly ambitious and, according to the cast and crew, there was a ton of footage left on the cutting room floor. As for the whole Night Skies film, here’s a great article to check out!

Thanks for reading. If you’re into this sort of thing, please click that subscribe button and share! And Happy Halloween! 

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