“Yeah, they were real…”: several years after the release, the actress of this horror film discovers the reality of filming with horror

If you trembled at the famous swimming pool scene from “Poltergeist”, this is nothing compared to JoBeth Williams! The actress thus discovered, years later, that real skeletons had been used without her knowledge on the set!

Amblin Productions

Even almost 42 years after its release, Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist is still as fascinating as ever. The film about a family threatened by malevolent spirits in their suburban home continues to fuel our collective nightmares: the giggling clown doll that comes to life, the closet that is in fact a portal to another world or even the little girl angelic, pressing her hands against a television screen, warning her sleeping household: “They are there…

And then there is the famous swimming pool scene, which the family is just starting to build in the garden. It is here that the source of the ghostly rage that descends upon them will finally be revealed in the stormy denouement, as the bodies of those who were buried beneath the property that was once a cemetery, float around the mother, played by JoBeth Williams, who slipped into this open pit.

Amblin Productions

Long after filming this sequence, however, the actress learned a disturbing truth: “I always assumed the skeletons were made by the props departmenthas she declared to Vanity Fair in 2022. “A few years later, I ran into one of the special effects guys and said, ‘You guys created all those skeletons, it must have been really amazing.’ He said, ‘Oh, we didn’t create them, those were real.’ I said what ?’ He said, ‘Yeah, they were real skeletons.’

She added: “I don’t know where they were purchased, but it really grossed me out. I’m glad I didn’t know at the time, because I would have screamed a lot, for real.

Profitability? Authenticity? Coincidence?

As the film’s director, Craig Reardon, explained, Poltergeist was far from the only Hollywood blockbuster to use real skeletons – even the original ride of Pirates of the Caribbean Disney used them in its early days in 1967 since the technology at the time was not sophisticated enough to create skeletons that, according to the company, met their standards of realism…

For Poltergeistthe reason was simple: it was cheaper than creating and buying fake skeletons made of plastic or other materials.

However, sometimes the use of real skeletons is completely accidental as was the case in Zombie (1978). The film’s makeup artist Tom Savini apparently borrowed a skeleton from another prop master without realizing that it was real. After the film was finished, the skeleton was purchased by a costume store and Marilynn Wick, the owner, displayed it in her window. After police noticed it looked suspiciously like the real thing, it was confiscated and autopsied. It turned out that the skeleton was authentic and dated back 100 years.

In the case of Polish concert pianist André Tchaikowsky, the latter actually bequeathed his skull to the Royal Shakespeare Company in the hope that it would be used in a production of Hamlet. In 2008, the late pianist’s wish was finally granted and his skull was used in a series of performances of Hamlet on stage with David Tennant who later respectfully referred to André Tchaikowsky as “a member of the cast”.

Real bodies on the set of Apocalypse Now

In order to create an “atmosphere of authenticity” and get as close as possible to the “spirit of war”, certain members of the Apocalypse Now set went so far as to scatter dead rats around the decor to “create the smell of death”. As MovieWeb recalls, when producer Gray Frederickson confronted the production designer and prop crew about it, he heard one of the crew members mutter, “Wait until he hears about the corpses”. This led to the discovery of several corpses kept behind the tent where everyone was eating, and a plot to tie them to trees on set to promote this “spirit of authenticity”.

It eventually turned out that the man who sold the corpses to the stage designers was a grave robber who dug up and stole the bodies. The entire cast and crew were arrested in the Philippines until they were able to prove they had nothing to do with it, and none of the bodies were included in the final cut of the film.

Poltergeist can be seen again on VOD on dedicated platforms.

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