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The Dark Secret Behind the "Poltergeist" Pool Scene: Real Skeletons Used on Set

Real skeleton

By Deji AkomolafePublished 13 days ago 3 min read

The 1982 horror film "Poltergeist," directed by Tobe Hooper and produced by Steven Spielberg, has left an indelible mark on the genre. Among its many memorable moments, one scene stands out for its behind-the-scenes revelation: the use of real human skeletons. This decision was not only controversial but also shrouded the film in a layer of macabre authenticity that continues to intrigue and disturb audiences to this day.

The Infamous Pool Scene

In "Poltergeist," JoBeth Williams portrays Diane Freeling, the matriarch of a family terrorized by supernatural forces. One of the film’s most iconic and terrifying scenes involves Diane falling into a muddy, water-filled pit in the backyard, only to find herself surrounded by skeletons. The visual horror of the scene is undeniable, but what truly chills is the revelation that these skeletons were real human remains.

Why Real Skeletons?

The choice to use real human skeletons instead of plastic replicas was primarily driven by cost considerations. At the time, creating realistic-looking plastic skeletons was significantly more expensive than acquiring actual human remains. As surprising as it may seem today, real skeletons were relatively easy to procure for medical and cinematic purposes.

Special effects artist Craig Reardon, who worked on the film, later confirmed that using real skeletons was a common practice in the industry due to their availability and authenticity. The skeletons used in "Poltergeist" were obtained from a medical supply company, which provided them at a fraction of the cost of manufacturing high-quality plastic replicas.

JoBeth Williams' Reaction

The revelation that the skeletons were real was a shock to JoBeth Williams, who was not informed about this until after the scene was filmed. In interviews, Williams has recounted her initial disbelief and horror upon learning the truth. She described how she had to spend several days in the pool with these skeletons, unaware of their true nature.

Williams' reaction is understandable, given the unsettling nature of the situation. The psychological impact of working with real human remains added a layer of genuine fear and discomfort, which may have contributed to the palpable tension and terror captured on screen.

Ethical and Supernatural Ramifications

The decision to use real skeletons in "Poltergeist" has been criticized on ethical grounds. The use of human remains for entertainment purposes raises significant moral questions about respect for the deceased and the potential exploitation of their remains. While the practice was more common in the past, modern sensibilities and ethical standards have shifted, leading to greater scrutiny of such decisions.

Adding to the film’s eerie reputation is the so-called "Poltergeist Curse." A series of unfortunate events and untimely deaths among the cast and crew have fueled speculation about a supernatural curse associated with the film. Dominique Dunne, who played the eldest Freeling daughter, was tragically murdered shortly after the film’s release. Heather O'Rourke, who portrayed the youngest daughter Carol Anne, died unexpectedly at a young age. While these events can be attributed to coincidence, they have nonetheless contributed to the film’s legacy of fear and superstition.

Legacy and Impact

The use of real skeletons in "Poltergeist" is a testament to the lengths filmmakers will go to achieve realism and authenticity. It underscores the complex interplay between practical considerations, ethical boundaries, and the pursuit of artistic vision in the world of cinema. The decision continues to be a point of fascination and debate among horror fans and film scholars alike.

The "Poltergeist" pool scene remains one of the most iconic moments in horror film history, in part because of the unsettling knowledge of what lay beneath the surface. This behind-the-scenes revelation enhances the film’s impact, blurring the lines between fiction and reality and amplifying the fear factor for audiences.

Reflection on Modern Practices

Today, the use of real human remains in films is rare and heavily regulated. Advances in special effects and digital technology allow filmmakers to create realistic and convincing replicas without the ethical dilemmas associated with using real skeletons. The entertainment industry has also become more sensitive to the ethical considerations surrounding the use of human remains and the depiction of death.

"Poltergeist" serves as a reminder of the evolving standards in film production and the importance of balancing artistic goals with ethical responsibilities. It highlights how industry practices have changed over the years, reflecting broader societal shifts in attitudes towards death, dignity, and respect for the deceased.


The story of the real skeletons used in "Poltergeist" adds a layer of macabre intrigue to an already haunting film. It is a fascinating example of how practical decisions in filmmaking can intersect with ethical considerations, ultimately shaping the legacy and impact of a movie. As audiences continue to watch and rewatch "Poltergeist," the knowledge of what lies beneath the surface of that iconic pool scene will forever enhance the chilling experience, reminding us of the real-life horrors that sometimes underpin cinematic terror.Start writing...

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Deji Akomolafe

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    Deji AkomolafeWritten by Deji Akomolafe

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