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The 1982 Movie Poltergeist Used Real Skeletons As – Tymoff


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The 1982 horror classic “Poltergeist” has left an indelible mark on cinema history for its gripping storyline and innovative special effects. However, one aspect of the film that has stirred controversy and ethical debate is the revelation that real human skeletons were used during its production. Directed by Tobe Hooper and produced by Steven Spielberg, “Poltergeist” remains a cultural landmark, but the use of real skeletons has sparked enduring questions about the treatment of human remains in filmmaking. In this detailed exploration, we will delve into the background of “Poltergeist,” examine the controversy surrounding the use of real skeletons, discuss the ethical implications, and reflect on its impact within the film industry.

Background of “Poltergeist” (1982)

“Poltergeist” follows the haunting experiences of the Freeling family, who encounter malevolent spirits in their suburban home. Directed by Tobe Hooper and produced by Steven Spielberg, the film blends supernatural horror with family drama, captivating audiences with its innovative visual effects and eerie storytelling.

Controversy: Use of Real Skeletons

One of the most unsettling revelations about “Poltergeist” emerged years after its release: the use of real human skeletons in several scenes, notably the haunting pool scene. This practice, while not uncommon in early Hollywood due to budget constraints and the quest for realism, has since sparked significant ethical debate and scrutiny.

Historical Context in Hollywood

1. Common Practice:

  • Early Film Industry: During the early years of cinema, real human skeletons were occasionally used in films due to their availability and cost-effectiveness compared to synthetic alternatives.
  • Authenticity vs. Ethical Concerns: Filmmakers argued that using real skeletons enhanced authenticity and realism in certain scenes, but critics countered that it raised serious ethical questions about the treatment of human remains.

2. Specifics of “Poltergeist”:

  • The Pool Scene: In “Poltergeist,” the decision to use real skeletons in the infamous pool scene was reportedly made to achieve a chilling and authentic effect. Skeletons were sourced from medical supply companies that provided human remains for scientific and educational purposes.
  • Public Reaction: The revelation about the real skeletons caused public outcry and fueled debates about the moral implications of using human remains in entertainment.

Ethical Implications and Public Reaction

1. Respect for Human Dignity:

  • Debate over Respect: Critics argue that using real skeletons in films disregards the dignity and respect owed to the deceased individuals, treating them as mere props rather than human beings.
  • Cultural Sensitivity: Different cultures have diverse beliefs and practices regarding death and the treatment of human remains, necessitating sensitivity and awareness in globalized filmmaking.

2. Legal and Ethical Accountability:

  • Informed Consent: Modern ethical standards require filmmakers to obtain proper consent for the use of human remains and to disclose such practices transparently to audiences.
  • Industry Regulations: The controversy surrounding “Poltergeist” prompted the film industry to establish stricter guidelines and regulations regarding the ethical treatment of human remains in film productions.

Impact on Film Industry Practices

1. Evolution of Standards:

  • Guidelines and Oversight: Today, filmmakers must adhere to stringent ethical guidelines and legal frameworks when depicting or using human remains in movies.
  • Educational vs. Entertainment Use: There is ongoing debate about the appropriate contexts for using human remains in film, balancing educational value with ethical considerations in entertainment.

2. Cultural Sensitivity and Globalization:

  • Global Perspectives: As the film industry expands globally, there is a growing emphasis on cultural sensitivity and respecting diverse beliefs regarding death and burial practices.
  • Representation and Inclusion: The ethical debate surrounding “Poltergeist” reflects broader discussions about representation and inclusion in filmmaking, acknowledging diverse cultural perspectives.


The use of real skeletons in the 1982 movie “Poltergeist” remains a controversial and thought-provoking topic that challenges ethical norms in filmmaking. While the practice was rooted in historical contexts of early Hollywood, its revelation in “Poltergeist” ignited significant public debate and catalyzed changes in industry practices. Today, filmmakers navigate complex ethical landscapes, balancing artistic vision with moral responsibility and cultural sensitivity.

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