The 1982 Movie Poltergeist Used Real Skeletons As – Tymoff


The 1982 horror film “Poltergeist” remains a classic in the genre, known for its chilling storyline and groundbreaking special effects. However, one unsettling aspect of the production surfaced years later: the use of real skeletons in a pivotal scene. This revelation sparked controversy and raised ethical questions about the treatment of human remains in cinema. This article explores the history, impact, and lingering legacy of using real skeletons in “Poltergeist,” as well as broader implications for the film industry and beyond.

1. The Making of “Poltergeist”: Directed by Tobe Hooper and produced by Steven Spielberg, “Poltergeist” follows the haunting experiences of a suburban family. Known for its innovative special effects and eerie atmosphere, the film garnered acclaim for its ability to terrify audiences. However, behind-the-scenes practices would later cast a shadow over its legacy.

2. The Controversial Scene: In one memorable scene, actress JoBeth Williams’s character falls into a pool filled with skeletons. Unbeknownst to many at the time, these were not mere props; they were actual human skeletons sourced from medical suppliers. This revelation shocked both cast and crew, raising ethical concerns about the use of real human remains in filmmaking.

3. Ethical and Cultural Considerations: The decision to use real skeletons in “Poltergeist” reflects a historical practice in Hollywood. For decades, medical skeletons were cheaper and more accessible than artificial props, leading to their use in various films. However, the practice raises ethical questions regarding respect for the deceased and cultural sensitivities surrounding death and burial rites.

4. Industry Practices and Regulations: During the 1980s, regulations and oversight concerning the use of human remains in film were lax. The prevalence of real skeletons in horror and adventure genres highlights a darker aspect of filmmaking history, where cost-effectiveness often overshadowed ethical considerations.

5. Impact on Cast and Crew: Cast members, including JoBeth Williams, expressed discomfort upon learning about the use of real skeletons. The emotional toll of interacting with human remains for artistic purposes underscored the ethical dilemmas faced by performers and production teams alike.

6. Legal and Moral Repercussions: While the use of real skeletons in “Poltergeist” was legal at the time, it ignited discussions about industry standards and the treatment of human remains in entertainment. Subsequent films faced greater scrutiny and calls for transparency in the sourcing and use of props.

7. Cultural and Historical Context: Understanding the cultural context of death and burial practices is crucial in assessing the impact of using real skeletons in film. Different cultures have varying beliefs and taboos regarding the treatment of human remains, necessitating sensitivity and respect in cinematic portrayals.

8. Evolution of Film Practices: In response to ethical concerns and changing societal norms, the film industry has evolved its practices regarding the use of props and special effects. Advances in technology have provided alternatives to real skeletons, promoting realism without compromising ethical boundaries.

9. Legacy and Reflections: Decades after its release, “Poltergeist” remains a benchmark in horror cinema. However, its legacy is intertwined with ethical debates surrounding the use of real human skeletons. The film serves as a reminder of the importance of ethical filmmaking practices and the enduring impact of on-screen representations.


The controversy surrounding real skeletons in the 1982 movie “Poltergeist” continues to resonate within the film industry and beyond. It prompts reflection on the intersection of art, ethics, and cultural sensitivity in cinematic portrayals. As filmmaking evolves, so too must the standards and practices governing the treatment of human remains in entertainment. “Poltergeist” stands as a cautionary tale and a catalyst for discussions about responsible filmmaking and the enduring legacy of cinematic practices.

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