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The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags have been used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.
For detailed information about the amounts and types of (a) sex and nudity, (b) violence and gore, (c) profanity, (d) alcohol, drugs, and smoking, and (e) frightening and intense scenes in this movie, consult the IMDb Parents Guide for this movie. The Parents Guide for Poltergeist can be found here.
No. However, there is a novelization adapted from the movie's original screenplay.
Literally, poltergeist can be translated as "noisy ghost," from German poltern "to make noises" + geist "ghost." The typical poltergeist story is characterized by noises, moving furniture, breaking dishes, etc., usually when no one is looking. At first, the poltergeists in the film are fairly benign, performing such pranks as bending forks, breaking a glass, moving and stacking the kitchen chairs. As the movie progresses, however, they become much more malevolent but don't seem intent on harming the Freemans.
Rumors that Poltergeist is cursed began just months after the movie's release when 22-year old actress Dominique Dunne (who plays the elder Freeling daughter Dana) was strangled by her jealous boyfriend, suffered brain death, and died five days later. Rumors intensified when, six years later, 12-year old Heather O'Rourke (who plays Carol Anne) died suddenly of septic shock due to intestinal stenosis (a narrowing of the intestine that causes partial blockage). Two other actors who appeared in Poltergeist II also died within the six years after Poltergeist was released.
As has been often noted, there seems to be a bit missing between when Diane is explaining to Steven about the "sliding phenomena" in their kitchen and when they suddenly appear on their neighbors' doorstep; the scene cuts right in the middle of Diane's line. The first draft of the script contained this additional material:DIANE
You can't believe the feeling.STEVE
What's the gag? There a magnet back there?He looks behind the door in the dining room. Nothing. Steve just stands for a long moment in hapless silence, then... STEVE
I hate Pizza Hut! Where's supper? I don't understand, Diane. What the hell's going on around here?Steve sidesteps the chalk marks, removing himself from the active area. DIANE
I figured I'd never explain it to you. So I showed you instead, but don't ask me how or what. Just help me figure out what to do.STEVE
You mean there's no gimmick?DIANE
Not from inside the house. Maybe Tuthill got himself a super remote from the Radio Shack.Carol Anne adjusts her helmet and sits inside her launch circle. Diane and Steve are having the discussion across the room and aren't aware of her. STEVE
Maybe the shakeup and this thing...relate.DIANE
No shit.CAROL ANNE
Daddy, look at me!!They turn but it's too late. Carol Anne shoots across the room faster than before, and with no one to catch her.ANGLE-KITCHEN WALLAt a sickening speed her helmet smashes into the wall. Diane SCREAMS. Steve runs over. An eight-inch hole in the wall and the cracked plastic on the helmet testify to the force of impact. Carol Anne is dazed but unhurt.CAROL ANNE
You promised pizza.It has been speculated, though without any official corroboration, that this scene was later trimmed to remove the disparaging remarks about Pizza Hut, who objected.
It was a diversion to keep everyone away from Carol Anne by making the storm look like a tornado. When the tree pulled Robbie (Oliver Robins) out of the bedroom and lodged him in its trunk, parents Steve (Craig T. Nelson) and Diane (JoBeth Williams) and sister Dana hurried outside to free him, leaving Carol Anne alone. The poltergeists were then able to create a windtunnel that sucked Carol Anne into the closet and into their dimension.
In some systems of belief about the afterlife, the transition from life to death is through a tunnel that leads to a light. To follow that tunnel and go into the light is to pass into the afterlife with no hope of returning to one's earthly life. For this reason, the scientists do not want Carol Anne to go into the light.
Spiritualist Tangina (Zelda Rubinstein) explains to the Freelings that the ghosts are attracted to Carol Anne because she is a living presence to them. The ghosts haven't yet learned to go forward (i.e., into the light) in their own deaths. Carol Anne's strong lifeforce is luminescent, and the ghosts see her as a reminder of the lives they once lived. Also, during the scene where Steve is on a hill overlooking his neighborhood with Mr Teague (his boss), it is revealed through their conversation that Carol Anne was born in the Freelings' house, and that the land used to be a cemetery, so it's possible that Carol Anne has a special connection with the ghosts.
Because there is another presence there...the Beast. The Beast, who appears to Carol Anne as a child and a friend, is using her luminescence to keep the ghosts away from the light, to keep them trapped in the nether plane with him. She does attempt to coerce them into the light, but Steven interrupts her, mistakenly believing her words are meant for his wife and daughter.
It is a tradition in some parts of the U.S., particularly the South, for a girl/woman to be called by her first and middle names rather than solely by her first name. Presumably the Freeling's are a family that hold to this tradition.
It depends on the viewer's interpretation or on their belief system. 'The Beast' is a word that's often used as a name for the Devil. However, it could be Tangina's word for a demon or some other type of violent spirit. Tangina never assigns an actual identity to the spirit itself, but she knows that it's malevolent and wants the souls of those who haven't crossed over and are haunting the house. It also wants Carol Anne as well. Tangina says that the Beast is drawn to Carol Anne's life force and would probably take her with it as well. The Beast is not, however, the "poltergeist" of the title. A poltergeist is a restless but typically non-harmful spirit. The spirits that haunt the Freelings house are doing so merely because they're lost between our world and the next. They likely would have returned Carol Anne unharmed after she'd been able to help them.
Those two events are the Beast trying to scare everyone in the hope that they would leave the house. The bite was very real and was the Beast's first attempt, which wasn't enough to get everyone to leave. The mirror scene was an hallucination of Marty's, but it still scared him.
The likely motive is revenge for being foiled in its plans. The Beast is a violent and angry demonic force that probably wasn't pleased with being defeated. So to get back at the Freelings, it came back after the kids and tried to force them into its world. Another explanation lies in what Tangina said about Carol Anne...she possesses a very strong life force. Perhaps the Beast thought swallowing her would increase its own power.
It would seem strange or like a plot hole that only one house built on the grounds of a former cemetery would be affected, especially since cemeteries often cover much more ground than the plot of land the Freeling home sits on. The paranormal phenomena being concentrated only in the one home is never fully explained in this film. It could simply be that the poltergeists found that the strongest concentration of spiritual or dimensional energy was located there and they were able to use it to create the portal into our world. Also, with Carol Anne possessing such a strong luminescence herself, the spirits from the old cemetery were drawn from all of its land to the spot where she herself was located.
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