Local movie buffs are in for a cool treat Saturday night when Durango Arts Center hosts a screening of the 1982 movie “Poltergeist” with special guest Michael Grais, who co-wrote the film’s screenplay.
Grais, who has lived in Durango for a little over a year, said he and his former partner got involved in “Poltergeist” (and its sequel) after Stephen Spielberg read their screenplay for a dark comedy called “Turn Left or Die,” based on air traffic controllers. Spielberg , who also saw their movie “Death Hunt,” starring Charles Bronson and Lee Marvin, thought they would make a good team.
“So we went up to his house and we talked, and he started talking about this movie he wanted to make, this scary movie where the ghost comes out of the TV, and we were hooked,” Grais said. “It was fun. We did a lot of research, which was funny because we didn’t find any ghosts. The original title was ‘It’s Nighttime.’ We changed it to ‘Poltergeist’ ... Like ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind,’ we wanted the title to be obscure and not tell people what it was, make them question what it was about. So ‘Poltergeist’ became the title.”
“Poltergeist,” which was directed by Tobe Hooper, is the story of the Freeling family – Steve (Craig T. Nelson), Diane (JoBeth Williams), teenaged Dana (Dominique Dunne), 8-year-old Robbie (Oliver Robins), and 5-year-old Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke) – who find ghosts communing with them through a television set. Initially friendly and playful, the spirits become menacing, and, when Carol Anne goes missing, Steve and Diane turn to a parapsychologist and eventually an exorcist for help.
And while watching the film is fun, it would seem that getting to hang out on set would be really fun.
Unfortunately, Grais didn’t get that chance.
“We were actually picketing our movie. The Writers Guild was on strike,” he said. “When we were writing it, we were kind of in a deadline to beat the strike, and so we had to write pretty fast. And then we were picketing our own film, we were outside MGM carrying signs. And Stephen sent the first AD out to get us because he was doing the scene where the wife gets pulled around the room by the ghost and it was on a Gimbal and the room turned and he thought we’d like to see that. So he sent the first AD out to get us and brought us in. And that was the only scene that we saw.”
WHAT: “Poltergeist” – 40th anniversary screening and Q&A with screenwriter Michael Grais.
WHEN: Two screenings, 7 and 10 p.m. Saturday.
WHERE: Durango Arts Center, 802 East Second Ave.
TICKETS: $20, includes Q&A with Grais after the 7 p.m. show and before the 10 p.m. screening. Available online at https://bit.ly/393emgD.
MORE INFORMATION: Visit https://bit.ly/393emgD.
NOTE: The film is rated R and the MPAA recommends children under 17 must be accompanied by an adult.
For Grais, the reason for the popularity of “Poltergeist” even now, 40 years later, is pretty simple:
“I think the family was so identifiable that people relate to it, not just as a horror film, but as something that can touch their own lives because the family was – the first third of the movie is almost a comedy, and I think that drew people in,” he said. “And they were thinking, ‘Oh, this isn’t going to be scary.’ And then they were mistaken. It is quite scary.”
And as for the infamous “Poltergeist Curse” that has apparently plagued people involved with the film, either w0ith bad luck, injury or ... worse?
“I don’t think so; I haven’t been cursed,” Grais said. “Stephen Spielberg certainly hasn’t been cursed. The actors, for the most part, haven’t been cursed.”