JoBeth Williams (re: Poltergeist): "Those were real skeletons in the pool". Sure...

I’m watching an 80’s nostalgia show, I think on VH1, and they did a short bit on the film ‘Poltergeist’. JoBeth Williams was talking about the scene in the pool and said (paraphrased) “I found out later those were real skeletons in the pool.”

I’m calling bullshit on this one. I remember hearing they used the same skeletal props from ‘Raiders Of The Lost Ark’, and maybe somehow that rumour (or fact) got twisted into the rumor that they were real.

C’mon. There’s no freaking way they used actual human remains. People donate their bodies to science, not to Speilberg.

Yeah, plus real skeletons are super-duper expensive!

JoBeth Williams may have been thinking of “Poltergeist II”. According to the IMDb’s trivia section for this movie, several of the cadavers used in this movie were real. No such entry exists in the trivia section for the first movie.

I ain’t buying it for Poltergeist II, either.

Are skeletons really that hard to acquire?

On the True Hollywood Story of Poltergeist just made a little bit ago they said that the found out the Skeletons were real and that everyone was freaked so they had the Indian Guy (sorry I dont know his name) who was a real Medicine Man come in and perform an exurcism on them during the middle of the night.

Not too hard, you can even buy them online. The Bone Room, a favorite of mine, sells full articulated skeletons for $2500 a pop.

Which reminds me of a bit of dialogue from one of my favorite movies…

“Frank Nello: International treaty, all skeletons come from India.
Freddy Travis: No kidding, how come?
Frank Nello: How the hell do I know how come? The important question is, where do they get all the skeletons with perfect teeth?

I’m calling bullshit on this, too. The US has fairly strict laws about what you’re allowed to do with human remains, regardless of how old they are and whether or not their previous owner said you could. There are many places in the US where it against the law even to scatter cremains. What happens to a body that’s been donated can be sort of up in the air- you may end up in a med school’s anatomy lab, you may end up a crash test dummy. But every industry that even thinks about using actual human remains must get express permission from the state in which they are operating, or from the US gov’t if they plan to cross state lines. They must provide proof of what they intend to do, and any regulatory agency can at any time deny them this permission for a variety of reasons, most of which have to do with health codes. I seriously doubt that any of this was real. And the anecdote about the shaman’s exorcism is a little too much for me. My guess is it’s some bit of publicity drummed up for the movie.

Also, I can’t see the link at the moment, so does anyone know if these skeletons are actual human remains and not plaster or plastic? Most schools use artificial models because they hold up much better, but they’re not necessarily cheap- quite a bit of work goes into making a realistic one, and seeing how it’s such a specialized market, they’ll be charging higher prices. But a movie studio could certainly afford some, or even make their own that would be much easier to deal with, both legally and practically, than actual human remains.

It just doesn’t make sense, and it smells like a publicity sham.

ratty, the page linked to appears to be selling genuine skeletons.

I still ain’t buying it that they used real skeletons in any of the Poltergeist flicks, though.

“I think they have a skeleton farm over there!”

I always think of that scene too whenever the subject of skeletons comes up.

My Dead Indian in a Box didn’t have perfect teeth and the vertebrae were arthritic. I guess they sell the less perfect ones to Anthropology departments for the students to play with.

Blah, blah, blah, blah.

Let’s see what’s wrong with your post:

  1. Since Steven Spielberg was an executive producer and he has an enormous amount of pull in Hollywood, I can hardly see it being any sort of problem for the movie to aquire the proper permits, and if they didn’t work, hey, that’s what bribery and payoffs are for.

  2. If I was going to drum up publicity for a movie back in the early 80’s, one thing I most certainly would not do would be to trumpet the fact that actual human skeletons were used in the filming.

If I can buy an articulated human skeleton, with stand, from Skulls Unlimited for $3,095, I see no reason that a Hollywood prop house couldn’t by a dozen. Whatever restrictions there may be on commerce in skeletons (and Skulls Unlimited seems content with the buyer’s assurance that it’s legal to own one where he or she lives), I’m aware of no regulations or licensing requirements relating to ownership.

As Rancloth alludes, above, human skeletons were generally imported from India until the 1970s, when India apparently prohibited their export. The explanation I recall for India as a source (from 30 years ago, when my 4th grade class assembled one) was that the preferred Hindu method of disposing of the dead is cremation and scattering of the ashes in the river Ganges. Many families cannot afford proper cremation, and thus dump incompletely burned or merely singed corpses in the Ganges, which were exploited through the latter 19th and early 20th centuries as a source of anatomical skeletons. More recently, per the Boneroom, China appears to have emerged as a source. Don’t be shocked if the skulls tend to have a 9mm hole in the back…

In any event, skeletons have been appearing in movies since the silent era, before plastic skeletons were even an option. I’m sure the Hollywood prop houses are full of “antique” skeletons that have appeared in more movies than Gene Hackman and Samuel L. Jackson combined. I’m in JoBeth’s corner on this one.

Blah, indeed.

Let’s see what’s wrong with your post.

If, on the one hand, Speilberg didn’t want anyone to know he was using real skeletons (and the idea was no part of the creepy resonance he was trying to drum up), why then, on the other, would he use his enourmous amount of pull to use real skeletons when models would have come off the same on screen?
If you can tell me there arn’t actually any restriction on using skeltons in movie and Speilberg would not have had to make any extra effort, AND if it would have been cheaper than using realistic models…then I’ll believe they used skeletons in Poltergiest. In the mean time I think somebody was trying to freak JoBeth Williams out, and she bought it.

I have a hard time believing that a realistic human skeleton could be bought cheaper than the real thing 20 years ago.

Really, why is it so hard to believe that Spielberg shelled out a few thousand bucks for a few skeletons? Sheesh, as Umbriel pointed out, skeletons have appeared in movies since the 20s. Did Abbot and Costello manufacture wooden skeletons, or did they just buy a real on for a hundred bucks?

It’s not like these things are hard to come by. I ran into a few in high school science classes.

Well, I was fairly pop-culture aware in the 80s, and was in high school at the time. I have never heard of the “real skeleton in Poltergeist” thing until now. I’m confident that the skeleton factor was not trumpeted at the time. Besides, Speilberg did not need any hype at that time. It was a given that any film featuring his name would make a fortune.