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16 Spooky Facts About Poltergeist

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A group of ghosts haunt the Freeling family and abduct their youngest daughter, Carol Anne, in the original, Tobe Hooper-directed (maybe) Poltergeist. The movie has scared audiences for over 30 years, and has remained popular to this day thanks to a 2015 reboot and continued discussion over the 1982 movie’s controversial production and alleged curse. Here are some facts about the original, before you get directions to hell.

1. STEPHEN KING WAS INITIALLY ASKED TO WRITE THE SCRIPT.

Steven Spielberg wrote an 11-page treatment in 1980 titled Night Time, and wanted the emerging face of horror to write the script off of his idea. King and Spielberg had a pleasant lunch, but King’s publisher allegedly asked for too much money.

2. THE FREELINGS’ NEIGHBORHOOD WAS BASED ON SPIELBERG’S OWN.

Though the Cuesta Verde community in which the Freelings live is based in Southern California, Spielberg admitted that he “really based the neighborhood on suburban Scottsdale, Arizona, where I grew up. It is the lifestyle of suburban America; two-car garages, tract homes and cul-de-sacs, the U-Totem down the street, and an elementary school within walking distance. The Freeling family in Poltergeist is not atypical of the people I knew and grew up with in Scottsdale.”

3. IT’S SIMILAR TO AN EPISODE OF THE TWILIGHT ZONE.

Richard Matheson wrote the Twilight Zone episode “Little Girl Lost,” which was about a little girl who goes into another dimension through her bedroom wall. Matheson has said Poltergeist was inspired by the episode, but he never received any credit for it.

4. DREW BARRYMORE AUDITIONED TO PLAY CAROL ANNE.

Spielberg thought she would be better suited for E.T., which happened to come out one week after Poltergeist.

5. THE ACTOR WHO PLAYED MARTY HAD QUIT ACTING TO BECOME A TEACHER.

Martin Casella had quit acting to become a teacher, but auditioned to play the paranormal investigator Marty anyway. Spielberg, who was acquainted with Casella from previous movies, liked to pretend Casella was a valet and would always toss him his car keys whenever he saw him. When Casella won the part in Poltergeist, he was informed by Spielberg—moments after catching his keys.

6. STEVEN SPIELBERG WAS A HANDS-ON PRODUCER. LITERALLY.

In the scene where Marty ripped off his own face, Spielberg ripped off the lifelike bust. Casella insisted that Spielberg do it because they only had the one bust and he was worried he would make a mistake and ruin the shot.

7. THE CHAIR-STACKING SCENE WAS DONE IN ONE TAKE.

When Diane (JoBeth Williams) turned away from the table, crew members quickly replaced the kitchen chairs with an already-assembled cluster of chairs.

8. THE TREE SCENE WAS SHOT BACKWARDS.

Robbie (Oliver Robins) was actually spit out, not swallowed up, by the tree. Reversing the shot made the final result look much better.

9. THE IDEA FOR THE TREE GRABBING ROBBIE CAME FROM A CHILDHOOD MEMORY.

Michael Grais ended up co-writing the screenplay with Spielberg and Mark Victor. His inspiration for the tree scene came from a memory of being home alone one stormy night, sitting on the stairs on the second floor of his family home. When lightning struck the tree in his yard, a big branch crashed through the window right near him.

10. TANGINA ONLY WORKED FOR SIX DAYS.

Zelda Rubinstein was screen-tested four times before she landed the role of Tangina, the medium. She admitted the role changed her life, even though she was only on set for six days of the 12-week shoot. After filming, Rubinstein didn't hear a word from anyone involved with the movie for a year, leading her to think it might never see the light of day.

11. TOBE HOOPER ATE SPICY FOODS ON SET.

Tobe Hooper, who also directed The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, ate jalapeño peppers to help him power through the long shooting days. He also enjoyed Indian curries when he had the time.

12. THE HOLIDAY INN PROMOTED A PRODUCER’S MAGIC ACT.

The Holiday Inn sign welcomed “Dr. Fantasy & Friends.” Producer Frank Marshall’s stage name is Dr. Fantasy. Marshall does a little magic show at the end of every movie’s production.

13. THE IMPLODING HOUSE WAS A SIX-FOOT-WIDE MODEL.

It took four months to create. Thick wires were attached inside of the model and pulled into a funnel, with the model placed over the funnel and the camera shooting downward. If something went awry, the model would have melted or burst into flames.

14. THERE'S STILL CONFUSION OVER WHETHER SPIELBERG ACTUALLY DIRECTED THE MOVIE OR NOT.

Spielberg was not allowed to direct both Poltergeist and E.T., but he was on the Poltergeist set often, leading many to speculate that he was secretly directing the movie himself. “I've been asked that so many times that I feel the record should be straight already,” Hooper told The A.V. Club. “The genesis of it came from an article in the L.A. Times: When we were shooting the practical location on the house, the first two weeks of filming were exterior, so I had second-unit shots that had to be picked up in the front of the house. I was in the back of the house shooting Robbie [actor Oliver Robins] and the tree, looking down at the burial of the little tweety bird, so Steven was picking those shots up for me. The L.A. Times arrived on the set and printed something like, ‘We don't know who's directing the picture.’ The moment they got there, Steven was shooting the shot of the little race cars, and from there the damn thing blossomed on its own and started becoming its own legend. Really, that is my knowledge of it, because I was making the movie and then I started hearing all this stuff after it was finished.” Zelda Rubinstein said Spielberg was the director during her six days.

15. SPIELBERG LOBBIED FOR A PG RATING.

The MPAA initially gave Poltergeist an R rating. Spielberg told the MPAA board that he made PG movies, not R movies, and successfully got it changed. (The PG-13 designation didn’t exist until 1984.)

16. SOME BELIEVE THE MOVIE MIGHT BE CURSED, BECAUSE THE SKELETONS USED WERE ALLEGEDLY REAL.

Heather O’Rourke (Carol Anne) died at the age of 12 of cardiac arrest and septic shock stemming from a misdiagnosed intestinal stenosis before Poltergeist III was released. Dominique Dunne (Dana) was murdered by her ex-boyfriend five months after the film's release. Julian Beck, who played Kane in the sequel, died of cancer while shooting the film (he was aware of his condition when he signed up). Will Sampson, who played Taylor in the sequel, died of kidney failure a year after that film's release. All of these deaths have led to a rumor that the production was haunted, on account of the prop master reportedly using actual skeletons.

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15 Confusing Plant and Animal Misnomers
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People have always given names to the plants and animals around us. But as our study of the natural world has developed, we've realized that many of these names are wildly inaccurate. In fact, they often have less to say about nature than about the people who did the naming. Here’s a batch of these befuddling names.

1. COMMON NIGHTHAWK

There are two problems with this bird’s name. First, the common nighthawk doesn’t fly at night—it’s active at dawn and dusk. Second, it’s not a hawk. Native to North and South America, it belongs to a group of birds with an even stranger name: Goatsuckers. People used to think that these birds flew into barns at night and drank from the teats of goats. (In fact, they eat insects.)

2. IRISH MOSS

It’s not a moss—it’s a red alga that lives along the rocky shores of the northern Atlantic Ocean. Irish moss and other red algae give us carrageenan, a cheap food thickener that you may have eaten in gummy candies, soy milk, ice cream, veggie hot dogs, and more.

3. FISHER-CAT

Native to North America, the fisher-cat isn’t a cat at all: It’s a cousin of the weasel. It also doesn’t fish. Nobody’s sure where the fisher cat’s name came from. One possibility is that early naturalists confused it with the sea mink, a similar-looking creature that was an expert fisher. But the fisher-cat prefers to eat land animals. In fact, it’s one of the few creatures that can tackle a porcupine.

4. AMERICAN BLUE-EYED GRASS

American blue-eyed grass doesn’t have eyes (which is good, because that would be super creepy). Its blue “eyes” are flowers that peek up at you from a meadow. It’s also not a grass—it’s a member of the iris family.

5. MUDPUPPY

The mudpuppy isn’t a cute, fluffy puppy that scampered into some mud. It’s a big, mucus-covered salamander that spends all of its life underwater. (It’s still adorable, though.) The mudpuppy isn’t the only aquatic salamander with a weird name—there are many more, including the greater siren, the Alabama waterdog, and the world’s most metal amphibian, the hellbender.

6. WINGED DRAGONFISH

This weird creature has other fantastic and inaccurate names: brick seamoth, long-tailed dragonfish, and more. It’s really just a cool-looking fish. Found in the waters off of Asia, it has wing-like fins, and spends its time on the muddy seafloor.

7. NAVAL SHIPWORM

The naval shipworm is not a worm. It’s something much, much weirder: a kind of clam with a long, wormlike body that doesn’t fit in its tiny shell. It uses this modified shell to dig into wood, which it eats. The naval shipworm, and other shipworms, burrow through all sorts of submerged wood—including wooden ships.

8. WHIP SPIDERS

These leggy creatures are not spiders; they’re in a separate scientific family. They also don’t whip anything. Whip spiders have two long legs that look whip-like, but that are used as sense organs—sort of like an insect’s antennae. Despite their intimidating appearance, whip spiders are harmless to humans.

9. VELVET ANTS

A photograph of a velvet ant
Craig Pemberton, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

There are thousands of species of velvet ants … and all are wasps, not ants. These insects have a fuzzy, velvety look. Don’t pat them, though—velvet ants aren’t aggressive, but the females pack a powerful sting.

10. SLOW WORM

The slow worm is not a worm. It’s a legless reptile that lives in parts of Europe and Asia. Though it looks like a snake, it became legless through a totally separate evolutionary path from the one snakes took. It has many traits in common with lizards, such as eyelids and external ear holes.

11. TRAVELER'S PALM

This beautiful tree from Madagascar has been planted in tropical gardens all around the world. It’s not actually a palm, but belongs to a family that includes the bird of paradise flower. In its native home, the traveler’s palm reproduces with the help of lemurs that guzzle its nectar and spread pollen from tree to tree.

12. VAMPIRE SQUID

Drawing of a vampire squid
Carl Chun, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This deep-sea critter isn’t a squid. It’s the only surviving member of a scientific order that has characteristics of both octopuses and squids. And don’t let the word “vampire” scare you; it only eats bits of falling marine debris (dead stuff, poop, and so on), and it’s only about 11 inches long.

13. MALE FERN & LADY FERN

Early botanists thought that these two ferns belonged to the same species. They figured that the male fern was the male of the species because of its coarse appearance. The lady fern, on the other hand, has lacy fronds and seemed more ladylike. Gender stereotypes aside, male and lady Ferns belong to entirely separate species, and almost all ferns can make both male and female reproductive cells. If ferns start looking manly or womanly to you, maybe you should take a break from botany.

14. TENNESSEE WARBLER

You will never find a single Tennessee warbler nest in Tennessee. This bird breeds mostly in Canada, and spends the winter in Mexico and more southern places. But early ornithologist Alexander Wilson shot one in 1811 in Tennessee during its migration, and the name stuck.

15. CANADA THISTLE

Though it’s found across much of Canada, this spiky plant comes from Europe and Asia. Early European settlers brought Canada thistle seeds to the New World, possibly as accidental hitchhikers in grain shipments. A tough weed, the plant soon spread across the continent, taking root in fields and pushing aside crops. So why does it have this inaccurate name? Americans may have been looking for someone to blame for this plant—so they blamed Canada.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

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18 Tea Infusers to Make Teatime More Exciting
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Make steeping tea more fun with these quirky tea infusers.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

1. SOAKING IT UP; $7.49

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That mug of hot water might eventually be a drink for you, but first it’s a hot bath for your new friend, who has special pants filled with tea.

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2. A FLYING TEA BOX; $25.98

There’s no superlaser on this Death Star, just tea.

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3. SPACE STATION; $9.99

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ThinkGeek

This astronaut's mission? Orbit the rim of your mug until you're ready to pull the space station diffuser out.

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4. BE REFINED; $12.99

This pipe works best with Earl Grey.

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5. A RIBBITING OPTION; $10.93

This frog hangs on to the side of your mug with a retractable tongue. When the tea is ready, you can put him back on his lily pad.

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6. ‘TEA’ ALL LIVE IN A YELLOW SUBMARINE; $5.95

It’s just like the movie, only with tea instead of Beatles.

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7. SHARK ATTACK; $6.99

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This fearsome shark patrols the bottom of your mug waiting for prey. For extra fun, use red tea to look like the end of a feeding frenzy.

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8. PERFECT FOR A RAINY DAY; $12.40

This umbrella’s handle conveniently hooks to the side of your mug.

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9. AN EGGCELLENT INFUSER; $5.75

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Amazon

Sometimes infusers are called tea eggs, and this one takes the term to a new, literal level.

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10. FOR SQUIRRELY DRINKERS; $8.95

If you’re all right with a rodent dunking its tail into your drink, this is the infuser for you.

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11. HANGING OUT; $12.85

This pug is happy to hang onto your mug and keep you company while you wait for the tea to be ready.

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12. ANOTHER SHARK OPTION; $5.99

If you thought letting that other shark infuser swim around in the deep water of your glass was too scary, this one perches on the edge, too busy comping on your mug to worry about humans.

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13. RUBBER DUCKIE, YOU’RE THE ONE; $8.95

Let this rubber duckie peacefully float in your cup and make teatime lots of fun.

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14. DIVING DEEP; $8.25

This old-timey deep-sea diver comes with an oxygen tank that you can use to pull it out.

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15. MAKE SWEET TEA; $10

This lollipop won't actually make your tea any sweeter, but you can always add some sugar after.

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16. A SEASONAL FAVORITE; $7.67

When Santa comes, give him some tea to go with the cookies.

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17. FLORAL TEA; $14.99

Liven up any cup of tea with this charming flower. When you’re done, you can pop it right back into its pot.

Buy on Live Infused.

18. KEEP IT TRADITIONAL; $7.97

If you’re nostalgic for the regular kind of tea bag, you can get reusable silicon ones that look almost the same.

Buy on Amazon.

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