Poltergeist – Movie vs. Novelization

| April 22, 2012 | 0 Comments


What follows is my exustive (and pretty accurate) list of the differences between Poltergeist, the movie and “Poltergeist”, the novelization by James Kahn as mentioned in my DVD commentary.

• At the opening of the book Diane is preparing Robbie’s 8th birthday party. The movie opens with Diane cleaning up the house.

• During the birthday party, Robbie gets involved in a party game in which he has to look for clues to a prize. While searching outside for clues, he reaches into a pile a bricks and something bites him. Moving the bricks he discovers the clown doll which had been upstairs in the bedroom. Later, the party ends when Carol Anne starts screaming from her parent’s bedroom. The family finds her parked in front of the snowy TV screen.

• The night after the party there is a dinner table scene in which Carol Anne reveals that she had a dream involving ghosts dressed like the people in the photographs pasted in her grandmother’s scrap book.

• Steven tells Robbie that the tree is named Ebenezer.

• The “stacking chairs” sequence takes place in the afternoon after Diane and Carol Ann get back from the psychiatrist’s office.

• We learn that Dr. Lesh’s first name is Martha.

• We learn the Marty’s last name is Lewandowski and that he is 23 years-old.

• We learn the Ryan’s last name is Mitchell and that he is skeptic about ghosts.

• In the scene in which Diane shows Steven the “sliding chair”, the chair moves toward the stove. In the movie, it moved from the stove to the chairs.

• We learn the Tangina is 52 years old and that, as a child, she lost her parents in a train crash. She is seeking Dr. Lesh’s help because her visions are causing her to lose sleep.

• When the vortex opens up and sucks Carol Anne into the next dimension, all the objects in the room are pushed up against the closed closet door. In the movie all of the objects were inside the closet itself. In the movie, the clown was in the closet. In the book, it is in the corner.

• After Carol Anne is taken to the other side, all of the objects in the bedroom are blown toward the closet, but the clown never moves. In the movie, the doll flies off the bed and into the closet.

• In the movie, Steve jumps into the freshly dug pool looking for Carole Anne. In the book, Steve and Diane feel around in the water with their hands.

• There is a lengthy explanation of how Tangina and Dr. Lesh meet and how they come to the service of The Freelings. Tangina attends a lecture of the Psychic Society where Dr. Lesh is speaking. Afterwards, Tangina meets up with Lesh and asks for her help with her visions so she can sleep at night. Lesh agrees to run some tests on her sleep patterns in the lab. Later, in the lab, Tangina is hooked up with electrodes so she can be monitored. In a deep sleep, Tangina has a vivid dream in which she is floating in a place that seems to be neither here nor there, a cloudy, unfocused place occupied by a dark spirit called Sceädu, a fire spirit called Fantabel and a tree spirit whose name is not given. Below this display she sees dozens of human-like spirits dressed in period clothes who seem to be milling about aimlessly. Also in this space is another being, a five year-old girl who continually calls out to her mother. Tangina hears her cries but can’t seem to make out her name.

• After the incident in the lab, Tangina tells Dr. Lesh about the little girl but can’t tell her any more than that. Ryan gets the idea to follow the scan data that the computer picked up from Tangina’s lab experiment. Late that night, using a portable transmitter, Ryan, Marty, Dr. Lesh and Tangina pile into a van to follow the transmission with Tangina asleep in the back. Driving through the California countryside for several hours, they finally get a break when the signal leads them to a small subdivision called Cuesta Verde (Spanish for “Green Slope”). The quartet pile out of the van with Tangina in a somnambulist state. She starts to scream and takes off at a dead run. Half a block away, she runs up the lawn of a house and begins banging on the door. Steve answers and Dr. Lesh sheepishly asks if they can come in.

• The scene in the movie in which Steve talks to Dr. Lesh in her office actually takes place in the Freeling’s living room.

• When Dr. Lesh is at The Freeling’s dining room table discussing hauntings and poltergeists, all of the dialogue in that scene that was spoken by Marty in the movie is spoken by Ryan in the book. In the book, Marty isn’t even in this scene. This is inconsistent because Ryan talks about the nature of poltergeists even though earlier it is established that he is a skeptic.

• There is a scene at Dana’s school during lunch as she talks to her friends about what has happened to Carol Anne.

• In the scene in which Marty is bitten by one of the ghosts, we follow him upstairs as he searches the house, looking for a transmitter box that could be the source of Carol Anne’s voice. First he searches Dana’s room and finds nothing. Then he tries Steve and Diane’s bedroom, nothing. Then he tries their bathroom and finds, when he tries to open the cabinet under the sink, that the doors won’t budge. He hears a groaning and sees an eerie green light coming from behind it, which scares him so much that he leaves. Finally, when he picks the lock on the kid’s bedroom door something invisible lunges at him and bites him.

• We learn that Dr. Lesh is 61 years-old.

• After the scene in which Marty peels the skin off his face in the mirror, he runs back through the kitchen where time seems to slow down. Eventually, he stops, frozen in mid-run. A cluster of spiders starts crawling across the kitchen floor toward him and proceed to crawl up his pants leg, followed by rats and then worms. The vermin begin to eat his flesh until he is nothing but a skeleton. Finally, he is completely eaten away to nothing.

• The scene in which the family and the scientists see the white womanly spirit come down the stairs, it is preceded by three other spirits – the three that Tangina saw in her dream earlier. They dance around the living room and are eventually dispersed by the white womanly spirit.

• Marty returns from his nightmare in the kitchen (apparently it was all a dream). While the family watches the spirits in the living room, Marty runs down the hall to the bathroom. There he sees his hands melting and then watches as he turns into a hideous humanoid creature. He goes insane and then returns to the living room without any clothes on. Dr. Lesh later tells Diane that he has packed up and flown home.

• After the scene in which Diane opens the bedroom door and hears the roar, she goes to her room to sleep. While in a deep sleep something foul-smelling and transparent slips into bed with her, but she doesn’t wake up.

• Just before she goes to the Freeling house to rescue Carol Anne, Tangina checks into the hospital. She talks to (and flirts with) a young intern named Dr. Berman. During the Q and A, she tells him that she’s been to the other side battling a she-demon. His response is quiet, curious amusement. She admits to him that she is clairvoyant. Just then a curious candy striper enters, asking questions about Tangina’s special gift with a certain sense of wonderment. After their conversation, Tangina goes to bed and puts herself in a trance. She enters the spirit world where she battles past the spirits Sceädu, Fantabel and the tree spirit to reach a place where she can communicate with Carol Anne. She tells the child that in order to get away from the malevolent spirits that she must go toward the spectral light but not to enter it – she further instructs her not to even look at it. Tangina awakens to find that she has fallen out of bed and that the doctors are trying to revive her.

• Dr. Lesh displays the tapes of the footage that Ryan captured at the Freeling home at a meeting at the University to a room full of skeptical doctors. Because Ryan didn’t get footage of the Spinning Bedroom or the strange “dance” of the three spirits, she can only describe them, causing many of the irritated professionals in attendance to leave the room. She passes around photos of Marty’s bite mark to no great effect. When she displays the tape of the ghostly woman, many dismiss her footage as a magicians trick and also leave the meeting. Finally, the only person left is one of Lesh’s old colleagues, Dr. Anthony Farrow who warns her that showing the footage may have been too much, too soon. He is curious about the objects that she has with her – the old jewelry that fell from the Freeling’s ceiling. In particular, a staple that he explains that morticians use to keep a corpse’s mouth closed during funeral services. He makes the suggestion that the jewelry may have manifested through some sort of electromagnetic disturbance due to all the equipment in the house.

• After the meeting, Dr. Lesh goes to visit Tangina in the hospital wherein Tangina informs her about the recent trance. They both agree that something has to be done. After Lesh leaves, Tangina tries to engineer an impromptu escape from the hospital. She visits Dr. Berman to say goodbye to him wherein she kisses him. Then she visits the young candy striper and tries to comfort her about her missing brother. Tangina tells the young woman that she sees nothing, but in reality, she has seen that the brother is actually dead.

• Before Tangina arrives there is a scene in the living room in which the family attempts, with no luck, to contact Carol Anne. Instead of Carol Anne, a strange apparition appears on the screen (the woman who appeared on the stairs) calling herself “she who waits” and explains that she watches over the lost souls that The Beast is holding at bay. After this, Lesh goes out to the backyard wherein she meets up with Tangina.

• During the rescue scene, at the moment when Tangina calls out to the dead to cross over, she lies down on the floor and puts herself in a trance.

• After Tangina “cleans” the house, there is a scene at the dinner table in which the family gets a postcard from her from her vacation in Acapulco.

• We learn that the ordeal between the time that Carol Anne disappeared and the time she was rescued occurred over four days.

• Dr. Lesh’s story ends as she returns to the University where she tells Dr. Farrow the whole story. He doesn’t believe her, but is fascinated.

• Just before Robbie is attacked by the clown there is a scene at a bar in which Teague is begging Steve not to quit his job.

• When Diane runs to the children’s bedroom, she is confronted by a smoky mist that turns out to be The Waiting Woman. As she watches, the face reforms into that of the beast.

• When the house implodes, Steve is standing in the street watching. In the movie, the family had already driven away.

• In the movie, after the family piles into the motel room, Steve pushes the TV set out onto the balcony. In the book, he gives it a shove and it rolls down the sidewalk.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
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