"POLTERGEIST" 25th Anniversary Panel Discussion


Just wanted to share with everyone the fantastic experience I had over the weekend of June 16, 2007 when I attended the 25th Anniversary screening of "Poltergeist" at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica. First, a little background on how the trip came about. Thanks to Steven Awalt's posting on the www.SpielbergFilms.com site, I'd became aware of the screening about two weeks earlier. I'd just come back from a (very expensive) vacation to NYC, and thus couldn't really afford any more trips across the country (I live in the Atlanta area). However, I recalled that my aunt's husband works for Delta, so I looked into the possibility of flying out to L. A. on one of his "buddy passes." My aunt got me signed up that Thursday night, with a departure time of 8:15 PM Friday. The ticket wasn't free, but it was VERY cheap. The only catch was, I'd have to fly standby (which I'd never done before). Since all the "revenue" customers go first, there was a possibility that I'd be waiting for a while if I didn't get on the first flight. I'd already bought a ticket to the screening from Fandango Wednesday, so even if I wasn't able to make it out to CA, I'd only be out 10 bucks. Luckily though, I was able to get on the flight with no problem. I arrived into LAX around 10:30 PM local time. I'd booked a really cheap room at a Motel 6 near the airport. TripAdvisor said to be careful in the area, since even though the motel was "adequate," the surrounding area was kind of shady. I didn't have any problems, and the room was clean and recently remodeled (though VERY spartan-they don't even provide shampoo or conditioner in the bathroom).

The next day I woke up around 11 am, and took a taxi down to Santa Monica. I got dropped off right in front of the Aero Theatre on Montana Avenue. It was so cool seeing the marquee with "Dark Crystal," "Poltergeist," and "Creepshow" listed. Since the screening wasn't until 7:30, I decided to walk back down Montana to Santa Monica beach for a few hours. I had lunch at a little beachfront cafe, then headed back up to the Aero to catch the 3:00 PM showing of "The Dark Crystal" (which I'd never seen before). The theatre only has one screen, but it's very nice with a great sound system. I was very glad I saw this screening, because once in the theatre I noticed a row of seats near the back with little white "Reserved for VIP Guests" signs on them. I sat two rows behind these seats, thinking that perhaps this is where the "Poltergeist" guests would be sitting later that night (turns out I was right). The day's events were hosted by Fearnet.com in conjunction with "Geek" magazine. One of the hosts got up on stage before the film started to go over the schedule. He said that after "Dark Crystal" finished, there would be a Q and A session with the film's writer, David Odell (who was sitting two rows up in the VIP section). The guy from "Geek" mentioned that evening's screening of "Poltergeist" and "Creepshow," and said that "Poltergeist" co-writer Mark Victor would be in attendance (an obvious schedule change, since they'd previously said that the film's other co-writer, Michael Grais, would be there instead). The two other guests would be-actor James Karen ("Mr. Teague") and....ZELDA RUBINSTEIN! Ok, I thought, this was getting cool. I enjoyed "Dark Crystal," as well as the discussion afterward with Odell. They took multiple questions from the audience, and we learned that a sequel to that film is in development, but that they still needed about another million dollars in financing before things could go forward.

At 5:30, I headed back down to the Santa Monica pier to buy some souvenirs, then was back at the Aero by 7. As I entered the lobby, I noticed a very familiar face. There was Zelda Rubinstein, sitting in a wheelchair eating popcorn. Sitting next to her on the floor was apparently one of her assistants. Part of me wanted to go up and say hi (which I should have done). However, I'd heard stories that Zelda could be kind of testy, and seeing as how she was in the wheelchair and the event hadn't actually started, I didn't want to push my luck or be intrusive. I went upstairs to use the bathroom, came back down and bought some popcorn and a Coke, then headed into the auditorium. By that time, Zelda had already been pushed inside and was situated in one of the wheelchair spaces near the back and next to the VIP sitting area. I sat down right behind the VIP seats and looked over at Zelda. It was very surreal; there she was, eating popcorn a few feet away from me while her two (obviously gay) assistants sat nearby talking. Zelda apparently does have a big gay following; and I noticed that each of the guys who came up to her and talked seemed to be of that persuasion (she would later discuss during the Q and A how she lost some film roles during the 1980's after appearing in AIDS awareness ads). Soon, other people started to come in and sit down in the now two rows of VIP seats in front of me. Turns out this was the extended family of co-writer Mark Victor, who I soon saw enter the room and have an extended conversion with Zelda. He leaned in and she gave him a hug and a kiss.

An elderly couple was escorted in by a younger woman, and they sat down right next to me. I would later learn that this was the mother and (I believe) the step-father of Mark Victor. They both were very nice. Another familiar face soon entered-actor James Karen, accompanied by his wife. James went over and talked to Mark and Zelda. As I looked around at the audience, I realized that there was a whole mix of people there of different ages. And, the size of the crowd was much larger than that for "The Dark Crystal." James Karen and his wife sat down directly in front of me to the right. Zelda pulled a cell phone out of her purse and began dialing (one guy walking past stopped by to say hi, but didn't realize she was on the phone; she appeared to ignore him, which I thought was kind of amusing). Earlier she had had a short conversation with another fan who had come up and started talking to her. I heard him say how he had tried acting and she asked how his career was going. Damn it, I thought to myself, I should have gone up and said hi when I had the chance in the lobby, because it was nearing showtime.

The host from "Geek" magazine went down front to introduce those in attendance (everyone cheered and clapped when the names of Zelda, James, and Mark were called out). Then, the lights went down, the curtains parted, and soon there I was watching "Poltergeist" on the big screen along with two of the cast members and the co-writer sitting right in front of me.

As the movie started and the National Anthem began to play, I heard singing to my right. I looked over and there were Mark Victor's parents, both singing the National Anthem quietly right along with the music. A grin spread across my face. The print looked fantastic; clear as a bell and greatly cleaned up during the opening credits sequence. The sound was excellent as well. It was so cool seeing the audience react to many of the on screen moments, including the pot smoking scene, Diane Freeling's initial amusement as the chairs begin to move, and the interaction among the cast members. As you're watching the film with an audience, you really notice how many moments of comedy are interspersed with the horror scenes. By the time James Karen came on screen as "Mr. Teague," the audience burst into applause. It was odd to look over and see James watching himself on screen. The same with Zelda...as Tangina walks into the room, you could barely hear her "ya'll mind hanging back...you're jammin my frequencies" line over the cheers and applause. Another burst of laughter and applause was heard when Tangina tells Diane "you're right...you go!" before Diane enters the closet. Finally, as the film ended and Steve shoved the TV out onto the hotel balcony, the audience clapped once again.

After the credits finished, the moderator from "Geek Monthly" went down to the front of the room and introduced Mark, James, and Zelda. Luckily, Zelda was able to stand up and walk down the two steps to the lower level, then she got back in her wheelchair as her assistants pushed her the rest of the way to the front of the screen. I won't go into great details about the panel discussion itself, as you'll be able to watch the entire thing at the link below. It was good to know that Zelda was in the wheelchair only temporarily; she explained that she was simply "making use of modern technology" after recently injuring her pelvic bone. She had the best lines of the night, especially when the discussion turned to the "Who Really Directed Poltergeist" issue. As you'll see in the clip, Mark and James sort of tap danced around the question and offered "politically correct" statements, but Zelda was more than happy to say that she "had a slightly different view." She explained how during the 6 days she worked on the film, Tobe would line up the shots, but Steven would "make final adjustments." In conclusion, she said "Tobe was the nominal director...but this was a Steven Spielberg film" (to the sounds of applause from the audience). When asked about Heather O'Rourke, Zelda revealed that Heather had called her only a few days before she died, and had said to her..."Let's do lunch."

When asked about a potential "Poltergeist" remake, Mark Victor said he had heard talks of that off and on, but said such a project would be difficult to iron out since Warner Brothers owns the rights to the original film, and he wasn't sure who owned the sequels (MGM owns both of them). It is interesting that no mention was made of the recent online reports about "Poltergeist: In the Shadows," the rumored "in development" project that co-writer Michael Grais is supposed to be working on. I find it hard to believe that Mr. Victor, who has been writing/producing partners with Mr. Grais since the 1970's, knows nothing about that project. Perhaps that's the reason why Grais, who was originally scheduled, didn't show? Apparently MGM hasn't been too happy that news of the project was posted online.

The one criticism I did have was that only two audience questions were taken. The guy next to me asked a question about the "curse," and someone else asked the panel if they could have ever imagined the film would be so popular after 25 years. The panel discussion lasted for about 30 minutes, but should have gone for an hour to get more audience questions. They had to hurry things up though since "Creepshow" was about to be shown (I stuck around for most of that, but didn't care for it. They should have just skipped that screening and had a longer "Poltergeist" Q and A). I had hoped to ask Zelda about the re-shot ending of "Poltergeist III."

[Update- after I returned home I sent an email to one of Zelda's associates explaining how I didn't get a chance to ask her my question about the re-shot ending. Here's what I received:

I asked Zelda your question. She wasn’t aware of an alternate ending so therefore didn’t have any info about that scene. Sorry. She had a great time at the Santa Monica screening. It sounds like it was a blast for everyone. Thanks for your question and interest.

Needless to say her response is a bit surprising to me. To check out the overwhelming evidence for the re-shoot, click here: www.poltergeistIII.com/gorezone.html ]

After the panel ended, Mark, James, and Zelda posed for photos with fans. By the time I made it down to the front, Zelda was getting ready to leave. One guy had just finished asking her about fan letters (she said the studios must get them, since she "never gives out her home address"). As her assistants prepared to wheel her out, I quickly leaned in, stuck out my hand, and said something to the effect of "Hi Zelda! It's very nice to meet you." She shook my hand, but it all happened so fast that I don't even remember what she said (I think "Hi").

Out in the lobby they were selling old issues of "Cinefantastique" from 1982. I bought the issue featuring "Poltergeist" for 10 bucks and then looked up to see Mark and James heading outside. Zelda was already gone. All in all, it was a great experience I was very lucky to have. Now, waiting for a stand by flight back to Atlanta the next morning was a different story....

Check out the 30 minute video clip of the panel discussion here:


Also, check out this much better video clip of the panel, shot by the staff of "Geek Monthly" magazine (it's much closer up than mine was)


(however, they've cut it down from 31 minutes to about 19)