A Ghost Hunter's Legacy: How 'Poltergeist' Influenced 'Insidious'

PoltergeistWell, it's that time of year again, when children come to your door demanding candy, and every other movie on TV is a horror flick. Whether you're a fan of scary movies or not, horror is one of the most influential and fascinating genres in cinema, and any student of film can benefit from studying its classics (just like they can benefit from watching any movie!)  Tribeca Film is celebrating the month by looking at the influence of classic horror films on more modern ones. Click below to check out the influence the "ghost hunters" from 1982's classic Poltergeist had on the 2010 screamer Insidious!

Poltergeist, directed by horror legend Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) and produced by Steven Spielberg at the height of his early-80s powers, was an instant classic. It was a genre-bending horror film that, unlike Hooper's earlier work, didn't feature much in the way of gore, but did have lots in the way of shocks and innovative cinematic technique. It was also one of the first fright films to feature a team of quasi-scientific paranormal investigators whose job is to contextualize the spooky goings on and help the family.

One of the members of the team is Dr. Lesh, played by the wonderful actress Beatrice Straight (who won a Supporting Actress Oscar for the 'stop what you're doing right now and go watch it' film, Networkwith only 5 minutes and 40 seconds of screen time, which is currently the record for shortest winning performance.) Tribeca describes her character's significance:

Dr. Lesh is the paranormal expert called in by the Freeling family after their daughter goes missing. She ultimately gets overshadowed by the more memorable character, the medium Tangina Barrons (Zelda Rubinstein), but Straight is an Oscar-winning actress and she has a handful of scenes with JoBeth Williams that really humanize what is essentially a surreal tale.

Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=9VC8y7qCETU

James Wan's 2010 Insidious is a film that owes more than a little to Poltergeist, in its plot about a family trying to recover their child from an other-worldly influence. According to Tribeca, in Insidious, the character of Elise (Lin Shayne) is clearly a call-back to Straight's chararacter  in Poltergeist, "from the brass-tacks way Elise speaks to the Lamberts about the realities of hauntings to her cottage-industry tech team at her disposal."

In film, as in all art forms, everything has been done before (and probably better) by someone else, so, as Tribeca Film so succinctly puts it, "If you're going to be influenced, be influenced by the best." Amen.

Link: 31 Days of Horror: The Legacy of 'Poltergeist's Ghost Hunter -- Tribeca Film

You Might Also Like

Your Comment


You want a film that influenced modern horrors check out the The Changling. You'll find where a lot of modern horrors as well as the Japanese new wave got it's influences form

October 13, 2013 at 2:49PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Good call. That with Ghost Story are two films that creeped me out as a child. Non horror was Jaws. Ha.

October 13, 2013 at 3:22PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Anthony Marino

The Changeling is fantastic. I've listened to more than one commentary tracks with modern horror filmmakers who have referenced the film and its influence on their work.

October 13, 2013 at 11:40PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

You voted '+1'.

The Changeling is still one of my favorite ghost stories. I've sobbed a little over the seance scene, it was so heartbreaking. I tell people to watch it all the time.

October 13, 2013 at 6:40PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Edmund Dale Lloyd

I always find it interesting that so many people reference Hooper's earlier films as overwhelming gory and/or violent. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, for example, has little to no blood throughout the entire film. But its rawness and gritty quality paints the illusion of being more violent than it actually is.

October 13, 2013 at 11:50PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Excellent point; one I was going to make myself until I saw your excellent post. Hooper's earlier (and far superior to POLTERGEIST, in my opinion) classic, THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE is by no means gory. I've seen Hammer films that were bloodier. "Gory" is not a word that anyone uses to describe the film who's actually taken the time to watch it. Oh, it /seems/ gory, but that's all in the viewer's mind, which is what makes TCM such an enduring classic.

October 18, 2013 at 8:20PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


No one ever mentions "Eaten Alive". Weird stuff. Cool though.

October 14, 2013 at 9:10AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Also, kudos to everyone who mentioned THE CHANGELING; a fantastic film and deserving of much more attention than POLTERGEIST. I don't mean to sound so negative about POLTERGEIST, but most horror fans and many filmmakers and people in general know what a troubled shoot that was, and it's debatable whether Hooper actually ended up finishing the film or not. It's a good film, nevertheless, but calling it a classic might be pushing it a bit. Maybe INSIDIOUS can be traced to POLTERGEIST - maybe. But where can one trace the roots of POLTERGEIST? The author writes: "It was also one of the first fright films to feature a team of quasi-scientific paranormal investigators whose job is to contextualize the spooky goings on and help the family." All I can say is, have a look at THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973), which predates POLTERGEIST by nearly a decade.

October 18, 2013 at 8:38PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM