50 Takes Of Crawling On The Ceiling Left Poltergeist's JoBeth Williams Battered And Bleeding

"Poltergeist" is an absolute classic of the horror genre. It's the sort of movie where you don't realize how many of its genre's tropes it invented until you see it yourself for the first time. The movie is well-written and consistently scary the whole way through, whether it be the swimming pool full of skeletons or the technician ripping his own face off. The film even managed to scare the cast while filming, the true test of how terrifying a horror movie is.

A lot of the inventive scaring throughout the flick can be credited to the great directing of Tobe Hooper, of "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" fame (or, uh, Steven Spielberg, if you believe some people). One of the best examples of quality directing is the scene where Diane Freeling, played by JoBeth Williams, is thrown onto the ceiling and thrashed around by the titular poltergeist. The scene's jerky and sudden movements create a sort of horrifying whiplash, making the scene even more impactful.

According to Williams, the scene didn't just look painful. According to an interview with Vanity Fair, the scene required somewhere near 50 takes — and repeatedly being jerked around on a ceiling resulted in Williams getting bruised and bloodied.

A torturous device

Williams stars in the film as Diane Freeling. She and her husband Steve, played by Craig T. Nelson, live in a seemingly idyllic home with their three kids. This changes one day when their youngest daughter begins inexplicably speaking with their television set, which is later revealed to house a malevolent spirit that terrorizes the family. The presence of this poltergeist is what leads to Diane being whipped around on the ceiling, the scene which Williams describes in detail during her Vanity Fair interview.

The scene was filmed on a massive gimbal, designed to look like a replica of the Freelings' bedroom. She would then roll around on the "walls" and "ceiling" of the replica bedroom while cameramen strapped to the actual ceiling filmed upside-down. The effect created a weightless feeling, but Freeling says she got over the novelty very quickly.

"I had to be on a 360-degree turning set, which I had never even heard of. And when they said, 'You're going to just ride this thing and slide along the ceiling,' I went, 'Okay, I see.' What they didn't say was that I'd be doing 50 takes of it and by the end, my elbows and knees were bleeding."

The filming of the scene also apparently caused a cameraman who was strapped to the gimbal to vomit multiple times.

Despite the injuries sustained, Williams still says "Poltergeist" is one of the films she's proudest of working on in a Variety interview. And when you were part of one of the most iconic horror films of the 1980s, perhaps a few scrapes are worth truly terrifying audiences everywhere.