JoBeth Williams And Craig T. Nelson Had A Blast 'Smoking Pot' For Poltergeist

Over four decades since its release, Tobe Hooper's "Poltergeist" still has scare power. Written and produced (and perhaps a bit more) by Steven Spielberg, the paranormal horror story about a haunted suburban family home is filled with incredible sequences and meticulously-crafted scares: a cherubic little girl stares at the static on tv and ominously intones, "They're here"; her closet later turns into a giant breathing maw, a gateway to a foul dimension; her brother's toy clown comes alive and attacks him; a gnarled tree outside his window does the same. 

Underneath it all, the movie generates intense dread due to its simple relatability: the Freeling family was like millions of others across North America.

At the head of the besieged household are Diane and Steve Freeling, played by JoBeth Williams and Craig T. Nelson. Steve is a real estate developer who recently moved his wife and two children into the planned California community of Cuesta Verde, unaware that the land their home was built upon was already occupied.

Before furniture starts moving around independently and children get sucked into portals, the film takes its time getting to know the Freelings. While some enjoy the scenes with the family dog, or Steve's remote control battle with his neighbor, the most endearing pre-scare sequence involves dear old mom and dad relaxing after the kids have gone to bed with giggles, light chatter, and a puff or two of the devil's lettuce. 

Speaking with Vanity Fair recently, Nelson looks back on the movie and the famous midnight toking scene:

"You're going from that kind of sublime, upper-middle-class living, having a family that's fairly stable, raised in an area that's nice, to the horror that you're going to experience later on."

Reefer Madness in Cuesta Verde

The scene is one of the most charming of the entire film, a glimpse behind the bedroom doors of an average family. As Steve and Diane roll and puff, the conversation turns to sleepwalking and the valid fear that their daughter might sleepwalk her way into their unfinished swimming pool. Steve allays his wife's worries the way many loving partners do — by deploying goofiness, distending his belly and sucking it in before a mirror and saying, "Before, after..." It takes less than three minutes for the movie to invite its audience to join the loving — and believable — family.

Williams reveals to VF that much of the scene's whimsy was improvised:

"Craig was a comedy writer at one time. In fact, I think he did stand-up too in his early days. But he's very funny, and so Tobe and Steven would just let us run with things. Craig got into that whole thing, doing that with his stomach, which of course had me in genuine hysterics, and I think we really began to feel like we were stoned after a while.

We weren't, by the way."

So what was in the rolling paper? Nelson explains: "We rolled up those joints of oregano and tried to get them lit and puff away."

A popular theory holds that Mom and Pop Freeling visited their friend Mary Jane before visiting their neighbor to ask — between convincingly stoner-ish snickers — if he experienced anything strange, like chairs spontaneously stacking. Williams tells VF that it makes some sense:

 "No, I think it was just the absurdity of what we were going through, because what we were saying was basically insane. And I think, yes, maybe we were a little stoned. I don't know, we didn't plan that! But it could have easily read that way."