Archive for Friday, October 24, 2008

Poltergeist’ ad campaign provides some real horror

October 24, 2008


The ad campaigns are plenty memorable.

We've seen Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) take a break from his "Back to the Future" adventure to hawk the benefits of DirecTV.

We've seen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in full "Aliens" gear battle the queen beast while addressing the camera about the satellite television network.

Now there's a new '80s-era movie ad from the company that seems to provide a perfect fit for the Halloween season.

The latest utilizes a scene from "Poltergeist" in which the dad (played by Craig T. Nelson) awakens to a flickering TV set. His blond daughter (Heather O'Rourke) stands at the foot of the bed and shouts the immortal catchphrase "They're Heeee-re."

It's appears to be the real movie - only cleverly matched new footage of Nelson says, "No honey, they're not here. We forgot to switch to DirecTV. So instead of watching our favorite channels in HD, we're stuck watching cable."

Then as bolts of light start shooting from the set, Nelson summarizes, "Forgetting to switch to DirecTV? Yeah, that's going to come back to haunt me." (See the video at

Clever, right?

The only problem is the cherubic O'Rourke famously died at the age of 12.

She was a lifelong sufferer of Crohn's disease, and she went into cardiac arrest during surgery to remove a bowel obstruction shortly after filming "Poltergeist III."

At the time, her death was such a shock that director Gary Sherman attempted to shelve the sequel, and the studio MGM had to drastically alter its marketing campaign so as not to appear insensitive.

So when I saw this commercial air during the Sarah Palin cameo on "Saturday Night Live," I was dumbstruck.

Not only did it already seem exploitative to use the late girl's image, but I further envisioned the producers having to hire a body double to play O'Rourke in the contemporary footage. Did actor Nelson ever question the premise? Anybody?

Already the Internet is buzzing with people weighing in on whether this is a witty marketing ploy or a tremendous lapse in good taste.

(I contacted Deutsch, the ad company responsible for the spot, and a media rep claimed they had received little negative feedback. Deutsch assured me that the O'Rourke family signed off on the project.)

It's hardly uncommon to use the image of a deceased star. But for one who died so young, so tragically, it's a little ... weird. Flippant. Disrespectful.

They might as well have run footage of Dominique Dunne, the actress who played O'Rourke's elder sister in the original "Poltergeist." For those who don't remember, the 22-year-old Dunne was strangled to death in her own driveway by an abusive boyfriend just months after "Poltergeist" was released.

That begs the question of whether Dunne would make a more or less appropriate subject for a cutesy "Poltergeist" campaign.

Isn't there another horror movie DirecTV could have copped for a Halloween-themed commercial? Linda Blair is still alive, so "The Exorcist" wouldn't be too difficult.

There's nothing more Halloween-ish (Halloweenie?) than Jamie Lee Curtis in "Halloween." Heck, she showed up for "Halloween: Resurrection," so why not this?

Perhaps Haley Joel Osment in his famed role from "The Sixth Sense" might have been the most fitting choice.

Because when O'Rourke shouts, "They're here," I can't help but think, "I see dead people."


fu7il3 9 years, 7 months ago

I think someone is looking too much into this. John Wayne sold beer after he was dead.The girl is dead. That doesn't mean you should pretend she never existed. Elvis is dead and people impersonate him in Vegas. You could argue that being an Elvis impersonator is not in good taste, but people don't throw a fit about it.

geekin_topekan 9 years, 7 months ago

Are they really trampling her grave or celebrating her memorable but tragically short career?Dunne's death was pointless and violent but even a rivival of her character's image would not be tasteless in my opinion.Both actressess and their parents/guardians entered the field of entertainment knowing that they would be in the public eye and would become possessions of Hollywood and this is the status that they actually sought out and voluntarily participated.Creating characters that have survived twenty years is an achievement that many entertainers strive for and fail to realize every day.In death,I would call it an honor to keep her character alive,even for a dish commercial.Timing could have been a little better but,oh well.I think they should revive Reagan in a DirectTV commercial.Something from Bedtime for Bonzo.

mom_of_three 9 years, 7 months ago

I have seen the commercial, and agree with the columnist. I was in shock they would use Heather O'Rourke's image to promote a product. I thought it was insensitive. It just seems different than seeing her in a rerun of the movie, or in Happy Days. But it is just hawking a product, and although John Wayne's image has been used to sell beer, he was an old guy when he died, not a young child. Just seems a little insensitive.

George_Braziller 9 years, 7 months ago

Elvis wasn't in good taste even when he was alive.

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