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Illinois State plays supporting role in new Poltergeist film

Poltergeist parents reach out

Eric Bowen (Sam Rockwell) and wife Amy (Rosemarie DeWitt) in a scene from "Poltergeist." (Photo: Kerry Hayes)

There are several academic programs at Illinois State University with national reputations—the College of Education, the College of Business, actuarial science, and the list goes on.

But this weekend, the Department of Paranormal Research will be our star.

Yes, Illinois State plays a key (and tough-to-spot) role in the remake of Poltergeist that opened on May 22. A family who is tormented by a nasty haunting in their Illinois home turns to a professor in Illinois State’s Department of Paranormal Research to help save their daughter.

No, Illinois State doesn’t actually have a Department of Paranormal Research. (It probably wouldn’t have taken until 2013 to capture the ghost of Ange Milner if we did.)

But the filmmakers did turn to Illinois State’s real University Marketing and Communications (UMC) department in 2013 to get permission to use ISU’s name. UMC sent the production some artwork and Redbird merchandise, to help create a set that would look like ISU—even though the movie was filmed in Canada.

In the final cut of Poltergeist, Illinois State doesn’t get a shout-out by name. But in at least one of the trailers, a deleted scene shows star Rosemarie DeWitt sitting in the Department of Paranormal Research’s lobby area, surrounded by some very recognizable ISU posters and artwork.

Woman sits in a room

Can you spot all the Illinois State imagery in this image from a “Poltergeist” trailer? (Click to enlarge.)

An Educating Illinois poster hangs on the wall, near a Redbird window decal. In the background is a poster for ISU Emergency Alert (“Don’t be the last to know!”) that would look familiar to ISU students.

“A lot of the artwork was actual stuff we used around campus, and UMC designer Mike Mahle created some pretty cool custom pieces,” said UMC Assistant Director R.C. McBride.

In the film, Professor Brooke Powell (played by Jane Adams) agrees to help DeWitt’s character, who “attended” Illinois State, with the paranormal investigation in her family’s home. Powell gets some help from graduate students who, presumably, are part of a parapsychology program at their university.

So what does Illinois State’s very real Department of Psychology think of all this?

“Despite the notoriety our department would most assuredly achieve were it to serve as the base of operations for the paranormal investigation team referred to in the recent remake of Poltergeist, I must confess the Department of Psychology at Illinois State does not house such a group,” said department chair Scott Jordan.

“However, many of our faculty and students do, in fact, investigate the types of reasoning that lead one to believe in the paranormal,” Jordan added. “For example, John Pryor and Eric Wesselmann, along with doctoral student Christine LeFever, investigate magical thinking: the belief that a thing or event possesses certain causal powers that cannot be verified via the scientific method. Corinne Zimmerman and master’s student Emilio Lobato investigate the reasons why people believe in conspiracy theories.”

“Clearly, if there were a paranormal investigation team working out of our department, it would find itself continually at odds with the evidenced-based, science-driven worldview endorsed by our faculty, our students, and our curriculum,” Jordan said.

Ryan Denham can be reached at rmdenha@IllinoisState.edu.

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