People Are Only Just Realising Where Some Movies Find Prop Skeletons And We Feel Sick

Oh no...

If you like film as much as I do, chances are you’ve wondered how their behind-the-scenes magic really goes down.

For instance, who hasn’t been completely absorbed by a foley video? We’ve all seen the BTS pics of stars putting on elaborate makeup, right? It’s fun to learn new things!

Or, it was ― until I found out the unsettling way some movies source prop skeletons.

Recently, TikToker and movie prop expert @prophistory stitched a video explaining that “Stephen Spielberg insisted on using real skeletons as props” for the movie Poltergeist.

“I got asked, ‘is this true?’,” the TikToker said. His response? “Partly.”

He went on to explain that some of the skeletons in the famous bone pool scene were real, but that theories about their decaying flesh (uggghhh) being real weren’t. Oh good!!!!!

Poltergeist isn’t alone

The actor wasn’t told that the skeletons were real(?!) until after the scene, but the director of the movie, Craig Reardon, shared that the movie was far from the only Hollywood blockbuster to use real skeletons.

It’s true; movies like Dawn of The Dead, and even Disney’s original Pirates of The Caribbean ride (though these have since been removed), used real skeletons.

On Apocalypse Now, co-producer Guy Frederickson noticed a foul smell on set ― this happened after the prop team tried to sneak real skeletons into the movie.

Frederickson realised the cause to his horror when a prop guy muttered, “Wait ’til he hears about the dead bodies.”

OK, but... why?

Part of it is money, people claim. Real, human skeletons could sometimes be cheaper than very detailed replicas ― which sounds unbelievable but makes a grim sort of sense when you consider how detailed the process of crafting a hyper-detailed one could be.

Other times, like with Apocalypse Now, some specialists say it adds a layer of authenticity (but I really don’t need that much attention to detail as a viewer, I can promise you).

Sometimes, though, the use of real skeletons is completely accidental. In Dawn of The Dead, for instance, makeup specialist Tom Savini borrowed a skeleton from another prop collector without realising it was real.

After the movie, Marilyn Wick, owner of the costume shop franchise Costume World, bought and displayed the skeleton in her window. After police noticed it looked eerily similar to the real thing, it was confiscated and autopsied ― it turned out the skeleton had been genuine all along, to both Savini and Wicks’ shock.


Ew, indeed.

If you’re wondering (as I was) about how all this can be legal (never mind conscionable), though, it turns out that in America, “no federal law governs the sale of cadavers or body parts for use in research or education” (per Reuters).

And while some laws exist in certain states to protect the deceased, these seem to be poorly enforced. Angela McArthur, director of the body donation program at the University of Minnesota Medical School, told Reuters, “The current state of affairs is a free-for-all.”

“We are seeing similar problems to what we saw with grave-robbers centuries ago,” she said.

With that, I’m off to try as hard as possible to scrub my mind of all this information (before it gets used as a prop, that is).


What's Hot