It's the most memorable sequence in "Poltergeist": A furious supernatural flurry virtually whisks a suburban tract house into the Earth's bowels.
It was all because the spirit world was a bit upset (and that's an understatement) at the fact that a housing development sat atop a graveyard of lost souls.
Among those making it all happen: special-effects meister Richard Edlund.
Edlund, 45, recalled that particular bit of wizardry during an afternoon interview at his Marina del Rey office, where he sat surrounded by the tricks of his trade (including a rubbery toy figurine of "Ghostbusters' " cheery-looking but murderous Marshmallow Man).
Ah, but you wouldn't have known--from the script--that the house-whisking sequence would have turned out to be so memorable. Or so costly.
When he first read the script, during his tenure with George Lucas' Industrial Light & Magic, the scene was delineated by a scant four words. "I came to the final pages, and the words, 'And the house implodes.' " Edlund smiled. "It moved onto the next scene so fast you didn't realize that that was a $250,000 sentence."
That's what it cost to do the thunderous, 40-second climactic shot. "But it was really worth it, because it's the scene that everyone remembers," he said.
It is also one of the hallmarks of Edlund's career.
Explained Edlund: "We basically did it like drawing a silk neckerchief through a ring. It was a situation where we built the house (a miniature about five feet wide) and pulled it apart through a funnel. There were 50 to 100 wires attached, from behind. The whole thing was bolted to the floor of the sound stage--we used a forklift to do the pulling. And we used two shotguns to shoot out particular spots.
"The whole event took about five seconds in real time. And when it was done, I wanted to do another take. Because we were a little underexposed." He sighed, adding, "But that would have been another $50,000."
Another challenge: the monstrous Marshmallow Man in "Ghostbusters."
"Can you imagine--I'm turning the script's pages and I come upon a gigantic Marshmallow Man trampling through New York! That was tricky, because if it wasn't done right, the film's whole climax was going to fall apart."
So how was the scene done? "We shot it about 4 in the morning. I think we had every generator and arc light in New York City lighting up Columbus Circle." After shooting a sequence with extras, car crashes and the rest of the resulting "terror" (as created by the monster), they added effects shots of a man in a Marshmallow suit. Edlund said the suit was about six feet tall, but "we shot him in a way that made him look real tall, then we matched lighting, angles and everything, and put him in the scene."
What makes that sequence a particular favorite of Edlund's is the way that the Marshmallow Man is first glimpsed between several skyscrapers. "We had this idea that his little head, with that dumb smile, should be seen just for an instant. And boy, did it work. The audience caught on right away."
Making dreams (and sometimes, nightmares) to order is a specialty of Edlund's Boss Film Corp., located in a two-story concrete industrial building in Marina Del Rey.
The former Coca-Cola warehouse houses a creature shop, "cloud tanks" and lots of special photographic equipment. (The 40,000-square-foot facility is also the former home of the Entertainment Effects Group, which was formed by Douglas Trumbull, creator of photographic special effects for such films as "2001," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and "Blade Runner.")
The better to bestow special abilities--like flying across nighttime skies and leaping over canyons--upon seemingly everyday people. And to dispatch men and women to the furthest reaches of outer space, as in "2010." And to conjure up creatures of every size and substance, from the winged blood-sucker of "Fright Night" to the assorted supernatural critters in "Ghostbusters" to the alien that will square off against Arnold Schwarzenegger in the upcoming "Predator." Formed three years ago by Edlund, following his eight-year association with George Lucas and the "Star Wars" films, Boss Film Corp.'s special effects can be seen in "The Boy Who Could Fly" (opening Friday), in which a teen-age boy does just that, and in "Solar Babies" (opening late November), about a group of futuristic young people befriended by an ancient force that appears as a ball of light.
The company's effects also "starred" in a quartet of summer releases:
"Big Trouble in Little China," all about adventures in and beneath Chinatown. The effect-laden production finds one character riding into view on a bolt of lightning animation.
"Desert Bloom," which required a scene showing an atomic bomb blast.
"Legal Eagles," which includes a spectacular sequence of a burning art gallery.
"Poltergeist II: The Other Side," which depicts a journey to a purgatorial astral dimension--along with the requisite monsters.