A few years after the huge success of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Steven Spielberg wanted to revisit the idea of space-faring aliens that visit our world. But his new vision was dark and threatening and reportedly was influenced by a real-life incident in which a farm family in Kentucky claimed they were terrorized by a group of aliens.
Spielberg commissioned a script from fellow filmmaker John Sayles called Night Skies. It described a similar farm-family scenario and featured aliens who could kill others simply by the touch of a long, bony finger. (The script also included an alien character named Buddy, a kind and benevolent member of the pack who befriends an autistic child.) But as Night Skies went into preproduction, Spielberg — who wanted to only produce rather than direct the film — had second thoughts about the dark concept and decided to go in the completely opposite direction, one that offered a more hopeful view of an extraterrestrial encounter. He offered Sayles the chance to rewrite his original script. Sayles declined, and in 1984 he made his own alien-stranded-on-Earth movie, Brother from Another Planet. And Spielberg repurposed the family-in-terror concept in his script for Poltergeist.(MORE: Cinema 1982: Spielberg’s E.T. and Poltergeist)