Sunday, August 18, 2013

Poltergeist (1982)

Seen: On dvd on our projector set-up, rented from netflix.

Nothing seems amiss in the Freeling family. Dad Steve (Craig T Nelson) is a successful real estate salesperson for the housing development where his family resides, while mother Diane (JoBeth Williams) is a busy and contented housewife. They're cool, they smoke pot after their kids have gone to bed. Oldest daughter Dana (Dominique Dunne) is a hip teen, son Robbie (Oliver Robins) is an average troublemaker, and Carol Anne (Heather O'Rourke) is the angelic baby of the family. But Carol Anne seems especially attuned to the "tv people" who talk to her through the snowy television screen, in reality a vicious otherworldly presence who means to take her hostage and feed off her life force. When she goes missing, her mother is convinced she is still alive and refuses to leave the house, despite ever-increasing violent supernatural occurrences. The family calls in a group of paranormal psychologists, hoping to rid their house of the ghost and get Carol Anne back alive.

Poltergeist continues my quest to watch all the good horror movies after years of being too wimpy to dig too deep into the genre. It also coincidentally continues a little Spielberg stint I've been on after Jaws and Duel. Directed by Tobe Hooper, but produced, co-written, and reportedly nearly co-directed by Spielberg, the film is a simple but utterly effective horror tale, replete with fantastic special effects and chilling possibilities. It builds slowly, gradually, allowing its characters to become fully fleshed out and the strain that is weighing on this family to become extremely apparent. I love the attention to detail when it came to characterization, with various little elements thrown in that didn't necessarily advance the story, but served to create multi-layered, and ultimately sympathetic personalities. Sure, it was stupid of the whole family to stay in this house for so long, but they were so convinced their daughter was alive somewhere hidden within it that I guess it made sense for the parents, just not the son. The teenage daughter had the right idea staying away most of the time, but then I wondered why here character was even in the film.

Minor quibbles aside, I really, really loved this movie. It's spooky without resorting to cheap scares, compelling without relying on an overly-complex narrative, and fascinating in its displays of spectacle. The visuals are spectacularly memorable, from the demonic tree that nearly swallows Robbie to the glowing closet portal that sucks in anything that gets too close. And while I know the most recognizable scenes are Carol Anne zombieing over the snowy tv and Zelda Rubinstein being a BADASS, the segment that I absolutely can't get out of my head for its awesomeness is the beautiful, beautiful door monster that appears before Diane at the end. Like, I kind of want one. So gorgeous.

Anyway I'm becoming obsessed with 70s/80s horror movies, this is grrrrreat! So many more to see!


Pair This Movie With: My first thought was The Exorcist, for its similar themes of a mother desperately fighting off supernatural forces to save her daughter. Alternatively, if you want a 1982 Spielberg double feature, go with ET since that's what he was concurrently working on down the street.


  1. Have you seen The Conjuring? It's currently playing in theaters. I went to see it, and it reminded me so much of this movie!

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