Synopsis: As a family moves into their new home, they notice strange events that mostly affect their young daughter.
Stars: JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson, Heather O’Rourke, Oliver Robins, Dominique Dunne, Beatrice Straight, Zelda Rubinstein, Richard Lawson, James Karen
Director: Tobe Hooper
Running Length: 114 minutes
TMMM Score: (10/10)
Review: How sweet it is to feel the tingle that goes up your spine when you’re sitting down watching a truly satisfying horror film…there’s just no other feeling like it. Horror films have come and gone over the years, each one a more cannibalistic example of mindless copies of something original. But try as they might, no haunted house ghost tale can hold a candle to classics like 1963’s The Haunting and 1982’s Poltergeist. Both films are handsome, classy productions that aren’t cheap scarefests and each delight in playing (or rather, preying) on the things that scare you.
Poltergeist is one of my favorite films of all time because it fits into several categories at once (like the best horror films do…see JAWS as an example). It’s a drama, a mystery, a midnight movie freak out, a paranormal thriller, and a period piece all centered on one suburban Regan-era family out to live the good life in a new home development that holds its share of buried secrets.
Life for the Freeling family is pretty typical of the time period. Dad Steve (Craig T. Nelson, Silkwood) is a sales agent for the residential development where he lives with his wife Diane (JoBeth Williams, The Big Chill), and three children (Dominique Dunne, Oliver Robins, Heather O’Rourke). The kids go to school, the mom cleans the house, sports are watched on the television over the weekend, and the biggest problem they face is worrying about the new pool they’re putting in the backyard.
Strange things begin to happen, though, seemingly out of the blue. Little Carol Anne (O’Rourke) starts to talk to the television and the “TV people” that want to play with her. A scary tree and ominously stormy nights keeps young Robbie (Robins) from getting a peaceful slumber. Not to mention the kitchen chairs that stack themselves and some strange gravitational pull that moves things across the room at an alarming pace. It all culminates in the film’s first big scare and before you know it, Carol Anne has vanished yet her presence and voice remain in the house.
What happens next involves a team of paranormal investigators (lead by Oscar-winner Beatrice Straight) and one tiny medium (Zelda Rubinstein) as they attempt to help the Freelings find their daughter and rid their house of the titular entity that for some reason has targeted them for trouble.
Directed by Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) and written/produced by Stephen Spielberg (Lincoln), the film is a welcome blend of the eye-popping scares that Hooper was famous for capturing under the watchful hand of Spielberg’s sensitive script. I’ll admit that there’s a part in the film which always causes me to tear up a bit…how often do you find that in a film that literally tosses skeletons and rotting flesh at the screen?
What’s so wonderful about Poltergeist is that even though it spawned two disappointing sequels, inspired three decades worth of copycats, and is clearly a film from the early ‘80s it manages to remain timeless and timely. The scares continue to work like gangbusters and no matter how many times I’ve seen it I never manage to lose interest in the story being told.