Down From the Shelf ~ Poltergeist (1982)

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The Facts:

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

Rated: PG

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.

Down From the Shelf ~ Endless Love (1981)

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: A high school student’s love for a 15-year-old girl is thwarted by circumstance and accident.

Stars: Brooke Shields, Martin Hewitt, Shirley Knight, Don Murray, Richard Kiley, Beatrice Straight, Tom Cruise, James Spader, Ian Ziering

Director: Franco Zeffirelli

Rated: R

Running Length: 116 minutes

TMMM Score: (1/10)

Review: I wanted to turn off Endless Love about eight times…I know it was eight times because the feeling to flee reached its tipping point at regular fifteen minute intervals.  At a mind-numbing two hours, this drama from 1981 directed by Franco Zeffirelli was critically reviled but a head-scratcher of a box office hit.

Adapted (loosely) from Scott Spencer’s 1979 novel, this honest-to-god turkey is now best remembered for the Oscar nominated title song and its presence in movie trivia as the screen debut of Tom Cruise. Cruise appears on screen for all of three minutes as a teenage arsonist in the kind of short shorts that are only excused because early 80’s fashion really didn’t know any better.  Still, the jean cutoffs worn by Cruise are the least offensive thing in this tawdry tale of young love.

The film opens with a teenage love affair between a 15 year old (Brooke Shields) and a 17 year old (Martin Hewitt) in full swing.  The son of a typical suburban couple (Richard Kiley and Beatrice Straight), he’s considered part of Sheilds’ family too (headed by Don Murray and Shirley Knight)…by all accounts there seems to be peace in the world.  Then Hewitt and Shields decide to go all the way one night by a crackling fireplace and Knight catches them…but instead of breaking them apart she gazes lasciviously at their naked intertwined figures in the kind of way that you just know things are going to change.

Though Zeffirelli tries to give the passion between Hewitt and Shields the same kind of heat he infused into his 1968 take on Romeo and Juliet, he’s stymied by neither star having the charisma or chemistry to ignite any sort of spark.  Shields is lovely, no question, but her acting leaves much to be desired whereas Hewitt navigates some appalling dialogue and plot developments while being tasked with showing the most flesh (his tiny buns get nearly as much screen time as Knight’s various flowing mumus).  When the two kiss, it’s akin to a child pushing Barbie and Ken’s faces together…just a smushing of lips and not much else.

For some reason not fully explained, when sex is introduced it suddenly makes Hewitt persona non grata in the life of his girlfriend and their relationship hits the skids.  The rest of the film follows Hewitt as he tries to get her back over several years, with a few ridiculously timed tangents explored along the way.

Most embarrassing about this film is the way that well respected (and in some cases Oscar winning!) actors like Knight, Murray, Kiley, and Straight slum it up in such a seedy exercise.  All four say the lines and go through the motions but Straight especially looks sickened to be participating here.

The production design is evocative of gauzy 80’s Summer’s Eve commercials, creating pretty pictures with zero depth to them.  It’s a laborious affair to get through and a blast from the past you’ll wish you can blast into space.  I saw this after I saw the remake…and trust me when I say that this movie makes the so-so remake look like The Bridge on the River Kwai in comparison.