Directed by Tobe Hooper [Other horror films: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), Eaten Alive (1976), The Dark (1979), Salem’s Lot (1979), The Funhouse (1981), Lifeforce (1985), Invaders from Mars (1986), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986), Spontaneous Combustion (1990), I’m Dangerous Tonight (1990), Night Terrors (1993), Body Bags (1993, segment ‘Eye’), The Mangler (1995), Crocodile (2000), Shadow Realm (2002), Toolbox Murders (2004), Mortuary (2005), Djinn (2013)]
Very much a classic of the genre, Poltergeist isn’t my go-to when it comes to horror, but it’s a fantastic film that has a lot going for, and well-worth a look if, for whatever reason, it’s gone under your radar.
Honestly, there’s very little that I could say about this film that hasn’t been said already. Along with such films as Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Alien, and Iced, this is one of those horror films that has reached such a mainstream status that virtually everyone who has existed has likely heard of the film.
The cast is pretty solid. While I’m not deeply moved by Heather O’Rourke’s performance (don’t take it personal – very few child performers impress me), much of the central cast is fantastic, from Craig T. Nelson to JoBeth Williams, Beatrice Straight to Zelda Rubinstein (Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and Anguish), though I have to say, she did a shitty job cleaning that house.
While not particularly a large part of the story, I did enjoy Dominique Dunne in the film. As many know, she was killed in late 1982, and this was her only feature film. Though far from any focus, it was nice having an older kid in the house, and I think it’s a shame that, while giving a solid performance, she wasn’t used that often (though certainly, one can understand her character’s desire to get out of the house).
The special effects were generally solid, but there were a few scenes that just didn’t look great, such as the first time we see things flying around the room (and while sort of funny, that scene just struck me as too playful, too whimsical), or the delusion Martin Casella’s character has. Certainly the latter was decently violent (and really, about the only violence in the whole of the film), but boy, it looked a bit on the fake side.
Despite that, most of the movie provides a fun time. We never really know too much about exactly why this is going on (sure, they moved the tombstones but left the bodies, but why not strike out before this?), but it doesn’t really take anything away, especially given how great some of these sequences are.
As decent as the clown scene toward the end is, I personally have to rank the night of Carol Anne’s abduction higher. You have a tree attacking a kid, a horrendous storm (which included a charming tornado), and general chaos. The finale was great too, with skeletons and tombs popping out of everywhere, with that pool scene in specific a highlight. Hell, even that early table scene is A+. When this film went all out, it certainly went all out.
It is accurate to say that some of the movie felt more whimsical than I’d maybe hope for, such as Rubinstein’s “You’re right. You go” line. Other scenes felt more on the fantasy realm than they did horror, but given Steven Spielberg’s involvement, I think that can be expected, if not condoned.
Also, on a small side-note, I do love the parents in this film. Though firmly in the middle class, they have time to enjoy the pleasures life has to offer, and I’d definitely smoke some joints with them, as they seem a chill couple.
Regardless of the small flaws the film has, Poltergeist is a very solid film for plenty of good reasons. It’s not my usual jam, as the kidz say, but it’s a movie I’ve always enjoyed, and despite almost being two hours, it’s always worth the watch.
8 thoughts on “Poltergeist (1982)”