31 Fright Nights: Halloween 2017, Night #26 – Poltergeist (1982)

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Director: Tobe Hooper

Writer(s): Steven Spielberg, Michael Grais & Mark Victor

Studio/Distributor: MGM

Budget: $10.7m

Box Office: $121.7m

Release Date: 4 June, 1982

IMDb Rating: 7.4/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 88%

UK Blu Ray release? Yes

Cast

Craig T. Nelson – Steven Freeling

JoBeth Williams – Diane Freeling

Beatrice Straight – Dr Lesh

Dominique Dunne – Dana Freeling

Oliver Robins – Robbie Freeling

Heather O’Rourke – Carol Anne Freeling

Zelda Rubinstein – Tangina

Trailer

Plot According to IMDb

A family’s home is haunted by a host of ghosts.

Inertia’s Insight

In what is undoubtedly a Spielberg film in all but director’s credit, Poltergeist is a quintessentially 80’s Spielberg film: loving family with Mum, Dad and 2.4 children living in an idyllic suburban house, their lives juxtaposed by the horrors they encounter.

Tobe Hooper, horror maestro who brought us The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, does kind of feel a million miles away from his normal territory here, and the rumours that abound this production may be truer than we think if we really look at this film. That said, it’s not going to be the focal point here.

The film opens on a great bit of suburbia, huge houses and winding streets in gleaming sunshine, lawns being mowed, plants watered, kids riding their bikes. It’s a safe environment, a new neighbourhood where the only issue is the proximity of your television in relation to your neighbours that leads to remote wars. The family are close, the parents hard working but also grounded in reality, smoking weed and unwinding after a stressful week.

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The presence of something otherworldly in their house happens pretty quickly, with the iconic ‘They’re here’ delivered to creepy perfection by young Heather O’Rourke. The ghosts here are tame, touted as an attraction as opposed to something we should fear, and that’s because we’re seeing it from Carol Anne’s perspective. To them they are an attraction, something to be enticed by. When we see them from Robbie’s perspective they’re something else entirely. Representing his worst fears, they manifest as something that we could all identify with as being scary when we were kids – the contorted branches of a tree representing an elongated hand; the creepy clown that never stops smiling. These set pieces are brilliant, establishing the true intentions of these otherworldly visitors.

Carol Anne’s disappearance is a true haunting for the family, as her presence is still felt. The genius of this film is the normality they place in the phenomena. Before Carol Anne is taken, the chairs in the kitchen are an exciting event for Diane, something she is enthusiastic about. When Carol Anne is ‘in the walls’, the daily occurrences of the supernatural are as natural to them as their morning cup of coffee.

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Hooper and Spielberg keep things fresh by changing the focus as they go through. We’re immersed with the Freeling family, but it’s refreshing to see the events from the point of view of the paranormal investigators. The sceptics amongst them soon become believers, as the entities that haunt themselves put on quite the spectacle. The lights floating down the stairs is a standout moment, not only for the paranormal display that we see but also the reactions from those in the room.

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With the paranormal investigation, we get Tangina. Don’t you just love her? She’s a pure soul, her voice an indication of her good nature. She’s the glue the family needed to keep them together and she also serves as our guide, for exposition and as the driving force behind Carol Anne’s repatriation from the other side.

This is how the film is so Spielbergian – it’s the family that makes it. For all the frights and scares, it’s the family – their reactions, their love for each other and their determination to get Carol Anne back is what grounds this film and makes it seem like a possibility, their actions echoing every parents desire for their children.

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The final scene is great. The secret is revealed and we understand the cause of the haunting, which is shocking even without the events that have unfolded. The swimming pool scene is gross yet effective, but they payoff is the finality of their haunting. The ghosts don’t just haunt the house, they take it. And in classic Spielberg style, the ending is final but also light, the TV being wheeled out of the motel room gifting us a final chuckle at a film that is tense, terrifying and – dare I say it again – quintessentially 80’s.

Inertia’s Ideal Score (★ out of 5)

★★★★

Trivia

  • Drew Barrymore was considered for the role of Carol Anne, but Spielberg wanted someone more angelic. It was this audition that earned her a role in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
  • Both of the terrors that plagued Robbie came from Spielberg’s own fears as a child
  • The hands which pull the flesh off the investigators face in the bathroom mirror are Spielberg’s

Quotes

CAROL ANNE: They’re here…


Tomorrow: Night #27 – The Purge: Anarchy (2014)

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