Poltergeist (1982)

6 Mar


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Steven Spielberg had this to say about “E.T.,” which he directed, and “Poltergeist,” which he produced (both were released within the same year): “If ‘E.T.’ was a whisper, ‘Poltergeist’ was a scream.” Right you are, sir. While “E.T.” is a sensational family entertainment, “Poltergeist” is a scarefest that will most likely cause nightmares for any child under the age of ten. This is a movie in which almost every special effect Industrial Lights and Magic could create for two movies is squeezed into this one movie. We get killer trees, glowing ghosts, goo oozing from a doorknob, a portal appears in a closet, and more. All of these strange and scary events take place in a house inhabited by a family of five…and something else. This house is in suburbia, where every house looks the same. One of the reasons “Poltergeist” works as an effective thriller is having the horror occur in this typical, comfortable home is effective enough.

One of the best things about “Poltergeist” is that everything is seen through the eyes of the family that lives in the house. We don’t fully understand why these strange events occur and why these spirits are here. But neither do the family. We get a nice couple (Craig T. Nelson and Jobeth Williams) and their three kids. The youngest child of the family—a little girl named Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke)—is the first to notice that something strange is happening. In the opening scene, she walks down the stairs and over to the TV just to say “hello.” She then tells her family, who are standing by and watching, that “they’re here.”

Who’s here? “The TV people.” How does she know they’re here? Um…

It seems like there are spirits living on a blank TV channel and they really are there too. They use parlor tricks to get their attention first. They stack chairs and propel little Carol Anne from one side of a room to the other. But soon, things get really dangerous and the spirits kidnap that little girl and take her to their realm. The doorway to their world is in her closet. So the couple need outside help to get their daughter back.

This is where even stranger events happen. A tree comes to life and tries to eat the middle child. A young doctor hallucinates himself tearing the skin off his face. Ghosts walk down the stairs. A clown doll tries to strangle one of the kids. A swimming pool has a life of its own. If there’s one explanation as to why this is all happening, it’s that the same villains in “Poltergeist” are the same villains in “Jaws.” They’re the town authorities. Instead of telling people it’s safe to go back in the water again, this time they’re telling people it’s OK to build houses on top of a cemetery.

All of this gains our attention because “Poltergeist” works as an effective thriller and as a scary thrill ride. The cast does well and the special effects are indeed special. Steven Spielberg is an executive producer for this movie and I should also mention that the director of “Poltergeist” also directed “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.” What a good team. Spielberg works with effectiveness along with his special effects and Hooper specializes in realistic violence. But strangely enough, the movie is rated PG and it is definitely not for younger kids. Also strange is that for a horror film, nobody is killed or brutally hurt (the flesh-ripping is just a hallucination). But that’s not a criticism. “Poltergeist” is a little ridiculous but its reason for being is to scare us and make fear for this family. And it works at doing that. This is the haunted-house movie that “The Amityville Horror” wanted to be.

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