(1982, Tobe Hooper)
Right, I’m going to get this off my chest right in the first paragraph, because I can’t shift it from my brain and concentrate on the review otherwise. The psychic/exorcist brought in towards the end of Poltergeist looks like the Kim Jong-Il puppet from Team America: World Police. There, I’ve said it, time to move on.
Poltergeist is another 80s horror movie, this one about ghosts that apparently escape from the TV of the Freeling family and torture them, including the abduction of their youngest daughter Carol Anne. Calling in a team of paranormal investigators, the Freelings try to recover Carol Anne and remove the malevolent force from their home.
Oddly, this movie feels a lot like a Spielberg movie. Its tone, particularly in the senses of suburban normality prior to the spooky stuff, feels almost identical to similar scenes in E.T., Close Encounters and Jaws. Yes, he wrote and produced the movie, but with a different director on board, it’s ludicrous for the movie to feel so much like Spielberg’s own.
Unfortunately, this means the movie does inherit some of Spielberg’s worse traits, particularly his reliance on set-pieces that sometimes don’t gel together as well as they probably should. The pacing of the movie is as awkward as both Jaws and Close Encounters, with some scenes not really fitting too well into the movie as a whole, and an entire final act that seemed a little tacked on.
Not that Poltergeist is a bad movie, mind. Although suffering from the same plotting issues as other Spielberg films (no offense to Tobe Hooper, this is a Spielberg movie), it also inherits his strange ability to make the overall package highly respectable. And even manages to take some odd plotting choices and make them work for suspense purposes.
Comparing the movie to Close Encounters for a moment, one of the things I didn’t like about the alien movie was that Spielberg seemed to spend a long time just sitting around the house, whereas here his script does the same thing but with one fundamental difference – the first scene gives us an insight into what’s happening straight away. Opening on a shot of Carol Anne talking to invisible people in the TV, we’re instantly drawn to something spooky going on, so that when we switch to the suburban normality for a while, we’re unnerved. We know something’s going to happen, we just don’t know when. With Close Encounters it felt nothing was really going to happen for a while and largely stayed that way.
Even the seemingly tacked on final act has a certain degree of effectiveness. While on the surface, it appears that it was added to make the movie a little longer, the realisation sets in that it was planned all along, as a way to pull the rug out from under the audience. Just when we think all is safe, the poltergeist returns with a vengeance. It’s a sneaky move.
Visually, the movie is largely impressive, although a little dated. There are occasions, such as when the children’s toys are being flung around the room, that the effects are a little too obviously pasted on to be truly effective, while other times, such as the mutated closet door in the final act, it’s genuinely terrifying. It’s a bit hit-and-miss, but overall it does work.
Poltergeist isn’t a perfect horror movie. There are times when it feels a little cheesy and silly rather than genuinely scary, but it is entertaining enough thanks to its Spielberg charm.
Starring Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams, Beatrice Straight, Dominique Dunne, Oliver Robbins, Heather O’Rourke & Zelda Rubenstein
Written by Steven Spielberg, Michael Grais & Mark Victor
Produced by Steven Spielberg & Frank Marshall
Music by Jerry Goldsmith
Cinematography by Matthew F. Leonetti
Edited by Michael Kahn
Favourite Scene: The chair stacking scene manages to be both hilarious and creepy all at the same time. Not something many movies have pulled off
Scene That Bugged Me: Paranormal investigator Marty watches in horror as his face melts off…then it’s all revealed to be an illusion. This had nothing to do with anything. Why?
Watch it if: Your house is clean
Avoid it if: You were expecting less Spielberg