For most of us cinephiles, we remember the first time we saw a movie, whether it be in the theater, or at home. If the film shakes you, positively or negatively, there’s a residue left that seeps into your memory and makes it challenging to let go. Well, I don’t want to- so I’m going to highlight some Kristy horror history for this wonderful, special, month of October.
When I was younger I remember thinking of Tobe Hooper’s 1982 film Poltergeist to be synonymous with static, and for anyone remembers the days you had to fight with the antenna to get the signal just right, know what I mean. Every time it would come on our TV I’d wonder, “is there something in there?” There was, it just wasn’t a poltergeist, just the movie-lovers bug.
Poltergeist is the quintessential haunted house movie, and very imperative viewing for the time and genre. It transcends the period it was born from though, making it still relevant even if it isn’t the most intense of the genre. Which, in my opinion, when it comes to a story like this (and I’ve said it before) less is more.
A happy suburban family, The Freelings (Craig T. Nelson, Jobeth Willians, Dominique Dunne, Olver Robins and Heather O’Rourke) unexpectedly come under the attack of a malevolent poltergeist. The American Nightmare, right? (Well, one of them 🙂 )
At first the mere oddities that occur can be passed off, even seeming someone amusing, after all- kids can talk to TV’s right and it’s cute, right? But when earthquakes occur that only the family can feel, furniture starts moving on its own, and trees begin attacking children, well, they might be dealing with a serious problem.
One of the reasons that Poltergeist remains in our collective psyches is the slow burn effect of a haunting done right. The Freelings feel genuine, relatable, and undergo a phenomenon most could never happening in the safe, comfort of their homes. Part of the film is the build-up, the pointed but subtle helpings of supernatural delights. Then when Carol Anne gets taken, the remainder is about how to get her back, enlisting the help of others, including the wonderfully iconic clairvoyant Tangina (Zelda Rubinstein).
There are scenes from the film that definitely left an imprint when I was young, and when I revisit as an adult I can still understand their heft. It isn’t a scary supernatural film in the likes of more recent endeavors, but what it does show and how it unveils it makes for a fascinating take. The fact that this is produced by Spielberg is felt throughout, even with Hooper’s stamp too, (though quite unlike his other films). It feels more at home in Spielberg’s familial, suburban, “comfortable” landscape. For the time the special effects are done well, but the performances and writing sell it, with a lovely mix of emotion and terror. Kudos to the production design as well.
It’s effective without being harsh, and in a lot of ways Poltergeist is a softer sort of horror because it doesn’t prey, but instead pleads. When you hear Carol Anne’s voice through the TV it’s not only creepy, but a bit heartbreaking. At the end of the day it can’t be ignore either that, well, it’s a bit wonderfully weird at times too.
Poltergeist is a compelling entry that resides in a simpler, but no less effective time of supernatural horror.