Directed by Tobe Hooper
Written by Steven Spielberg and Michael Grais
Starring: JoBeth Williams, Heather O’Rourke, and Craig T. Nelson
A family’s home is haunted by a host of ghosts.
I saw this film while my family was vacationing in North Carolina when I was 12 years old. My cousin Nora and I had all the amenities our beach-side hotel offered, but we wanted to spend two hours trembling in the dark apparently. This was a weird time for my family. My Grandmother had passed not that long ago and this film gave me some of my worst nightmares to date. My adolescent brain managed to weave parts of her and parts of Poltergeist together with terrifying results. With that said, this remains one of my most reluctantly favorite horror flicks.
The German translation of Poltergeist is “rumbling spirit”, a rather underestimated definition for this terrifying tale of suburban horror. Craig T. Nelson and Jobeth Williams star as Steve and Diane Freeling, a successful, young family with three kids. Paranormal activity creeps into their lives and home, rather charming at first, but that erodes precipitately. The haunted occurrences in the film are some of my favorite to this day. The stacking chairs within the unedited, flowing shot, the tree, the creepy ass clown, and the television angle all make up very original horror making. While it’s never been publicly settled, some people, myself included, think Spielberg did the lion’s share of the creative/directorial work. Hooper, while an amazing director, isn’t known as an imposing or take charge kind of guy. Put that in a room with the very outgoing Spielberg and do your own math.
The premise is a simple one, but remains iconic in the genre. A greedy developer has plans for a new phase of home-building and must first move an entire cemetery. No big deal, but he only moves the headstones, opening the floodgates to the world of the dead. The dead are infatuated with the young Freeling daughter, Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke), and impress their will by drawing her into their realm. Everyone remembers her classic line from the film “They’re here.” The family is terrified for their daughter and run out of options as they struggle to deal with things beyond their comprehension. A group of paranormal researchers are called in to combat the dark forces at work within their home. The team are put face to face with a devastating presence that proves too much for their collective ability.
There’s a laundry list of wins in The Poltergeist. The script is well-written, possesses fantastic direction and cinematography, great acting, especially from Nelson, Williams and O’Rourke. You have to appreciate the way special effects were approached in the early 80’s. 2013 horror films are so full of CGI shit, that you get the impression the watered down script is non-existent. The industry needs to go back to using effects to polish a film instead of using technology to carry it. Cinephiles know it’s bullshit and the general movie-going public knows it as well. If you haven’t seen this powerful old school film, I recommend it highly, just avoid part two and three; there is literally no reason to watch them and sully a killer horror movie.
Interesting movie trivia time. Both Heather O’Rourke and Dominique Dunne (Dana Freeling) are dead. Heather died in 1988 from intestinal stenosis, and Dunne was strangled to death by her boyfriend the same year the film was released. Oddly enough, these girls were laid to rest in the same Los Angeles cemetery. This information makes for some weird head space when you watch the film with that knowledge.
This is a classic; required viewing for lovers of the macabre.