31 Days of Terror - 'Poltergeist' (1982)
31 Days of Terror will cover a wide array of horror films leading up to Halloween. We'll be posting our thoughts and feelings on some of our favorites every day for the next 31 days. If your favorite doesn't make it, it doesn't mean we don't like it, so speak up in the comments below!
Tobe Hooper's Poltergeist is an immensely entertaining ghost story that begins like any other, but quickly distinguishes itself through its potent atmosphere and incredibly inventive effects that crescendo into an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink finale.
Poltergeist is about a family that lives a peaceful life in Orange County, California. Carol Anne, the youngest child in the family, wakes up in the middle of the night and begins communicating with the television, which, to everyone else, looks to project just be static. Carol Anne ends up being sucked into the ghost's realm and the family must find a way to get her back.
Stephen Spielberg gets more credit for this film's success than Tobe Hooper does. I feel like that's an unfair assessment. Sure, the film has a very Spielbergian feel and he did write the story, but Hooper is a capable director and I think he deserves a good amount of credit here. While Spielberg's footprint can be seen all over the film, I don't think it was great simply because of his involvement. I think the horror elements in this film work very well because both Hooper and Spielberg understand atmosphere and that scares have to be real and carry actual weight to be effective. Poltergeist definitely isn't one of the scariest films ever made, but there are certainly moments here and there that get the heart beating a little quicker; namely that damn clown and the possessed tree.
I love just how nuts this film gets; it really takes its crazy ideas and runs with them all the way to the finish line. First, you've got the traumatizing scene where Robbie gets grabbed by the tree outside his window, then you have the definitely not "PG" face-peeling scene, next you have skeletons flying everywhere during the finale from the burial ground the house is built upon, and of course the possessed clown. It also helps that all of these spirits and their paranormal activities are rendered with such care and attention to detail. This film's many effects sequences still hold up today and to me will always be impressive to watch.
Another thing that was refreshing about Poltergeist was how quickly everyone believed that evil spirits were the reason for all of their troubles. I get bored of films that have characters that take so long to get on board with the idea that something supernatural is afoot. The actors are good here as well; Steve and Diane Freeling (Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth WIlliams) are believable parents and are given interesting roles. Heather O'Rourke who portrayed Carol Anne is also an iconic character at this point, and gives a very convincing performance for only being seven years old.
Poltergeist is a film that is pretty much mandatory watching if you're even remotely a fan of ghost-related movies. Thanks to effects that were state-of-the-art for the time and still hold up today, along with a story that really swings for the fences and manages that rare home-run; Poltergeist has it all.