johnlink ranks POLTERGEIST (1982)

This thirty year old horror flick is new to me. I never found it as a kid, and its one I never tracked down as an adult. POLTERGEIST, in HD, looks great. There is a station I have on Fios called HDNET, which just shows HD movies all day long. I never had this on Cox, and I am so thrilled to have it now. I can imagine being underwhelmed by the filming of this if my first viewing was on VHS. Really impressed with the transfer that was done.

I watched POLTERGEIST (1982) on 9.7.12. It was my first viewing of the film.

This is directed by Tobe Hooper, who created the original TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. But depending on who you ask, it would be much more accurate to call this a Spielberg film. It is undisputed that Spielberg, who technically is a writer/producer on the film, took over all aspects of this film in post-production. Some argue that he also directed actors and controlled the set, and that Hooper was only hired because of a clause in Spielberg’s ET contract which didn’t allow him to direct another film. Regardless, this is a film which combines the talents of the era’s best blockbuster filmmaker with those of Hooper: an icon of the horror genre.

Spielberg’s influence can be seen starting with the establishing shots of a small town. I didn’t know any of the story I just listed above when I started watching the film, but I definitely thought “Wow, Tobe Hooper got a nice eye for shots between doing TEXAS CHAINSAW and this movie.” I suppose Spielberg has a lot to do with that. Regardless, it is sort of pointless to look at who did what, so from this point forth I’m just going to look at this as its own film, and not through the lens of giving proper credit to various influences.

The movie, taken on its own, is quite good. This is a typical haunted house story, which turns out to be anything but typical by halfway through the second act. The escalation in this film is crazy, the stakes start super low and end up sky high. We start with a girl talking either to her TV or herself, it is unclear. Ultimately, we end up with a house imploding.

The family in question consists of Mom (JoBeth Williams) and Dad (Craig T. Nelson) and their three kids. The focus is seven year old daughter Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke) who, according to some of the story’s experts, may be amplifying the haunting. What this family endures is truly frightening.

The film hits a couple of snags. The special effects with the television are decidedly cartoony. While this sort of animation works for a comedy like GHOST BUSTERS, it definitely dulls the impact in the few scenes it is used in POLTERGEIST. To combat this, the film relies much more heavily on practical effects. The result is that the film has many more scary moments than eye-rolling moments. That’s a victory right there.

The other issue this film has is with its script. Something happens to Carol Anne halfway through this film which should have the family on the brink and panicked. Instead, the meander around the house, they do their chores, they seem to be mentally stable. It just feels wrong. I will say that Craig T. Nelson does a nice job of transitioning from the everyman Dad into a haggard and edgy ball of nerves. The performance is there, even if the script doesn’t necessarily give them the scenes to express that in a satisfying way.

This is a movie in love with film. There are references to other flicks everywhere you look. STAR WARS receives heavy attention, with posters, a Chewy coat, and Darth Vader all receiving prominent note (Lucas’ ILM did the special effects for the movie). The TV, at one point, shows a movie entitled A MAN NAMED JOE, which Spielberg later remade as the film ALWAYS. POLTERGEIST also marked the first use of the new lion roar in the opening MGM logo. The sound is also used by a monster in the film. There’s plenty more, including the medium saying ‘This house is clean,’ which pays homage to the same line spoken, the exact same way, by Jim Carrey in ACE VENTURA (just kidding).

This is a movie which seems to not only love film, but also distrust TV. The television set is the source of evil in this film, it provides the window from which the demons can enter the home and influence the family. People fall asleep in front of it, mindlessly allowing the evil in. The television starts arguments between neighbors who both think that their viewing pleasure is of paramount importance. There is a very clear distinction made between film and television here, and it is very clear to see which side of the line this movie falls on.

This is a well filmed horror flick with plenty of scares. I tend to stay away from PG or PG-13 horror movies as a rule, because they usually pander to the lowest  common denominator. This is a film which certainly does not do that. While this didn’t make me itch to see the sequels, I am certainly happy to have knocked POLTERGEIST off my list. Oh, and had I seen this as a kid, I would have been petrified of clowns.





~ by johnlink00 on September 9, 2012.

4 Responses to “johnlink ranks POLTERGEIST (1982)”

  1. The feelings of the family during the crisis also felt very odd to me when I first watched it last year, but it’s likely that the film was making the distinction between film and television because, while film is an event that people gather for, television is something to mindlessly fall asleep in front of. At least, that’s the movie’s thinking at least, and I’m sure more enlightened minds towards what TV could be, especially in today’s era, would likely change the tone of that, but it bears mentioning that the girl talking to and being captured inside the TV is likely a critique on families letting the TV babysit their kids and such, which is still pretty much an issue these days. I wonder if a remake might see the inclusion of video games, cellphones, and computers, which have obviously become more common since the first film…

  2. I bet a remake now would be exactly as you say. And you can start to see some of that creeping into horror movies now. For most of the first decade of the 2000s, movies wanted to pretend cell phones didn’t exist. Now the scripts are finding ways to use them…

  3. Don’t see the sequels. They get really cartoony. Haven’t seen the remake yet, but am interested.

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