On the 16th night of Halloween, my true love gave to me, a girl sucked into the TV.
1982’s “Poltergeist,” from director Tobe Hooper (“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”), due to its uncanny ability to successfully play on people’s very real fears, deserves its title as the 20th scariest film ever by the Chicago Film Critics Association. [SPOILERS] Children seeing faces in gnarled tree branches and thinking the tree, or a scary clown doll, will come to life or that something under the bed will get them. Parents separated from their children and not being able to do anything to help them as unseen forces push a mother up the bedroom walls and away from the door to the children’s room. Knowing your child is being used by Satan, coming face to face with his embodiment, and falling into a water and mud filled pit with rotting skeletons.
In “Poltergeist,” the Freelings, an ideal suburban family, while in the process of building their swimming pool to complete their perfect home, fall victim to forces that spirit away their beautiful 5-year-old daughter Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke), which condemns them to remain in the horrific home in an attempt to retrieve her. While many films fail because characters stay in dangerous situations for no good reason (e.g., “Paranormal Activity,” “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”), the reason the Freelings stay is completely plausible, for no respectable parent would abandon their innocent child to evil forces.
“Poltergeist” includes memorable scenes of psychic phenomenon. For one, when the kitchen chairs move and Diane (JoBeth Williams) divines the spot upon which the unseen forces will move anything, even Carol Anne. Next, Robbie (Oliver Robins) discovers Carol Anne’s ability to communicate through the TV screen – the sound of her voice so sweet but distorted and haunting. Also, when Tangina (Zelda Rubinstein) proves the existence of the exit from the other dimension in the living room ceiling using tennis balls and rope. Stellar!
Besides being an effectively scary movie, Poltergeist also works as a condemnation of suburbia, with the developer eventually revealed as the cause of the evil that befalls the family. The emotional distance between the Freelings and their next-door-neighbors contrasts with the claustrophobic closeness of suburban homes (so that one home’s remote control changes channels in the others’ home). In earlier times, with the prevalence of small town America, people needed people and would pitch in to help when a family was in trouble. In suburbia, because of their financial security, families feel no need to develop relationships with their neighbors. “Poltergeist” beautifully brings to light the falseness of this sense of security. When all hell is breaking loose, because the Freelings have not shared their strange experiences with the neighbors, they look on, unwilling to go with Diane into the house to help her rescue her children.
“Poltergeist” spawned sequels in 1986 and 1988. “E! True Hollywood Story” did a show on the supposed “Poltergeist” curse. Rumors that the film series was cursed surfaced after four cast members died within the six years following the first film, with speculation that the curse came about because of the use of real cadavers in film production.
The DVD of “Poltergeist” is available for purchase, or for rental from Netflix.