A horror movie with a heart, Poltergeist provides the chills and thrills as a family is beset by a mysterious presence. With a strong story and a mixture of creepiness and wonder, Poltergeist lingers in the mind.
The California town of Cuesta Verde is an ideal looking suburban town of nice lawns and high standard of living. It’s a planned community where everything looks strikingly similar. We are introduced to the Freeling family; real estate developer father Steven( Craig T. Nelson) , loving and devoted mother Diane(JoBeth Williams), eldest daughter Dana(Dominique Dunne), only son Robbie(Oliver Robins) and adorable five year old daughter Carol Anne(Heather O’Rourke) . One night when the television broadcast finishes and the static appears, little Carol Anne awakes from her sleep, approaches the set and starts communicating with something. Then various phenomena start in the house like chairs rearranging themselves and cutlery bending. At first the family sees it as something funny yet unexplainable, but events soon take a very dark and sinister turn. On a stormy evening, all manner of supernatural and startling terror unfurls and Carol Anne is snatched through her bedroom closet. The family search for her, but can’t physically find her. Then they start to hear the voice of the kidnapped little girl. It transpires she can communicate at times through the static on the television as she is in another dimension. Terrified and uncertain of what to do, Diane and Steven contact parapsychologists headed by Dr. Martha Lesh( Beatrice Straight) about this . Lesh and her co- workers are intrigued and want to help but find even their open minds challenged by this haunting and kidnapping they come upon. That’s when they call in the small but powerful physic Tangina( Zelda Rubinstein) who goes about attempting to figure out what snatched into another dimension. Darkness descends as the family, Tangina and the paranormal investigators do battle with the restless spirits that have an axe to grind in order to bring Carol Anne back to them.
Tobe Hooper is in the directing chair and though it’s often debated whether he was the sole director or if Steven Spielberg was more a part of it, he deserves credit for what he fashions here. His direction is pacy and allows for the opening to appear a little spooky but innocuously wholesome and then allowing the onslaught of scary encounters that are wonderfully executed. It’s a rollercoaster that’s akin to a fun ride with added jolts of scary material. The film may be almost two hours but the content and story carry everything along to a satisfying degree that pulls you in. Long shots are used that capture the little details of the house and how the haunting envelops it with an insidious glee. It’s all in aid of the intense set pieces that show the special effects which are mainly ones that hold up now( some have dated a fair bit naturally) and are used to maximum effect. From the static hands reaching out from the television, the attack of the monstrous tree on Robbie, one of the poor investigators having one squirm inducing hallucination, a clown doll that’ll give you a many jolts terror and the filling of the swimming pool during a storm with corpses after Diane falls in, it’s dazzling and horrifying in equal measure . With a screenplay by Steven Spielberg( who you can see the influence of in the film with the blending of spectacle, awe and tension), the film while frightening and thrilling has some real depth and drama to it. Plus there’s also a deliciously ironic take on television culture and also how suburbia isn’t all it’s cracked up to be considering some of the foundations it’s literally and metaphorically built on. Also of note is how the characters act in situations; with most of them being grown ups there’s a level of maturity that’s sometimes missing in films that focus on teenagers. The family reacts in a very believable manner to the shock and mind blowing events befalling them and it adds to how much we care for their plight. Jerry Goldsmith contributes a sensational score that has a spry innocence at first before layering on the spooky vibes as the haunting continues.
As mentioned earlier, the cast is very convincing. JoBeth Williams heads proceedings with a commanding performance of maternal determination and strength in the face of adversity. She’s human and relatable, acting wonderfully alongside the stalwart Craig T. Nelson as her husband. Nelson contributes a strong performance as a hardworking man thrown into a hellish ordeal and attempting with his wife to stay above it instead of sinking. The two stars create a believable bond as husband and wife and crucially as parents. Beatrice Straight exhibits the right amount of compassion and shock as the parapsychologist called in, while the dynamic Zelda Rubinstein steals her scenes as the medium with a lot of power and eccentric manner about her. Both ladies contribute a lot to the film as memorable supporting characters, particularly the highly entertaining Rubinstein. By far one of the most memorable things in Poltergeist is the presence of the cherubic Heather O’Rourke. With her wide eyes and genuine sense of wonder combined with terror, she provides most of the memorable moments in the film. And considering she’s not in the film as much as you’d think, O’Rourke definitely makes a huge impact in her scenes and is iconic, especially for her delivery of the line “They’re Here” . Dominique Dunne as the eldest daughter also makes her presence felt. On a sad note, Dunne was murdered after the film was released, leading to the belief in their being a curse on the film and the inevitable sequels. Oliver Robins is also extremely impressive as the traumatised son going through one hell of an ordeal.
Spooky, thrilling and certainly memorable, Poltergeist is a great staple film as we reach Halloween. With its invective imagination and soulful story of family against the odds, Poltergeist is a must.