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Horror films often do not get their do, and the 7.1 rating for Poltergeist
shows that this trend will most likely continue. Clearly an influential film
by Chainsaw director Tobe Hooper, Poltergeist reached for, and achieved,
everything that the earlier Amityville Horror failed to be; namely, scary,
credible, and well acted.
Poltergeist, in a nutshell, is a story of suburban California family that discovers the darker side of the American Dream when their youngest daughter, Carol Ann, makes contact with evil spirits through the family television set. "They're here", never fails to send chills down my spine as I recall seeing this film for the first time as a teenager.
Perhaps 10 to 15 more years will finally lend the credibility to this film to finally place it among the classics in modern horror cinema.
What do you get when you put Steven Spielberg, Tobe Hooper, Jerry
Goldsmith, and Beatrice Straight in a big budget MGM motion picture
about a haunted house? You get "Poltergeist" a top of the pick, no
holds barred, roller coaster ride through the supernatural world and
back to ours. "Poltergeist" explores the side affects of a haunted
house and it's effects on a normal suburban family who inhabits the
Steve Freeling is a successful realestate agent who has a nice house and a loving wife, with a family to die for. There is the spunky, rebellious eldest daughter, as portrayed gloriously by the late Dominique Dunne, may she rest in peace. The sporty young son, and the cute, innocent youngest daughter, Carol Ann, of whom the story is based around. The Freelings' are a happy American family whose lives are turned upside down when they realize their house in 'haunted' and the 'poltergeists' kidnap the youngest member of the family. In the film that pursues, Steve and his wife Diane do everything in their power to get her back, with the aid of Dr. Lesh, played out Oscar worthy by Beatrice Straight, and her assistants. Horrors and traumas ensue.
Enough power to knock you out of your dreams for long time, this film, was said to be directed by Tobe Hooper, whom had previous fame with the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. But when one watches this film, it is anything but Hooper. Hooper's trademarks include hysteria and screaming by a young female in the finale of his films(remember 'Eaten Alive?') and have no real substance or depth in their plots, what you see is what you get. Whereas this film, said to be produced by Spielberg, was so obviously directed(on the side anyway)by also, as his trade marks include psychological P.O.V. shots(Diane Freeling in the hallway scene) and wide range of character development(all characters except for Dana are developed to fruition, but Dunne does such a great job as Dana that you can't really tell.)There was even controversy over who directed the film, and still stands so today, although Spielberg came forward a little after the film was released, and exposed himself as only producer and assistant to the director, still, rumor is still hovering over the memory of the production.
The music to the film is superb, with Goldsmith clearly at one of his best moments, nominated but did not win, although he should have. His theme for the Freelings' is a calm, gentle one that compliments his theme for Carol Ann, which is quite possibly one of the prettiest themes he ever concocted. His score for the ghosts consists of structured, spiritual themes and rough orchestral brass woodwind, accompanied by a grand chorus. All other themes he came up with were just as stand out-ish as the above mentioned.
The acting is top notch, by conflicted Steve Freeling, who is so confused he self destructs into a pale maelstrom in his mind, and Diane, the mother and star of the film, Jobeth Williams is at her finest as she deals with the stress of trying to find her daughter, and keeping her family afloat amidst the chaos. The children are all really good under Hooper's(Spielberg's?) direction, particularly Dominique Dunne, who shines through in all scenes she is in, even though her character has got to be the most underdeveloped! Robbie is fun to watch, as all little boys will be boys. And who could forget the cute Carol-Ann...They're Heeeeere! Enough said. But my personal favorite was the late Beatrice Straight, as the sympathetic Dr. Lesh, who with every facial expression, the audience can see what exactly she is thinking, about to say, and still manages to surprise the audience with her spontaneous acting skill. The supporting cast are just as great.
Special effects make this even more of a thrill ride of the ages, as Industrial Light and Magic was first starting out, and makes this one of the biggest special effects fest of cinema. Nominations for those also.
So in full circle, this family, this film, the most extraordinary horror film of the eighties, still has the power to ring every chill out of it's script, while still managing to keep the audience calm with it's realism, and relief.
And about the curse that is said to follow the series' past, all just tragedies and coincidence.
May Dominique Dunne, Beatrice Straight, Heather O' Rourke, Jerry Goldsmith, all rest in peace.
I noticed that IMDb lists the release dates for films, and laughed here
because I could never forget Friday, June 4, 1982, my last day in tenth
grade, and about my tenth date with the exceptionally pretty and
wonderful young lady I dated throughout most of high school. The
weather was perfect, and I took my ladyfriend out for a nice lunch and
a walk down Broadway in search of a movie. ET had been the hyped
Spielberg film of that summer, but this one was already out, and the
thought of a horrified hottie clinging to me for dear life (or vice
versa) was irresistible. Poltergeist it was.
Like all Spielberg films, one will not find many weaknesses. The plot will be engaging, the visuals stunning, the acting excellent, and the overall experience first-class. This film did not disappoint.
The restrospectively amusing casting of Craig T. Nelson in the lead. Notable supporting cast include the late Dominique Dunne and the late Healther O'Rourke, both of whom would die tragically in 1988 and 1982, respectively, the earlier by domestic violence and the latter by illness. The loss to Hollywood is still felt to this day as each would likely have Oscars by now. The cast of competent, moderately known talents provided a strong yet muted substance to the special-effects stylings for which Spielberg became so famous.
As I settled in with my date to watch the film, I was equally enthralled both by her touch and the screen. From the moment O'Rourke uttered the to-this-day-chilling "They're here!!," through the amusing plot twist that explains the hauntings (a certain home developer forgot to do something with the gravesite that had previously existed on the land and apparently ticked off some spirits), though the death, destruction, and absolute terror experienced by the hapless protagonist family.
I will never again be fifteen, never again experience the deep cuts to the heart that come with teenage desire, never again wonder if maybe those horror movies could happen in real life, never again will experience the thrill of not having school or any other responsibilities for the next three months, and will never again be as vital or physically capable as I was so effortlessly back then, but to have had that even once, all at the same time, in the greatest city in the world, was absolutely awesome.
Whatever might have been wrong with my life at that age simply did not exist in that theater, during that film, with that date. Anything less than a perfect film would have spoiled what was literally a perfect day. It didn't.
There are two types of "horror" films:There are the scary ones, which is what the word "horror" means in the first place,and then there is the bloody,gory kind.Perhaps the latter kind should be categorized under another name.At any rate,Poltergeist is a good horror film.It goes beyond the idea of typical ghosts in sheets jumping out of nowhere and saying "boo!".Most of the adventure takes place in their world rather than ours,although we cannot see what is going on there.This is a very thrilling movie.It has great special effects and all of the scare elements that make a horror film what it is supposed to be.The clown in the chair at the foot of the boy's bed was a particularly tense moment for me.This is the only movie I went to see 4 times at the theater,partly to watch others' reactions.I have often heard that the film,and it's two sequels,were the victim of some type of curse,as after each film was released,a member of the cast passed away,including Heather O'Rourke,who played Carol Anne, after the 3rd film.She was only 10.Curse? Coincidence? Who knows? I guess anything is possible.All in all,this is one of the best films ever for the horror genre.
In 1982, Steven Spielberg pulled off an incredible feat. In June of that
year, Spielberg released two films only weeks apart that were both highly
successful yet diversely different in both subject matter and their target
audiences. One went on to become the highest grossing film of all-time
(E.T.), the other spawned a franchise (Poltergeist).
Poltergeist had a screen credit of being directed by Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), but history has revealed that it was Spielberg's vision, editing and overall command of the shooting that was really behind the making of this extraordinary film. Poltergeist brought back the traditional haunted house genre that lay dormant and restless since The Amityville Horror in 1979. The story surrounds a family's house that has been punctured by the spirit world that seem keen on the youngest daughter of the clan Carol Ann Freeling, played by newcomer Heather O'Rourke. At first, the family meets the strange happenings in the home with playful pleasure, but in an instant the poltergeists intentions turn against the Freelings, and their daughter is captured and taken back to the supernatural world where communication is possible only through the bedroom television.
The Freelings waste little time and soon contact a paranormal group, well over their heads, to help them rescue their daughter from the unseen captures. It becomes clearly evident however, that the group is over matched, and they call in a poltergeist expert, Tangina Barrons (played with relative enthusiasm and wit by Zelda Rubinstein) to assist with the phenomena. Tangina then leads the Freelings through the unknown, both calming their fears and eventually finding a portal that may be the key to retrieving their daughter.
Poltergeist works as both a horror and a thriller. The cast, lead by O'Rourke, Jo-Beth Williams, Craig T. Nelson and Oliver Robins have real chemistry and are believable as a family unit, and unlike most horror films, they make sound judgments and know their limitations. When Carol Ann's bedroom becomes overtaken by the ghostly spirits, they lock the room and keep away rather than trying to fight something they cannot contain. And when things begin to look bleak, they call for help and look for experts in the field. This is an intelligent horror that doesn't have people running up the stairs when they should be running out the door.
Put together with a modest budget of less than $12 million, Poltergeist stretched it's dollars to provide us with an incredible array of special effects that still hold up well after 20 years of viewing. Sure, the scene where a scientist literally pulls his face off or when the bedroom is opened and we see items flying at random as if in a ghostly tornado, might be better served with CGI if made today, the effects still keep the story progressing with a sense of credibility.
Probably what keeps things so rooted in acceptability is how simplistic some of the special effects were in the larger scenes. A closet full of strobe lights are all that is required to convince us that it is a portal to another world and a fan gently blowing the hair of mother Williams' is believable as the spirit of her child flying past her. Simple plausible.
Whatever the reasons, Poltergeist works. One of the few screenplays written by Spielberg from one of his own stories, Poltergeist has all the elements that we now associate with the master director. There is a strong family unit, a child as the central character, above average production values and most notably, not one fatality in the entire film despite all the jilts and jolts. The closing scenes of chaos including a pool of skeletons (later revealed to be authentic), is pure movie magic with frantic pacing and edge of your seat suspense.
Since it's release, a lot has been made of the back stories and the curse surrounding the production of the franchise. Heather O'Rourke tragically died at a young age due to an internal infection and Dominique Dunne (who played a smaller role as her sister) was murdered the same year as the films release. The subsequent sequels have also included characters that died shortly after their films completion. Truth or fiction, lore or legend, these stories add to the mystique and mystery surrounding the film. Having knowledge of the curse' makes it even scarier and gives it kind of a feeling like Naomi Watts' character must have experienced in The Ring, as if just by watching, you are contributing to the ongoing haunting.
Like most movies successful in the late 70's early 80's, there were sequels that were made with considerably higher budgets but less than stellar results (Superman III anyone?). Neither of the Poltergeist sequels or subsequent television programming could come close to capturing the essence of the original. Besides, how can you top what is now one of the most famous movie tag-lines of all time `They'rrreeee Here'?
I am not going to go into all the controversy surrounding this
movie...everybody knows about the various deaths of cast members, as well as
questions over who actually directed "Poltergeist". What I will decribe in
this review are my feelings concerning the movie.
"Poltergeist" is a good scary picture which will not only entertain you, but will make you wonder what originally occupied the land where your home is currently standing. This movie makes good use of foreshadowing and building of tensions to move a viewer to believe what they are actually seeing is really happening. While giving the "funeral" for the pet bird, Robbie asks if they can later dig it up so they can "see the bones". At the end of the film he is indeed treated to seeing "dug up bones", only they were not ones he had in mind.
Great movie, great acting, great scary fun! A+
"Poltergeist" is Steven Spielberg's vision of a ghost story, and a
great one at that. This is an outstanding movie in every way possible.
It has terrific acting, a good story to tell, a nice sense of humor,
and astonishing special effects. Plus when I first saw this film, it
was pretty scary.
"Poltergeist" tells the story of a suburban family living in a small town in California who's home is abruptly invaded by supernatural forces who are anything but friendly, and proceed to terrorize the entire clan. This is a movie that plays like a roller-coaster ride, and once it gets going it never stops.
Tobe Hooper, who directed the original 1974 cult classic "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre", was picked by Spielberg to direct "Poltergeist". He does a fine job of creating scares and tension, even though rumors were floating around that writer/producer Spielberg actually stepped in and directed some of the film (Spielberg went on to say that Hooper was the director of "Poltergeist" even though Spielberg was very much involved with this film from start to finish). To me, it doesn't matter who directed it. This is still an excellent horror movie. Spielberg did a great job as writer/producer, and even if he had directed the whole movie it would still be as good. JoBeth Williams and Craig T. Nelson are wonderful as the head of the Freeling family, with Dominique Dunne, Oliver Robins, and Heather O'Rourke equally good as their kids. The late Oscar-winning actress Beatrice Straight ("Network") scores points as a parapsycologist investigating the hauntings, and Zelda Rubinstein steals scenes as the mysterious clairvoyant brought in to "clean house". The acting is great, but it's the Oscar-nominated special effects that dominate. Wow! This horror film is a must-see!
***** (out of five)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Poltergeist is a tremendously overrated movie. I watched it again the
other day for the first time in 20 years and had the exact same
reaction as the first time. The plot simply doesn't hold together.
There are too many elements introduced in the story, or hinted at, and many of them are never explained properly or "paid off" later. It's classic mediocre scriptwriting. Steven Spielberg is a terrific director, but a middling writer. He wrote this story, about some of his childhood fears and recollections, and the movie plays like a disjointed series of set pieces, which are only partially related by a poorly thought-out framing story.
First it's about unsettled ghosts. Then it's hinted in one scene that Satan is involved somehow. This, and how it relates to the ghosts, is never explained. Then corpses start breaking through the ground. So why now, some 6-7 years after the house was built over the graves? Where have all these spirits been for 7 years?? Again, this is never explained. And why only in this one house, if the whole subdivision was built over the graves? And what's the deal with the tree that grabs the son and tries to devour him? Can anyone tell me what the hell this has to do with the rest of the story as it plays out, because I sure can't! Just another action set piece.
And in classic bad script fashion, the characters suddenly start acting clueless in order to further the action. After all that's just happened, the family decides to spend one more night in the house and the mother lets her children sleep in the same room which was the center of all the evil?? OH, PLEASE! Even Tobe Hooper's direction is slow and plodding, and many of the scenes just don't pack the wallop they should. IMDb states that Spielberg held Hooper back, so this may not have been his fault, but it's still a problem with this movie.
I'm sorry if these complaints seem nit-picky, but I don't think they are. Any good movie, including a good horror one, needs to be coherent and have things make sense and be understandable. Poltergeist simply has too many irons in the fire and it comes off as disjointed and unsatisfying.
Truly spooky and disturbing horror film from the early-1980s that will make you jump from your seat. Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams seem to lead a normal life. He is a successful real estate agent and she is a loving housewife. They have three beautiful children, but one night all that slowly changes. The youngest child (Heather O'Rourke) starts talking to unseen spirits through a scrambled television station. The parents don't think much of it, until furniture starts to move on its own. However, the real terror does not start until O'Rourke is taken to another dimension by "the TV people". Now paranormalists led by Beatrice Straight must come in and try to get O'Rourke back to her family. Tobe Hooper, who is best known for the highly over-rated "Texas Chainsaw Massacre", does an admirable job here with the film's direction. However, it is rumored that Steven Spielberg came in during his "E.T" days and did the bulk of the work. This makes more sense as the film is really frightening and disturbing. The special effects are also impressive and "Poltergeist" ends up being one of those films that just sticks with you for a long time after you first see it. 4 stars out of 5.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a classic movie. One thing I want to point out is that the disappearance of the little girl into another dimension was the premise of a classic Twilight Zone episode aired in 1962 entitled "Little Girl Lost". If you come across it in reruns, check it out. Many of JoBeth Williams' reactions are seemingly taken from this Twilight Zone episode about a little girl who disappears into another dimension during the night. Poltergeist has many more elements to it( the poltergeist, of course, the monster, the tree outside, and the appearance of the Indian burial ground), but the initial disappearance of the little girl is straight from this Twilight Zone episode.
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