Friday, October 1, 2010

#56. Poltergeist (1982)

Directed By: Tobe Hooper

Starring: Jobeth Williams, Heather O'Rourke, Craig T. Nelson

Tag line: "It Knows What Scares You"

Trivia:  In the famous mirror scene, the hands that pull at the face of the paranormal investigator are those of Executive Producer Steven Spielberg, and not the actor.

Seeing Poltergeist with a group of friends back in 1982 was a nerve-wracking experience. Frankly, it scared the hell out of me, yet my fear was only in part due to the film’s ghostly thrills. Poltergeist also had me genuinely concerned for the Freelings, the family at the center of it all. This is where the true horror of Poltergeist lies; the fact that terrible things are happening to people we’ve grown to care about.

Steve and Diane Freeling (Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams) live in a beautiful house with their three children, Dana (Dominique Dunne), Robbie (Oliver Robins) and Carol Ann (Heather Rourke). Yet something evil lurks beneath the surface of their suburban utopia. One night, their youngest daughter, Carol Ann, crawls out of bed and starts talking to the television set. Steve and Diane assume Carol Ann was simply sleepwalking, but other strange things start to happen around the same time that are much more difficult to explain, such as furniture moving by itself across the floor. Then, all at once, what was simply confusing becomes downright dangerous when Carol Ann disappears, pulled into another dimension by an unknown entity living in their house. Still able to communicate with Carol Ann through the television set yet unable to see her, the Freelings turn to paranormal expert Dr. Lesh (Beatrice Straight) for assistance. However, to truly save Carol Ann, the Freelings must face off against the dark forces controlling their home, resulting in an all-out battle of wills between the living and the dead.

Poltergeist opens amid scenes of perfect domesticity. While folding some laundry, Diane notices that Carol Ann’s pet canary, Tweety, has died.  When Carol Ann spots her trying to flush the deceased pet down the toilet, Diane must instead prepare a funeral for Tweety, complete with a cigar box and red rose. As this is going on, Steven is busy watching a big football game with some friends, and Robbie is climbing the huge tree just outside the house, where he can see a storm rolling in over the horizon. By all appearances, the Freelings share a typical suburban existence, where little out of the ordinary ever happens. When all that suddenly changes, and the entire family is tossed headfirst into a nightmare of astounding proportions, we’re as stunned by it all as they are.

There are some frightening scenes in Poltergeist, and at least one moment of shocking gore, all of which are enough to satisfy even the most die-hard horror fans. But if you take these scares out of the context of this story, and away from the family at the center of it all, they're much less effective. Because we connect on an emotional level with the Freelings, the terrible events presented in Poltergeist hit us much, much harder.



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