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 on the big screen with a group of friends back in 1982 was a nerve-racking 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 Freeling family, the poor souls at the center of all the chaos. This is where the true horror of Poltergeist lies: terrible things are happening to people we've come 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 dismiss it, assuming Carol Ann was simply sleepwalking. But other strange things start to happen, like furniture moving around the room by itself and light bulbs suddenly burning out. 

Then, all at once, what was simply confusing becomes downright dangerous. Carol Ann disappears, pulled into another dimension by an unknown entity that resides 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 their daughter, Steve and Diane must face off against the dark forces controlling their home, an all-out battle of wills between the living and the dead.

Poltergeist opens with 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 feels compelled to instead prepare a funeral for Tweety, complete with a cigar box coffin and red rose. As this is going on, Steve is watching a big football game with some neighbors, and Robbie is climbing the huge tree just outside the house, where he can see a storm rolling in. 

By all appearances, it's a typical suburban existence, where little out of the ordinary happens. When that suddenly changes, and the entire family is tossed headfirst into a nightmare of epic proportions, we the audience are as stunned as they are.

There are frightening scenes in Poltergeist (and at least one moment of shocking gore), all of which would satisfy any die-hard horror fan. 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 not as effective. Because we connect on an emotional level with the Freelings, the terrible events featured throughout Poltergeist hit us much, much harder.

No comments: