Thursday, May 28, 2015

From the Archive: Poltergeist (1982)

 

"It knows what scares you."

- Poltergeist (1982)


The words quoted above are spoken by Poltergeist's resident psychic medium, Tangina (Zelda Rubinstein) near the climax of this harrowing film.  They reflect -- with near-perfection -- the nature of this horror classic from the great summer of 1982. 

Poltergeist is a film that knows not only what scares you, but how to scare you. If E.T. (1982) represents the softer side of Steven Spielberg, and suggests his trademark ability to make you see the world from a lonely child's perspective, then Poltergeist, directed by Tobe Hooper and produced by Spielberg accomplishes the same impressive feat...only with a darker, harder, more malicious and mischievous edge.


Poltergeist deftly, ruthlessly. and perpetually frightens audiences by reminding them of those irrational (and yet somehow palpable...) things we feared so much as children: a noise from under the bed, a closet door cracked open, an approaching thunderstorm, or other bedroom, night-time terrors.

For me, the one that terrifies me no matter how many times I see the film is that damned clown...

What seems perhaps less apparent is that Poltergeist also terrifies from the perspective of a parent, something I did not fully account for and internalize, perhaps, until my screening of the film this week; the first time I had seen Poltergeist since Joel was born. 

Previously, I had always considered the film a kind of call-back to juvenile fears associated with going to sleep, of being conscious in the dark and alone in bed with only one's thoughts (and fears) for company. Now, I also realize how cogently Poltergeist plays to the fears of adulthood: the irrational fear that a child could be injured by a terrain that, in daylight, seems perfectly safe. The danger of sleepwalking, for instance, near a backyard pool.

This brand of irrational fear plucks adult insecurities and anxieties that our parenting is not good enough, not careful enough to prevent cruel acts of fate.

There's absolutely no question that Poltergeist terrifies and thrills, even thirty-three years later.  For me, that's always the prime and primal test of the good horror film.

Does it get the blood pumping faster?  

Even as I answer that interrogative in the affirmative, however, I'm conscious that Poltergeist achieves a greatness beyond mere genre thrills because of the double social critiques it explores with such dedication and humor.

Specifically, Poltergeist lodges some well-placed shots at the ubiquity of television -- here a portal for spectral evil -- in American life. 

And, though I realize this will be a controversial statement, the film also knowingly questions the growing Yuppie mentality of the 1980s, an era of "greed is good" ushered in by the election of President Reagan in 1980.

Reagan's laissez-faire economic policies stressed the accumulation of personal wealth at the expense of morality. Regulations designed to protect consumers were cut, and big business was allowed, virtually unencumbered, to test the outer limits of the public welfare and good.  In many ways, we are still paying for Reaganomics today.  It's the poltergeist that haunts our economy, even in 2015

For me, this double-faceted, carefully embedded social commentary results in a great film. Poltergeist is no political diatribe, no partisan horror film trying to cheaply score points.  On the contrary, this movie is nimble and playful as it terrorizes us, and taps into the prevailing Zeitgeist of the increasingly affluent, but also increasingly unequal 1980s.

Here, spectral revenge "trickles down" upon a suburban family, the aptly-named "Freelings," who have profited,  unknowingly, from a corrupt system that disenfranchise the many but makes the few obscenely wealthy.

Writing for The New York Times, critic Vincent Canby expressed well Poltergeist's unique and entertaining equation. He called the film a "marvelously spooky ghost story" and one that was "also witty in a fashion that Alfred Hitchcock might appreciate." (June 4, 1982).  In Time Magazine, Richard Corliss categorized Poltergeist as a "sly comedy" supporting the "proposition that violence on TV...or precisely, in it, can have an influence on children who watch it." ("Steve's Summer Magic," June 1982, page 56)

Creative authorship of Poltergeist has been much debated.  Did Tobe Hooper direct the film, or did Steven Spielberg take the helm?

I've always leaned towards the belief that Hooper deserves the lion's share of the credit for Poltergeist, at least in terms of visualization and atmospheric tenor because the film shares two important trademarks with his other films, namely that the narrative does not, in any way, shape or form, restore order to the universe at the end (and such restoration is a trademark of Spielberg's film).

Secondly, specific images and compositions in Poltergeist, as also seen in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1973) highlight the notion that the world has grown disordered and unnatural under a "malefic influence." Again, this is a virtual trademark of Hooper's canon.  Think of the upside-down armadillo on the highway or the corpse atop a gravestone in Chain Saw.  Those images find distinct and unique corollaries in Poltergeist.  A woman is attacked by a ghost and pushed...to the ceiling.  A family's pet bird is found dead on its back behind the bars of its cage, and so forth.

If one is so inclined, one can also gaze intently at the films of Spielberg and observe how he uses product placement and pop-culture imagery to craft a sincere commentary on how it feels to be a child in the 1970s or 1980s.

Consider how he deployed images of "good" monsters like the Hulk or Greedo in E.T. (1982) to sort of "pave the way" for an acceptance of E.T. in Elliott's life.  By contrast, Poltergeist rather firmly carries its tongue in its cheek in terms of how it views the pop culture. The primary mode here is not treacly sincerity or sentimentality, but ruthless, cutting satire.

Watching Poltergeist, I'm reminded of Hooper's particular gifts as a filmmaker, as ably described by L.M. Kit Carson in the 1980s:

 "De Palma and...Romero had only recently corkscrewed fresh blood into the horror genre...but they were sophisto guys who'd kept the "it's-only-a-movie" deal with the audience.  Hooper was a new deal -- simply this; no deal. Hooper was a scare-director who was methodically unsafe, who the audience (you) finally just couldn't trust...He'd go too far, then go farther...and go farther again, and kick it again...then get an extra kick, then it's over...then one more kick...No deal, friend."  (L.M. Kit Carson, Film Comment: "Saw Thru." July/August 1986, pages 9 - 12.)

Poltergeist is a perfect reflection of this particular Hooper aesthetic.  In terms of logic and narrative, the film should resolve almost immediately after Tangina triumphantly declares "This house is clean" and order is restored to the universe. 

Of course, that  doesn't happen. 

We get one more kick, then another kick, then another, until all sense of grounded logic and reality is gone, replaced by heart-pounding terror.

Where Spielberg ends his lyrical and emotional cinematic efforts in triumphant narrative resolution, Hooper's endings (in films such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) tend to be super real or surreal, over-the-top, and sometimes virtually independent -- or even contradictory-- to conventional narrative expectations, as I wrote in my book, Eaten Alive: The Films of Tobe Hooper (McFarland; 2002).  Tobe Hooper's bargain, as the passage above indicates, is no bargain.  That's why Hooper's films, despite some notable lows, also feel unfettered...fearless...dangerous.

But perhaps creative "authorship" is not the point about Poltergeist.

As I wrote above, the film knows exactly what scares and how to scare us too. That ability is forged in the film's ability to understand us as a people, and who we were in the year 1982, a year of economic uncertainty and the dawn of a political movement that lasts to this day.

"You can't choose between life and death when we're dealing with what is in between..."


In the comfortable suburb of Cuesta Verde, the Freeling family becomes unnerved when young Carol Ann (Heather O'Rourke) begins to communicate with the television set. 

One night, after what seems like an earthquake inside the house, the child declares "They're Here," and refers enigmatically to "the TV People."

Not long after this event, a supernatural force punches a hole into the Freeling house and abducts Carol Anne, leaving her shell-shocked parents Diane (JoBeth Williams) and Steve (Craig T. Nelson) to seek help from a local parapsychologist, Dr. Lesh (Beatrice Straight).

An investigation of the house reveals "poltergeist" activity, and Dr. Lesh recruits a medium, Tangina (Zelda Rubinstein) to "clean" the house and recover Carol Anne. Ultimately, Diane must travel into another plane of existence (described as a "membrane" around our world) to get back Carol Anne from a terrifying spirit Tangina terms"The Beast."

Diane is successful on her dangerous odyssey, and Tangina declares the Freeling house "clean," but the nightmare is not over.

A terrible secret from Steve's boss, Mr.Teague (James Karen) about the real estate of Cuesta Verde puts a whole new spin on the Freeling haunting, and the spirits from the other world make one last, devastating attempt to reach our reality... 

"It lies to her. It tells her things only a child can understand. It's been using her to restrain the others. To her, it simply is another child. To us, it is The Beast."


In the passage immediately above this sentence, Tangina describes the nature of "the Beast" that has taken away Carol Anne Freeling. 

If you re-read the passage, however, one might -- with a little bit of imagination -- apply the description not to a supernatural monster or spirit, but to the influence of television in American culture.  

In many instances, television does appear to lie (or at least paint an inaccurate picture), and in many instances, advertisers direct their efforts to "fascinate" directly at children, who are psychologically unequipped to understand how they are being manipulated to believe certain things, or purchase certain products. 

Is TV "the beast?"  From a certain perspective, yes.

Poltergeist positions the television (and television transmissions) as a portal through which "evil" enters the American home. It does so, importantly, as a wolf in sheep's clothing.  The images that open the film are of familiar American monuments and national landmarks.  The song that introduces the film is the National Anthem.  But the images are pixelated and indistinct, symbolizing the notion that something is rotten in the state of Denmark; that something has gone wrong in this purported paradise. What message is the television sending out to people?

Throughout the film, the television is made a figure for horror, ridicule and social commentary.  At one point, Carol Anne is watching a blank, static-filled screen, close-up, in the Freeling kitchen, and her mother tells her that the static-saturated television image will hurt her eyes.  Mom then switches the channel to a violent war film, with infantrymen firing machine guns and soldiers dying on the battlefield. 

This is better for Carol Anne's eyes? 

The implication of this moment is that TV is not a "safe" place for kids, whether or not it is a portal for spirits.  It's an insidious influence upon American culture and American youth.

This idea is reinforced in the dialogue of the film, which establishes that the Freeling haunting may end up featured not on 60 Minutes, but the cheesy (if popular...) "That's Incredible," a bizarre reality/magazine show of the era.

In other words, the suffering of an American family is fodder for the entertainment of the masses, but not a story to be taken seriously on a news program.

Another sequence reveals Steve and his neighbor locked in a war of TV remote controls, each attempting to establish "domination" over the airwaves, of the material that is being beamed into their homes.  Football or Mr. Rogers?


The final shot of the film, of course, represents the Freelings' total rejection of television and its influence in their lives. 

After leaving their haunted home, the Freelings go to a hotel, and push the hotel room's television set out on a ledge.

The last shot of Poltergeist is thus a long, slow withdraw or pull-back from that dark set, a shot which suggests, literally, that the American family must back away from this "beast" of television, lest it suffer the same kind of agony as the Freelings experienced.

Briefly stated, one might summarize Poltergeist's point in this way: television is too violent, too out-of-touch with our values, and actually a danger to many of those who watch it.  I don't know about you, but I've actually heard the TV media referred to as "The Beast" by some right-wing elements (and also jokingly on the Fox sitcom "King of the Hill.")

Given the connection between the evil of "the other side" and the evil of television, it is no accident in Poltergeist that the TVs strobing white light is almost constantly reflected upon the faces of the film's principal characters, and that self-same, strobing blue/white coloring and lighting scheme is used to render the closet "portal" to the supernatural realm. 

The static blue of the television and the spectral blue of the TV set represent, literally, two heads of the same monster, the self same thing: portals to places that can steal your children away from your influence.  Both venues can overtake your life and both can be evil if allowed to run rampant.

The argument here is certainly debatable, at least.  TV signals are beamed into our hearths and our homes, and we don't have control over the content of those signals.  And since television is frequently utilized as a "babysitter" for children in an age where two parents work full-time at careers outside the home, we must wonder: what is the impact of this "beast" on our impressionable young?

Poltergeist plays wickedly with this notion without ever seeming too serious, and ends with the visually-established notion that the best thing to do is kick the boob tube to the curb, literally.  I love it when a filmmaker uses form to mirror content, and that occurs again and again in Poltergeist.  Over and over, the TV is made a symbol of evil's entrance into suburbia.

"You son of a bitch! You moved the cemetery, but you left the bodies, didn't you? You son of a bitch, you left the bodies and you only moved the headstones!"


When Ronald Reagan was elected in an absolute electoral landslide in 1980, he enacted a laissez-faire approach to the American economy. Laissez-faire means, literally, "let it be." 

One of the four cornerstones of Reaganomics was a reduction of government regulation so private parties were free to enact economic transactions without significant interference or oversight. Reagan espoused the notion that government regulation stifles market competition. In accordance with his values, he streamlined and eliminated many regulations in the energy, transportation, and most importantly, banking sectors. Presidents Carter, Bush and Clinton all share a measure of responsibility on this matter too. But Reagan was the herald and spokesperson for the movement, and is often remembered explicitly for the so-called "anti-regulation" Presidency.

But the thing about letting the market decide, of course, is that the market doesn't boast human morality. It can select economic winners and losers based on supply and demand, but it can't make a determination if the winners utilized ethical means to achieve domination.

We've have seen this truth played out again and again vis-a-vis Enron, Worldcom, Countrywide, and so on.  Big Business simply cannot be trusted to police itself responsibly in terms of moral and ethical behavior. Not when there's oodles of cash to be made.  I don't know why this fact comes as a surprise to people, or offends people. As a nation, we boast law enforcement officials and a judiciary, because, quite simply, we believe the citizenry can't police/regulate itself on an individual basis.  Contrarily, it needs policemen to back up our collective sense of moral and ethical rectitude. It isn't anti-business to say that business also requires oversight.

Some regulations are absolutely necessary to keep businesses honest. And please don't quote me any Rand Paul-isms about how the market will punish wrong-doers.  Tell that to the executives at many banks who, despite unethical procedures, kept their million dollar bonuses while investors lost pensions and life savings. How did the market punish those guys, again?

It is this image of Reagan as anti-regulator, as a laissez-faire advocate -- that ghost, if you will -- that Poltergeist plays deliberately upon.

Early in the film, for instance, Steve Freeling is seen reading a biography of, you guessed it, Ronald Reagan, titled  Reagan: The Man, The Presidency.

You get the feeling Steve is reading the book because he holds up Reagan (and his pillars of economics) as a role model.


Indeed, when we see Steve attempting to sell a new home near Cuesta Verde to prospective buyers, he slips (unconsciously, we presume)  into slick spin, business-speak, and Gordon Gekko-isms.

 "The grass grows greener on every side," he ridiculously asserts, attempting to sell the real-estate as if there is no downside to it.  That was a key aspect of the 1980s and Reaganomics  We could have it all.

In Landslide: The Unmaking of the President, 1984-1988," the authors write: "He said it was possible to have it all - to cut taxes and increase spending and at the same time fight terrorism, roll back Communism and the threat of nuclear war, all without risking American lives. Reagan seems to be offering a miracle cure."

And, of course, as the film reveals, you can't have it all.  There are downsides.  Your great new house? It's built on a lie, and on a cemetery.

The market has "permitted" Mr. Teague to cut corners. In building the homes of Cuesta Verde, he moved a cemetery. But it was too expensive to move the actual corpses under the ground.  Doing that cut too deep into his profit margin.

So he only moved the headstones, but told no one.  And boy did the profits go through the roof! 

The market chose a winner here, right?

Our protagonist Steve is an upwardly mobile but essentially decent guy, a family man. But he is also responsible, we're told, for 42 percent of sales of new homes in Cuesta Verde.  He is thus complicit in Teague's crime: sacrilegiously building new homes over the discarded bodies of the dead.

Again, in the free market, means don't really matter; the ends do.  But the spiritual infestation of Steve's house reveals that reality doesn't necessarily work according to the whims of the free market.  There is, literally, a spiritual price for unethical, immoral behavior. Steve's house is foreclosed upon, spectrally speaking. The original owners want their land back.

So what Poltergeist actually implies is that we are all accountable when we benefit from a corrupt system. The Freelings go through hell because they profited from an unseemly business practice at Steve's firm.  Given this, Steve's choice of heroes, Reagan, is certainly a crux of the movie.  If you think I'm reading too much into the film, or stoking some partisan hatred of Reagan, ask yourself why the book appears in the film at all.

Why not a Kennedy or Eisenhower bio?  Choices such as the appearance of Reagan: The Man, The  Presidency are not accidents.  Instead, they contribute to a fuller understanding of the film's themes. 

Consider also  that the name "Freeling" seems to pivot off this idea of laissez-faire run amok, the notion that the family may think that's its middle-class that success is "free," but it isn't.  There are consequences one when cuts corners, when free enterprise is allowed to run amok, unrestricted.

Here, those disenfranchised by illicit real estate deals "punch a hole" into the Freelings' house, making their voices and concerns heard most memorably.


We were wondering if you had experienced any... disturbances?


One of the most intriguing facets of Poltergeist remains that, in terms of visualization -- and much like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre -- this film is obsessed with the idea of order overturned.  Here, the overturning is in suburbia, not rural Texas, but the idea is the same.

For instance, the suburban trees of Cuesta Verde are lifeless, leafless things that look sad and out-of-place because real estate development has gone wild. 

Then, Carol Anne's little bird, Tweety dies unexpectedly, and later, we see the bird's grave overturned in the dirt when a construction  bull-dozer sweeps through the Freeling's yard.

Another shot shows us the shadow of the bird's corpse being lowered into a toilet, a small metaphor for the film's central thesis about respecting the dead.  In short order, we also see overturned bicycles on the street and thunder-clouds roiling over suburbia.

The overall impression here is of a storm coming.

That this previously wholesome realm of surbubia has been overturned by something dark and dangerous.  Depending on how you interpret the film, that "something" is either vengeful spirits (who have been wronged), or bad business practices which have literally upset the balance of the supernatural world.


Finally, Hooper courageously ends Poltergeist with matters disordered. Teague's business practices haven't changed, and so there is no restoration of order in the film. 

Rather, the Freelings end up fleeing their home, never to return, as neighbors watch in horror at the madness unfolding upon their property.

Mr. Teague is left screaming "lies! lies!" like a cowardly ninny, though the nature of his trespass is now plain.  He cut corners and now the dead themselves are rising up against his immorality.

Interestingly, one shot in Poltergeist seems to get to the heart of this disorder in paradise.

We see Steve and Mr. Teague walking together on a pastoral hill. In front of them is a long, white picket fence...universally the symbol of Americana and small towns. Then, Hooper changes perspectives, and suddenly we see tombstones blotting out the white picket fence. 

After another perspective change, we see the full picture: the white picket fence is dilapidated and in need of repair, and it borders a vast graveyard.  Read that image symbolically, and combine it with the "fuzzy" images of national monuments in the film's opening scene, and you begin to detect the breadth of Poltergeist's social commentary.

The film reveals that something has gone awry in America. Priorities -- morality itself -- are misplaced for yuppie-ism.

Sometimes, people write me and tell me to leave the interpreting/analysis out of my reviews, and just reveal whether or not a movie entertains.  For me, of course, "entertainment" is the beginning of a discussion on film theory, never the final destination.   It's plain that Poltergeist is entertaining.  You certainly don't need me to tell you that.  The film features heart-felt performances, astonishing visual effects, a great score from Jerry Goldsmith, and a wicked sense of humor. 

But beyond the film's entertainment value, the film conforms to the best tradition of the horror genre. Poltergeist asks us to look in the mirror at ourselves, and ask questions about the role of television in society, or the wisdom of letting the "free market" determine morality.  These values, coupled with Hooper's devotion to the meaningful and trenchant use of film grammar, render Poltergeist immortal...classic.

This 1982 film makes us ask, at last: when we see "the light" do we acknowledge it, or "stop where we are?"  Do we "turn away from it" and "not even look at it," or do we confront the things that make us uncomfortable about ourselves and our very human nature? 

Despite its various and sundry New Age touches, Poltergeist is very much a Christian film.  It asserts that our behavior here will have repercussions in the afterlife.

That message sometimes get lost in a decade when "upwardly mobile" doesn't meaning saving your soul, but enriching your bank account.

9 comments:

  1. Good review John. This movie was filmed by Spielberg's Amblin in 1981 with E.T. and both released during the golden summer of films 1982.

    Did the director Tobe Hooper confirm your theory on Steve Freeling seen reading Ronald Reagan, titled Reagan: The Man, The Presidency? I am a democrat, but sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Reagan was the new president in 1981 so that is why he was reading it. It might be simply about Reagan symbolizing obtaining the illusive American dream because this POLTERGEIST was filmed in 1981 only months after Reagan was sworn in in January 1981 and shot in late March of 1981. Reagan's presidency had absolutely no impact on the country's economy yet in 1981 which still in ruins from the '70s and the Nixon/Ford/Carter presidencies. In 1981 when it was written and filmed, it is more of a commentary on the economic wasteland of the '70s that was being left behind. That housing development that the Freelings live in was built prior to 1981 and during 1980 or 1979 during the Carter years. Hindsight works regarding Reaganomics now, but POLTERGEIST is set in 1981 before Reagan has done anything to the economy. The only way the symbolic placement of the Reagan book would really make sense is if POLTERGEIST had been filmed years into Reagan's presidency, not mere months in 1981. Spielberg/Hooper are making it in 1981 so they have no knowledge of what is going to happen in Reaganomics. Albeit if it was filmed in 1984,1985,1986,1987,1988 or post 1989 then I would agree.

    I think in 1981 several months into the Reagan presidency [not years] Steve Freeling is seen reading Ronald Reagan, titled Reagan: The Man, The Presidency simply as a symbol of them wanting the American dream. Reagan went from actor to governor to president. To reflect the original film, in the current post 2008 Recession Eric Bowen should have been reading The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream by then-Senator Barack Obama. It would have been a nice moment because that is what the Bowen family are trying to still do.

    SGB

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    1. Great comment, SGB.

      I love your idea about the Bowens in the new film reading an Obama book to herald our time, just as the Reagan book did in the 1982 original.

      That would have been a great touch, and a notation that the remake filmmakers had paid attention to the original.

      I understand what you're saying about timing and the culture, though I don't entirely agree (and that's okay...we don't have to agree on everything!).

      Reagan had been running for President on his economic policy (which the elder Bush called "Voodoo Economics" and "economic madness" during the primaries, in mid-April of 1980) for some time by the day of the actual election (November of the same year) when Reagan was elected by a historic landslide. So it is entirely plausible that over a year later, that idea was baked into the equation for Poltergeist.

      However I do feel -- and as I note in my review -- you can't lay this all at Reagan's feet, either. Carter was the one, I believe, who began the process of de-regulation, and then Reagan became the "anti-Regulation president." But later commanders-in-chief also participated in the trend.

      Yet Reagan was the one, running for President, who made it a central tenet of his campaign and administration. I'm not saying he is evil. He did what he thought was right during a crisis, and what other presidents had also done and would do. Poltergeist is a cautionary tale for boom economic times: a warning that sometimes extreme profits carry an extreme human or spiritual cost.

      I think your reading of the film, that Freeling was reading the book to get to know the new President, and pursue the American dream of prosperity is well-founded, and in a sense, that's how I see it too.

      But I think the substance of the movie is about not believing you can get a "free" (Freeling?) lunch, and that business, without oversight, can be corrupt or avaricious, at the expense, actually, of the American dream.

      I loved reading your thoughts on the subject. Thanks for commenting.

      All my best,
      John

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    2. John good thoughts. How can we ever forget "Voodoo Economics" after John Hughes had it in that funny scene from the 1986 film Ferris Bueller's Day Off. I also thought it was an interesting juxtaposition in POLTERGEIST 1982 of pot smoking Steve Freeling with his wife and the reading the conservative Reagan biography. I would love to know what Tobe Hooper or Spielberg actual intent of this scene was with the Reagan bio.

      SGB

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    3. I have to agree with SGB. I think the presence of the Reagan book was just a representation of a suburban America wrapped up in the promise of something different, especially after the disastrous Carter presidency. I can associate this with my own experience of being a Reagan voter in 1984, Bush 41 in 1988, but then picking Clinton in 1992. I love your reviews and own several of your books, but sometimes you seem to mine for some pretty deeply buried subtext.

      I can agree much more with the idea that "Poltergeist" comments that TV will distract you and take control. But honestly, this is one of my favorite movies, one that I would rate a perfect "10". I have personally chosen to take it at face value. Which is, the television set is a portal used by evil spirits to pluck Carol Anne right out of the lives of a happy, suburban, all-American family. They are by all accounts normal or typical.

      To me, this movie is the scariest when that normalcy is ripped apart by something they have no control over. The discovery that their neighborhood was built on a Indian burial ground adds the malevolent force needed for the haunting to make sense.

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  2. I feel the anti TV message is stronger today. Especially with the rise of "reality" TV and it's like. Seems Poltergeist had powers of precognition in this respect. And that final scene I will rank as one of my all time faves. The scene where the spectre comes down the stairs is very well handled. I especially liked the quiet build up, the cameras come on, a door creaks. Great stuff. Give me this film over the fluff of ET anyday.

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  3. Twenty-six years ago in 1989 when I was in Los Angeles with friends, the girl among us wanted to leave a flower at Marilyn Monroe grave. Sadly, nearby we found the recently deceased actress Heather O'Rourke (Carol Ann). It was a sobering moment. Too young to die.

    SGB

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  4. For me it's the quieter parts of the movie that are the most effective. I still get the creeps if I watch it alone at night and it's mostly from the early parts, not the wild and extremely impressive effects heavy later parts. Not that I would have the film any different. The slow build-up to the all-hell-breaking-loose climax is great.

    The sequels always felt odd to me because one would think that the events of the climax of Poltergeist would have had pretty serious repercussions in the world at large. It's not as bad as some of the Amityville movies where the neighbors and media constantly managed to not notice some pretty spectacular events occurring regularly though!

    One mystery about this movie for me is the fact that frequently in reviews and summaries there appear statements about the haunting being the result of building on "ancient Indian burial grounds." The only time anything like that comes up in Poltergeist is when Mr. Teague, talking about the moving of the cemetery for the development describes it as NOT ancient Indian burial grounds but "just folks."

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  5. John I just re-watched POLTERGEIST 1982 and if the scene Steve Freeling seen reading Ronald Reagan, titled Reagan: The Man, The Presidency was deleted or never filmed in 1981, then there would be no connective tissue to the not yet happened '80s Reaganomics. Too much weight has been given to that book appearing because this film was not made after Reagan actually did the damage to the economy no matter how many "Voodoo Economics" statements were made prior. It should be reviewed as though it is still 1981. In my opinion, a movie written and filmed in 1981 was never about what was stated during the 1980 primaries/debates about soon to be elected Reagan. In 1981, it was all theory what '80s Reaganomics would bring. It had not happened yet. It is all 20/20 hindsight. The real truth of this film is it is just about human greed that has existed long before Nixon, Ford, Carter or the months of Reagan primaries and presidency. You have to look at this film as a creation of it's time period 1981. Human greed has always existed. I am a democrat that voted for Clinton in 1992, not Bush. For me, the book is just a prop to reflection of the time period it is set in 1981, because '82-'88 has not happened yet. If only Tobe Hooper/Spielberg could answer this question, just a prop book or a commentary on the new President's policies. I would put my money on a prop of '81 setting. POLTERGEIST 1982 is still a great film without this scene and is simply about one thing greed, one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Perhaps the POLTERGEIST 2015 does not have this scene because the director knows it is simply about greed, material greed filmed in 2014 setting and not Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush41, Clinton, Bush43 or Obama. Basic human Greed, not politics.

    It has been a fun discussion on this scene.

    SGB

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  6. Fantastic analysis! Perhaps my all time favorite review of yours (along with "Gremlins") And by all means keep giving us the social/political/cultural breakdown as you see it. These insightful essays are what make your reviews (and of course books) so great.

    The meaty subtext is one of the things missing in most of today's horror films, with the notable exception of the brilliant "It Follows".

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