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 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...
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.
Does it get the blood pumping faster?
Specifically, Poltergeist lodges some well-placed shots at the ubiquity of television -- here a portal for spectral evil -- in American life.
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
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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."
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...
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.
Is TV "the beast?" From a certain perspective, yes.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.