Logline: A horde of spirits invades the home of a suburban family.
Review: Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist is a highly entertaining film. While far from perfect, the film has many strengths including its characters. The family is central to the story, making the extraordinary events of the film more believable. Steven Spielberg produced and wrote Poltergeist. There is a lot of evidence suggesting that Spielberg, not Hooper, was the driving creative force behind the film. In fact, Spielberg wanted to direct the film but a clause in his contract for E.T. the Extraterrestrial (1982) stated that he could not simultaneously direct another film. Not to discredit Hooper but Poltergeist feels very much like a Spielberg film with its suburban locale, central child characters, and sentimentality.
The backstory of Poltergeist has been heavily discussed over the years. The film is based on a real neighborhood in Colorado that was built on a burial ground and known to have paranormal activity. After the film was released in 1982, Dominique Dunne, who played the teenage daughter Dana, was strangled to death by her boyfriend. In 1988, after appearing as the little girl Carol Anne in Poltergeist and its two sequels, Heather O’Rourke died of intestinal stenosis.
The special effects in the film are impressive. In the film’s most gruesome scene, a man pulls the flesh off of his face. Other than this scene, the horrors in Poltergeist are tame and not too harsh. The film was rated PG. However, the PG-13 rating did not yet exist.
The cast is mostly made up of actors who were unknown at the time of the film’s release. The performances are great especially Heather O’Rourke and JoBeth Williams as the mother, Diane. Diane is a strong female character and the driving force of the film. Zelda Rubinstein is also notable for her role as Tangina, the small psychic and ghost expert. The score composed by Jerry Goldsmith is a nice complement to the film’s atmosphere.
With a muddy swimming pool full of corpses and a feared clown doll given life, the film’s conclusion does not disappoint. Poltergeist is a film that owes much of its success to the creative forces behind its production and the family unit that is so central to the story. “They’re here.”
Rating (out of ****): ***1/2