Review: Poltergeist (1982)

poltergeist

I don’t know about you, but even after a dwarf lady says my house is clean there’s no way I’m spending another night there!

Screenplay By: Michael Grais, Steven Spielberg, & Mark Victor
Directed By: Tobe Hooper

Nothing is scarier than an intrusion into the normalcy of everyday life. Sure, trips into the woods where a killer with a machete tracks down teenagers can be, and are, scary. But, the real terror comes from the interposition of something truly horrific into the areas where we feel safest. We all feel the most secure in the comforts of our own homes and that is why starting in the late 1970s with Halloween and continuing to the present day the home has become the most apropos setting for a horror tale. Poltergeist is an admirable entry into the plethora of horror tales that have attempted to nullify the sanctity of quiet suburban life.

I know that the credits for Poltergeist list Tobe Hooper as director, but after watching it I can’t help but feel that the constant rumors that Steven Spielberg was more than just a writer with this project were in fact true. There are certain shots, such as the zoom out zoom in shot of the hallway that don’t appear to be the work of Mr. Hooper, but rather they bear the mark of Mr. Spielberg. It’s not a bad thing that Mr. Spielberg took a larger role in the production of Poltergeist, it’s merely something that is obvious when you look at the way the film was shot. Either way, Poltergeist is a well put together film from a directorial sense, with every scene maximizing the scare factor through deft camera work and directorial choices.

Poltergeist doesn’t go for the large scares that often, rather it goes for the easier, almost simple, scares. We can relate to the fear of being swallowed by that nasty tree outside our window, or the fear of losing a child, etc. It’s much harder to relate to the fear of a giant ghost blocking us from entering our bambino’s room. Like most great horror films Poltergeist works because of the suspense it builds and the fact that we can relate to the main characters. For a lot of people horror movies are about the scare, but I’ve never been scared by horror movies. It’s not that I’m a tough guy, but horror movies have never done me in with fear. However I love horror movies and the best of them entice me with the wonderful use of suspense, a good plot, and characters I can relate to. Poltergeist manages to hit a home run in all three categories and that is why it remains one of my favorite horror movies to this day.

If I could just find a way to somehow move that third act to the middle of the film? The third act is when Poltergeist begins to falter and ask too much of the viewer. As I said above in my blurb, anyone in their right mind would not stay in a house that had already swallowed their child and was haunted all to bejeezus. Poltergeist begins to strain my ability to relate to it when Steve leaves his family alone at the house after all they have been through. You know that more madness is coming and while it is well constructed madness it’s not suspenseful and it feels like a bit of add-on overkill. There are also a few moments, such as when bedraggled research assistant Marty rips his face off in the mirror that you know you are watching something fake. Alas, those moments don’t dominate the film, and while somewhat overkill the third act is still fun to watch.

Poltergeist isn’t the best horror film of all time, but it is an interesting entry in the career of Steven Spielberg, no matter what the credits may say. Poltergeist is also the best horror movie to ever come from Tobe Hooper, don’t let the fans of his jaunt to Texas steer you wrong. Go ahead and take in Poltergeist, it’s an experience that is well worth it.

Rating:

***

Cheers.
Bill Thompson

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