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Poltergeist (1982)

  Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Written by: Michael Grais, Steven Spielberg, Mark Victor
Starring: Dominique Dunne, Craig T. Nelson, Heather O'Rourke, Oliver Robins, Beatrice Straight, JoBeth Williams
Links: Poltergeist on the IMDb, Buy on Video, Buy on DVD, Buy the Soundtrack
Genre: Suspense/Horror/Thriller

This movie gets: 9.00 (1 rating) Ranking: not yet ranked (awaiting 2 ratings)

"Not another scary movie" - a review by andy-j

The Freelings are a normal suburban family living in the relatively new suburb of Questa Verde - Diane, a housewife, Steve, a real estate agent, and three kids, Dana, Robbie and Carol-Anne. Carol-Anne is five years old and going through a bit of a sleep-walking phase. At least, that's what everyone thinks. Something much more sinister is occuring in reality - she is communicating with a spirit inhabiting their house. With her help, it somehow enters the physical world through the television (prompting the famous "they're herreeeee!" line), and soon all sorts of unnerving events begin to take place. Being kinda hip and with it, the family are more amused than freaked-out. Until, in a horrible turn of events, the poltergeist violently rips Carol-Anne out of the physical world completely through a portal in her bedroom closet.

Diane can communicate with Carol-Anne is by having the television tuned to static. Her screams can be faintly heard over the static. It soon becomes clear that Carol-Anne is trapped in a spirit-world, and being deceived and controlled by this nasty piece of unrested soul. A group of parapsychologists conduct an investigation, but with no real results (unless you count them being scared half to death, in which case, there are plenty of results for all). The family is hit with the frightening news that the paranormal activity could cease at any time, which would mean Carol-Anne would be trapped in the spirit world forever. It becomes a race against time to find a way to rescue her, while trying to maintain their wits against the poltergeist's ever-increasing attacks in their house.

Ok, it all sounds very whack, but Poltergeist is actually a fantastic movie. The story takes its time in unfolding, and really sets a focus on the plight of the family, rather than what the poltergeist is up to. We feel their desperation, their hope, their despair and their angst. We see them clutching at straws, we witness their pent-up frustration, and we get a real sense of exactly what they're going through. The fact that this isn't glossed over in order to focus on the scares (a mistake that so many movies make nowadays) really adds a great deal to Poltergeist. For example, at one point, Diane knocks on Carol-Anne's bedroom door, and peeks inside, knowing all too well that her daughter isn't there. Not the best move, because the poltergeist has claimed Carol-Anne's room for itself. But we know what Diane is going through, so we can see why she does it. And so the audience never for a minute would ask "why wouldn't you just run away?", something that occurs far too often in movies of this genre.

Seeing these people completely at their wit's end is what really drives this movie. It's one thing to witness a scary moment on screen, but its another to see people so emotionally drained, terrorised and traumatised being confronted by it. Diane is played by JoBeth Williams, who does a really outstanding job. She's all emotion, she collapses into a mess but somehow manages to pick herself up and continue on. She is ably supported by Craig T. Nelson, who is also superb as Steve, he almost goes insane and shuts down completely, because he cannot believe, control, or even understand what is occuring. Without such able principals, this film wouldn't be nearly as good as it is. Also wonderful is Beatrice Straight as Doctor Lesh, a parapsychologist who feels more than a little bit out of her depth. Great stuff. It demonstrates very keenly that some decent characters and great acting really can lift a film to an entirely new level.

Another great aspect of Poltergeist is the soundtrack. It is brilliant. There's a lullaby that plays as the movie opens and as the final credits rolls, with children's voices singing and giggling along, that is both unnerving and saddening. Throughout the film the soundtrack does exactly what it should do - heightens the emotion and tension. Even at times when nothing particularly frightening is happening, the music is enough to raise the hairs on the back of your neck.

I grew up with Poltergeist. When I was 9 or 10 I was scared stupid by the whole experience of watching it. I now I appreciate it in a whole new way, and I still get shivers up and down my spine at points. Although the whole thing kinda gets carried away with itself towards the end, and falls into the trap of giving some cheap scares, for the most part, Poltergeist is an absolutely wonderful film - it does more far more than you would expect of a horror movie. It's an absolute classic.

andy-j gives this movie 9 out of 10.
Review created on Mon 18 Apr 2005

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