Sunday 18 February 2007

Poltergeist (1982)

Another of those many eighties movies to quietly rage against suburbia, this is a slice of early eighties pop culture if ever I've seen one and it's possible I haven't seen it since that decade. Within the first third of the start, we've worked through BMX bikes, remote control cars, duelling TV remote controls, white noise, superhero comics, Star Wars bedcovers, bent spoons, you name it. There's even recreational drug taking by suburban married couples, flushing dead birds down the toilet and kids staying on the phone all night. It's also one of those films that looks like it's riddled with cliches but really isn't because it's the one that got there first: trees, clowns, white noise, the rest of it.

The focus of the story is little Carol Ann Freeling, who is a five year old girl who lives with her family in happy suburbia. Her father Steve works for the company who built the estate and so he's a little surprised when his house gets caught up in what seems to be a 6.4 magnitude earthquake. His wife Diane gets surprised a little more when the chairs in kitchen start moving of their own accord. Carol Ann knows exactly what's going on because she can talk to 'the TV people', who appear to her in the white noise that appears on the TV screen when regular programming is over, thus giving this possibly more instances of the Star Spangled Banner than any other movie.

It's a scary little movie, given that it's a family entertainment type thing, originally to be made by Steven Spielberg before he ended up on ET: The Extra-Terrestrial, but still written and produced by him. The general target is that everything going on is as normal as possible but then outrageously bizarre things break into that normality and throw it way out of whack. When the tree outside reaches in to steal young Robbie Freeling and Carol Ann gets sucked inside the TV, it's pretty obvious that it's got really serious. So the Freelings call in paranormal investigators who are stunned by the whole thing.

One of the many magic moments have to do with reactions: ours when the energy explodes from the TV screen, Steve Freeling when the paranormal investigators boast about having filmed a toy car moving across a room so slowly that you can only see it without time lapse photography, and the investigators themselves when he opens the door to the haunted bedroom and shows them what this house has to offer. There are many others too, all of which are joyous. The effects are variable: some are seamless but others obviously constructed from old technology, but the story gets by fine anyway, as the Spielberg touch is definitely all over it.

The cast are solid, entirely fresh to viewers to avoid familiarity breeding disbelief: Craig T Nelson and future TV movie veteran JoBeth Williams are the parents, and they're entirely believable as a suburban couple. Dominique Dunne, the first victim of the so-called Poltergeist Curse, is the eldest child, with Oliver Robins and a thoroughly memorable Heather O'Rourke as the others. O'Rourke would be the second victim of the curse. Beatrice Straight is a fine psychic investigator, shaken almost to pieces to blatant examples of the phenomena that she's tried so much to experience. The peach of the bunch though is Zelda Rubenstein, the plump 4'3" psychic who brings Carol Ann back.

It does stand up today. That surprised me a little but in a pleasant way. While half the other horror movies from the eighties stole plenty from it, there aren't too many bits that don't work through having become cliches. The acting works and the cast are still fresh to me as they're either dead or only working in TV movies on the Lifetime channel. The story makes sense and raises a smile, in enjoyment as much as nostalgia. Definitely a fun movie and better looking back at than something like Friday the 13th.

1 comment:

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Hal, you know how obsessed i am with Heather O`Rourke so i was wondering if you could reveiw "Poltergeist 3" (1987), it would be great to hear your opinion on the entire "HEATHER O`ROURKE LEGEND" that has completely engulfed my life (and a surprising number of other peoples lives as well), thanks Hal.