- Movie Rating -

Poltergeist (1982)

| June 4, 1982

Poltergeist is one of those big-budget roller-coaster special effects movies that would seem to occupy the same space as any number of cut-rate horror movies that seem to come out every week.  But because this movie comes from the hands of Steven Spielberg, it’s a lot better and its is made with a lot more skill.  And because it is a Spielberg production, it has a little more than just visual splendor.

The movie, at its surface, is about a young couple, Steve and Diane Freeling (Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams) living in a carved-out suburb in California with their three children (Dominique Dunne, Oliver Robins and Heather O’Rourke) blissfully unaware of the dark forces that surround their home.  Immediately we meet their youngest daughter Carol Anne (O’Rourke) who has some strange psychic connection with spirits who communicate with her through the television set when it is tuned to a snowy channel.

Naturally, those connections will make her vulnerable when the spirits try and kidnap her in the middle of the night, but what is curious about Poltergeist is the clever way in which is spends time getting to know the family.  Most movies of this type have no real interest in the characters, only in moving them around the special effects.  But we get just enough human dimension that we can see them as a family, we care what happens to them.  They come to us as individuals, not just a group of arranged actors.

What happens when their home is invaded by spirits from beyond is not all that surprising, but what is surprising is their reaction to it.  They are as befuddled as we would be.  No one is really sure what has taken Carol Anne away or where it has taken her, but they know that she is in a nearby dimension and can communicate with them through the same snowy TV pattern that she was communicating with.

How to get her back?  Well, they don’t know exactly, so they call in a trio of paranormal investigators with time on their hands who bring all kinds of impressive looking electronic equipment into their home to help solve the mystery.  To our relief, they are just as befuddled as the family.  So, they then have to call in an expert of their own, a psychic medium named Tangina whose entrance steals the show.

You appreciate the human interaction here.  That’s what makes Spielberg’s productions special.  That’s why we loved the three men in Jaws.  That’s why we loved the lineman in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  That’s why we loved Indiana Jones.  They’re give a human dimension just enough that we can put ourselves in their shoes.

Of course, this is a special effects movie and the special effects are quite good, although the movie never really satisfactorily explains where Carol Anne went and how and why it has taken her to another dimension. There’s an impressive-sounding explanation but when you break it down, it doesn’t tell you much.  But that doesn’t dimmish the experience.  This is a good, fun, scary, summer roller-coaster ride, the kind that Spielberg makes so well.  In many ways, this film is a rebuke of the trashy hit Amityville Horror which didn’t have a pot to piss it or a window to throw it out of.  This movie cures the ills that that movie couldn’t touch.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1982) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized