Genre: Horror, Supernatural.
Starring: Craig T Nelson, JoBeth Williams, Heather O’Rourke, Dominique Dunn, Oliver Robins, Zelda Rubinstein, Beatrice Straight.
Year Of Release: 1982
Certificate: 15 (UK)/PG-13 (US)
Runtime: 114 Minutes
Director: Tobe Hooper
Synopsis: “A family’s home is haunted by a host of ghosts.” IMDB
Picture this, you’re five and its late at night, way past your bed time. You are wide awake and decide to creep downstairs. Naughtily, you switch on the TV and instinctively press play on the video recorder. The living room flickers with light from the (now archaic) huge convex screened CRT TV, and opens to a scene that starts with a reverse more here – denpharma camera shot from a not dissimilar TV to the one you are transfixed to. Accompanying is the American National anthem into a (very 80’s) living room then a slow and low tour the house and a look at each resident as they sleep. All seen as we follow the family dog like some kind of furry tour guide.
As we see an angelic little girl lying in bed awake the musical score starts. Slow sinister strings from the soundtrack tell us that this is not going to be a happy experience but it holds a slightly playful edge, something almost enticing. The girl walks downstairs and starts talking to white noise in the TV set. At this young age I had no concept of horror in film. Although I used to stand in the video shop with my father and dare myself to look at the frightening covers of movies such as Frightnight and House, I still remained innocent. I was gripped by the new feel of this movie and it was certainly different to my diet of Thundercats and He-Man. I watched, eyes wide and with shallow breaths. Little did I know the following ninety minutes would terrify me for life.
Poltergeist (1982) carries such an air of Spielberg that it is unsurprising to discover he is both writer and producer. The plot, a nuclear family relocate to a new build property development. After a few unexplained events along with the youngest daughter Carol Anne (a brilliantly sweet performance by the late Heather O’Rourke) talking to the TV and at random, to thin air. The scares really begin to come fast as the little family unit falls into turmoil when Carol Anne goes missing and seems to be trapped in some kind of purgatory between life and death. There are some fantastic set pieces, a killer tree, decomposed cadavers even a particularly horrifying clown under the bed scene all help move along the plot that feels similar to a fairground ride. It cranks you up to the top and releases a scare only to start another tense slow build crescendo of anticipation for the next. All the while it remains playful and not as bleak as you would expect.
Directed by Tobe Hooper, who previously brought us The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). Poltergeist is far more accessible and intimate. The development of the main characters has us empathising early. The children and their relationship with their on screen parents are incredibly real and natural. The parents themselves played by JoBeth Williams and Craig T Nelson are extremely believable as husband and wife and joint heads of the family. The interaction between the couple in the first five minutes is playful and loving, immediately warm and familiar to the viewer. These little touches really add to the overall impact of the film and although some of the special effects have aged (face melt scene I’m talking about you) the movie still manages to feel fresh and current. Many, many of the horror films released today owe an awful lot to Poltergeist. The first Insidious movie is almost a carbon copy and a lot of the home haunting horrors borrow heartily from this bench mark in the genre.
In a remote controlled world of digital effects and binary code I would urge if you haven’t already to look this up and give it a watch. The recent remake made more apparent the untouchable legacy of the original by being godawful. This offers all you need form a horror and more. Great story, good performances, a killer score and most of all it has a big heart.