Horror films have gone far and wide, in terms of innovation and development, since the 80s; and to compare Tobe Hooper’s POLTERGEIST (1982) with more recent ghost films – say for example – THE CONJURING (2013) is like comparing Susan Hill’s WOMAN IN BLACK with Meyer’s trashy TWILIGHT series. Though from a 2016 perspective, Hooper’s 1982 ghost film would seem like a usual walk in the park, one cannot deny that its realization made it classic.
Strange and creepy things trouble the Freelings in their new home in California. It started when ghosts make their presence known through the television set. At first, the entities were friendly and playful, but eventually, the spirits turn unexpectedly menacing. Suddenly, the family’s youngest daughter, Carol Anne, went missing. Now, Steve and Diane will need more than just their neighbours’ help to get their daughter back.
Hooper is known for his depressingly savage direction in THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974), and it is normal to expect the same horror in POLTERGEIST. However, with Stephen Spielberg on the team, the film manages to marry a blend of terror and delight for a family horror. Though Spielberg’s magic in presenting less distressing terror is evident throughout the narrative, we still see Hooper’s creative imagination in imposing mindless gore and outrageous theatricalism. And this is not a bad thing. As a matter fact, it makes the viewing experience ghastly, yet surprisingly watchable.
Yes, for a new viewer, this film may look like an amateurish independent attempt to make a horror flick. But understand that this is was an 80s blockbuster film and the outrageous stunts and sequences are but a thing during its time. Who knows, the surprises might still give you that jump that you’re waiting for.
What makes this film ultimately great is its heart. Within its horror, screenwriter Spielberg, Michael Grais and Mark Victor manage to integrate domestic issues. Take for example the scene where the medium, Tangina Barrons, asked who between Steve and Diane do Carol Anne considers more frightening. Amidst a chaotic scene, husband and wife argue as to whom. It is laughable, yet wonderfully true.
Heather O’ Rourke plays Carol Anne. She was 6 years old at that time, and she is still magical on the screen. Her depth, intelligence and honesty make watching this film worth your time. And did I mention Rubinstein’s Tangina Barrons? Barrons’ minute blocks and control give more than just what’s on the screen.
See it for yourself.
4.5 STARS OUT OF 5