Poltergeist (1982)

I’m sure if you were to ask a range of people of a certain age which horror films they remember growing up with, Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist will make more than a few appearances. And, if I’m honest, it’s easy to see why…if only because it’s been parodied and referenced in a so many other films and television shows since. Throw in a ‘real life’ curse (look it up. It’s actually kinda cool if you’re into that sort of thing, which of course you probably are, why else would you be here?) and you’ve got yourself a film that’s pretty hard to forget.

So is its fame justified? See, that’s the odd thing; because even though it delivers some moments that have surely gone down in horror-movie-history, as a film – and I’m going to whisper this for fear of asphyxiation from all the people who might jump down my throat – it’s not actually as great as it is made out to be.

But before I go into why, it’s probably best to give a little plot synopsis. The film opens and we meet the typical all-American ‘mom and dad and two-point-four children’ Freeling family; normal, clean-cut and happily middle-class. However, things take a turn for the supernatural when Carol-Anne (the “-point-four” child) starts talking to the television. It seems that she has discovered ‘people’ living in there, and it’s not long before these ‘people’ escape and generally cause mischief and mayhem, eventually kidnapping Carol-Anne and trapping her in their netherworld. It is then up to medium Tangina Barrons (or is she a large? I forget…) to coax Carol-Anne back to her family and away from danger.

Poltergeist seems, very much, to be a film of two halves. This is unsurprising, considering that it was technically directed by two people. Even though Tobe Hooper is credited as being the film’s director, Steven Spielberg had a heavy hand in the film’s direction, too; however, due to his directorial role in E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, a clause in his contract stated he was not allowed to direct any other film simultaneously. As a result, because of the two directors’ specific niches, the film seems a little schizophrenic; jumping between ‘humorous and cutesy’ and ‘pant-wettingly terrifying’ intermittently. Feel free to guess which director is famous for which.
Now normally, a schizophrenic film doesn’t make for comfortable viewing. But of course, this is a horror film, so actually, the dramatic contrast between the first half and the second makes the horror all the more stark in comparison. So fortunately, it all works pretty well.

The trouble I have with the film is that when it’s good, it’s fantastic. When it’s bad, however, it’s pretty dire. There are some moments that, as mentioned before, will justifiably be remembered for a long time to come, but there are some that simply shouldn’t exist in a movie from two directors of such high calibre. The script seems pretty cheesy at times, as well as having one or two plot-holes, and there’s a horrible edit in the middle of the film that actually cuts an actress off halfway through her line (which, coming from a filmmaking background, I find sort of unforgivable). But maybe I’m being overly critical. Certainly, the scares do exactly what they’re supposed to; as do the majority of the actors (Heather O’Rourke especially), the score and the special effects. And most importantly, they do it well so maybe it deserves some of the praise that’s been heaped on it after all. For whatever reason, it will always be a classic.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

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