Poltergeist (Tobe Hooper, 1982, USA)

  Poltergeist is a fun thrill-ride of a film, mixing genuine shock and horror with childhood nostalgia and Spielberg’s trademark sentimentality. While I wouldn’t list the film among the pantheon of the greatest horror films ever, it is nevertheless an interesting and ambitious film made with great craft. While Hooper is listed as the director of the film, most people aware of the film’s production recognize Spielberg as the true creative force behind the film. The film bares many of the director’s trademarks, from its suburban setting, to the film’s focus on the dynamic of an average family. The film is in some ways a companion piece to Spielberg’s own E.T., which came out the same year, and also has a number of similarities with Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

While Poltergeist is “kid-friendly” at its core, there are genuinely disturbing and gross scenes throughout, including the noteworthy haunted pool scene, as well as scenes of a man’s face disintegrating. There is also a creepy clown doll - Rob Ager has done an excellent video on the subliminal techniques used to make this doll creepier.

Spielberg’s script also takes a look at the suburbs with a critical lens. The Freeling father is involved in real estate development and making good money on it. It is revealed over the course of the film that the idyllic planned community of Cuesta Verde is built on a graveyard. The headstones were moved but the bodies remained. Spielberg cast the film with largely unknowns, which no doubt adds to the sense of “normalcy” - we are supposed to identify with the Freelings as if they were our own neighbors.

While Poltergeist descends into silliness as the film progresses, the film remains enjoyable and worth exploring. Zelda Rubinstein as Tangina Barrons is a sight to behold.



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