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Overall Rating
4.35

Awesome63.64%
Worth A Look: 19.48%
Average: 9.09%
Pretty Bad: 3.9%
Total Crap: 3.9%

2 reviews, 65 user ratings



Poltergeist (1982)
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by Mel Valentin

"Be afraid, be very afraid...of being sucked into your TV."
5 stars

In less than a decade, Steven Spielberg directed the all-time, highest grossing film, "Jaws," before his 30th birthday ("Star Wars" took the title only two years later), had become a household brand name. His name, either as director or, with increasing frequency, as producer, guaranteed a combination of classical storytelling and modern sensibilities (usually of the pop-culture kind). Drawing like-minded collaborators around him, Spielberg directed crowd-pleasing, critically acclaimed, beginning with "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" in 1977, a deeply personal, passion project, "Raiders of the Lost Ark" four years later, Spielberg’s first direct collaboration with George Lucas (the less said about "1941," an action-comedy that failed commercially and critically, the happier Spielberg will be), and just a year later, double-mainstream success with "E.T: The Extraterrestrial," once again making Spielberg box-office champ, and "Poltergeist," a family-friendly take on the haunted house horror sub-genre.

Poltergeist centers on the Freeling family, the epitome, in Spielberg’s telling, of the all-American (read: Caucasian) family, Steve (Craig T. Nelson), the patriarch and breadwinner, Diane (JoBeth Williams), the housewife and homemaker, Dana (Dominique Dunne), their teenage daughter, Robbie (Oliver Robbins), their preteen son, and Carol Anne (Heather O'Rourke), the youngest member of the family. Due to her innocence and purity (i.e., blonde hair, pale skin), Carol Anne serves as the locus for the strange, supernatural happenings that threaten the Freelings’ domestic bliss. Everything changes (hello first act climax) when the Freelings’ soul- and body-sucking TV kidnaps Carol Anne into a nether dimension, a dimension between heaven and earth where something dark, evil, and twisted dwells (called the “Beast” here, but ret-conned into a corrupt, cult-like preacher in the sequel).

The Freelings represent the shinning example of Reagan’s America(Steve’s even shown reading a Reagan biography). Thanks to Steve’s talent and skill in selling the American Dream, a dream he and has family have uncritically adopted as their own, the Freelings live in suburban comfort. There’s more than enough room for everyone even if, as here, each room seems cluttered with the Freelings overwhelming desire to buy and consume or buy and furnish. With Star Wars-related bed sheets, toys, and posters, Robbie’s marked as a fan of George Lucas’ space opera. The adults in Poltergeist may not share Robbie’s Star Wars obsession, but they’re just as caught up in popular culture, American football for Steve and his male friends and everything for Diane (who keeps the TV on almost constantly). Imagine how the Freelings, transported into the media- and tech-saturated present might react (probably quizzically at first, then the opposite soon thereafter).

In a possible nod to Robert Wise’s classic adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s novel, The Haunting, the Freelings call on a group of paranormal researchers led by Dr. Lesh (Beatrice Straight). Along with her two assistants, Marty (Martin Casella) and Ryan (Richard Lawson), Dr. Lesh tries to uncover the truth behind Carol Anne’s disappearance, but soon finds herself overwhelmed by the malevolent forces inhabiting the Freeling home, ultimately compelling her to bring in a diminutive psychic, Tangina (Zelda Rubinstein), to help the Freelings save Carol Anne from the nether dimension. The scenes that follow and, to be fair, precede, Tangina’s arrival give Spielberg’s visual effects technicians the opportunity to blend practical, on-set effects with then cutting-edge (if still, pr-CG) visual effects, effects that, circa 1982, must have surprised and shocked audiences without really terrifying them.

Those effects ranged from ghostly hauntings, a malevolent tree, to a centerpiece scene involving a gimbal to turn and manipulate Carol Anne’s room (possibly, probably inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s centrifuge set for 2001: A Space Odyssey). Almost thirty years later, it’s still an effective scene, mostly because of how real it feels, something contemporary, CG-based, visual effects strive to accomplish, but rarely do. Other scenes subtly work on a more subconscious level. Before the ghost or ghosts show their true nature, an early, lighthearted scene involves a continuous shot, kitchen chairs miraculously rearrange themselves (again, all in one shot). It’s meant to elicit, if not laughs, then smiles, functioning to release tension (this happens before Carol Anne’s disappearance) and putting the audience at ease, the better to scare them later as the tension and suspense ratchets up, finding a final, cathartic release only in the penultimate and last scenes.

In addition to producing, Spielberg received story and co-screenwriting credit for Poltergeist. Committed to directing E.T.: The Extraterrestrial for Universal at the same time, Spielberg handed over directing reins to Tobe Hooper, a filmmaker then (and now) best known for directing The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a low-budget shocker notorious, at least at the time, for graphic, realistic depiction of violence and unrelenting nihilism. On Poltergeist, however, Hooper was just work-for-hire, working with Spielberg’s handpicked crew, directing the screenplay as written, and faithfully followed Spielberg’s storyboards and on-set direction (despite his commitment to E.T., Spielberg regularly visited thePoltergeist set, offering suggestions both to Hooper and the effects teams). With its flat, even lighting, fluid camerawork, and unobtrusive editing, Poltergeist was (and is) a fitting companion to E.T., a film released only a week later.

While Spielberg certainly deserves most of the credit, Hooper deserves some, mostly minor credit for directing "Poltergeist," even if only for setting up shots and directing the actors (a challenge considering the relative ages of the younger Freelings). The success of "Poltergeist," however undeserved, gave Hooper the opportunity to direct a science fiction/horror film, "Lifeforce," notable primarily for its bizarre premise and a very naked female vampire, and a superfluous remake of "Invaders From Mars." Minus the occasional, forgettable stumble, Spielberg, continued directing more box-office hits than any other director working in Hollywood.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=1385&reviewer=402
originally posted: 04/21/11 06:00:55
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User Comments

9/13/17 morris campbell OVERRATED NEVER WAS SCARY IMHO 1 stars
10/13/13 David H. spooky, well-crafted, non-PC creepfest 5 stars
3/23/13 MILT MALKIN Eh. Outdated. Too family friendly to be scary. 2 stars
12/11/12 Mindy Overrated. 1 stars
6/21/11 art A Plethora OF TERROR! 4 stars
5/15/11 stephen nettles ONE OF THE BEST 5 stars
11/01/10 Simon Supremely entertaining. amazing how modern horror still gets it so wrong, w/stuff like this 5 stars
11/22/09 Andoc This is the best ghost film made in modern times, a true masterpiece of its genre 5 stars
5/13/09 Nick Everything about this movie is flawless! Ive seen it about 8 times already! 5 stars
1/30/09 MP Bartley Clearly more Spielberg than Hooper, but gets the balance between scares and thrills perfect 5 stars
10/03/08 Jesse This film is hair raisingly intense and creepy. 5 stars
10/03/08 Dr.Lao Alot of noise, alot of flash, but that's about it 3 stars
8/22/08 PAUL SHORTT SKILFUL AND SCARY 3 stars
6/14/07 Vincent Ebriega If "Poltergeist" wasn't made, no ghost story today would be frightening. 5/5 5 stars
12/05/06 Stephanie I love this movie! I'm almost obsessed with ghosts and extremely obessed with horror films! 5 stars
8/16/06 anthonyuk i absolutely love this film, one of my all time favourites 5 stars
6/08/06 Sugarfoot Very suspenseful horror movie, also eerie coincidences add in some creepiness. 4 stars
12/03/05 cody a cool supernatural ghost story with scary and freaky effects, good acting 4 stars
10/12/05 Tom Burns creepy stuff. check it out. 4 stars
5/10/05 Indrid Cold Good horror/fantasy. Not particularly scary, but the last 30 minutes don't dissapoint. 4 stars
3/14/05 Ronin As a kid I was so scared after seeing this movie that I wished I didn't see it at all 5 stars
2/02/05 ralph a true movie expert 32 yrs old this is argueably the best ever ghost movie 5 stars
8/20/04 Joe Criteser The Freling family is so REAL, and that's why this film works so well. The acting is great! 5 stars
7/01/04 American Slasher Goddess Creepy, great acting and well directed, one of the best modern day haunted house movies. 5 stars
3/09/04 Jenna This movie was two hours of wasted potential. A lot of stupidity. 3 stars
1/23/04 polyana great movie, scared me half to death. tears for heather o'rourkey she was so cute 5 stars
12/10/03 Samuel frightening! its only rated pg, because pg-13 didn't come out till 84' 5 stars
11/30/03 john a bit sappy at times but scarier than you might expect 4 stars
11/18/03 Nikki Jean Theophobia creepy, funny and the most bewildering "when trees attack" sequence 5 stars
8/31/03 DHite Good, although not that scary. Story worked very well 4 stars
7/30/03 Jake Noone sees this film being lame? Why does the mother trust the house to shower at the end? 2 stars
6/02/03 GMan scared the shit out of me...especially the final scene of the house... 5 stars
4/11/03 Andrew Carden Razzle Dazzle Visuals and Superb Performances. Rubenstein Is Chilling As The Psychic. 5 stars
2/07/03 Turtle A totally awesome horror film! One of the best. And Craig T. Nelson is a bonus, too! 5 stars
11/25/02 Charles Tatum Scared me poopless 5 stars
9/29/02 Fuze44 Scarred me as a child. Fear the clown! 5 stars
9/21/02 I Can't Swim Should have been over after "This house is clean" scene 3 stars
6/16/02 R.W. Welch Effectively done supernatural thriller with decent writing. 4 stars
2/20/02 Xaver I walked home from the cinema and was afraid of the trees. 5 stars
1/26/02 murat the movie loses it's control still average it could have been better 3 stars
12/02/01 stoner73 pretty crappy 2 stars
11/12/01 Kenneth E. Carper Best fuckin' haunted house movie ever! And if anyone says any different he's an asshole!!!! 5 stars
10/10/01 Andrew Carden I Loved It FRom Beginning To End, Scary and Chilling. 5 stars
9/23/01 Larry Smith "God is in his holy temple!" ..."Carol Ann!!!!!" 5 stars
9/03/01 I love movies laughably silly and awful, bad acting, bad effects, and no story 1 stars
8/14/01 Der Geist WHAT'S HAPPENING??? To me it's the best what happened in the 80s cinema 5 stars
8/07/01 E-Funk The best of its kind. A masterpiece in every respect, truly frightening and heart-felt. 5 stars
7/31/01 Stewart To me, the best horror film of the '80s. A roller-coaster ride. 5 stars
7/06/01 Genghiz Tanghe pretty tense and cute at parts 4 stars
6/14/01 Gary A great take on childhood paranoia, but there are too many characters & plot loses its way. 3 stars
6/03/01 Erik North Ranks right up there with THE SHINING as the top horror film of the 80s. 5 stars
6/02/01 Wesley Tuttle Scary as Hell 5 stars
5/07/01 Matthew Belanger Everything in the movie was perfectly done, especially the chosen house! 5 stars
3/15/01 Lisa A truly awesome and terrifying classic! Look out for THE TREE! OH GOD THE TREEEEEEE!!!! 5 stars
2/09/01 Dark Sol A must see 5 stars
1/16/01 Karlee Pretty good early 80's horror movie. Great cast, good plot. 4 stars
12/27/00 Turtle Frightfully enjoyable and definitely scary. 4 stars
12/17/00 The Evil Penguin your average horror film 3 stars
4/11/00 the Grinch Heyzeus Christos, people, even Spielberg says Tobe was responsible visually! Givem a break! 5 stars
2/16/00 Kyle Broflovski The best horror movie of all time...DELIVERS THE GOODS!!!! 5 stars
2/10/00 Matthew Bartley Very good and spooky 5 stars
11/11/99 Ralf Behet Manages to deliver. Not a great film, but certainly watchable. 4 stars
7/10/99 Ben Leostein Rating: ***˝ (out of ****) Category: "Very Good" 4 stars
7/04/99 J-Dogg Great film. More Spielberg than Hooper. Hmmmm. 4 stars
11/27/98 Lord Of The Dunce A really ungory horror flick. Suspenseful, good. 4 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  04-Jun-1982 (PG)

UK
  16-Sep-1982 (15)

Australia
  06-Aug-1982 (M)




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