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The Filmaholic RetroReviews: Poltergeist (1982)

Posted on the 17 October 2013 by Filmaholic Reviews @FilmaholicRvews

The Filmaholic RetroReviews: Poltergeist (1982)

"They're here."

The Lowdown: The original paranormal classic. It’s the precursor to Insidious and every film like it after 1982. Watching it over 30 years later, it still has some of the best and most iconic scenes in any horror film.
1. The Plot: The Freeling family lives a happy existence in Cuesta Verde, a community of new homes. However, Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke), the five-year-old daughter begins to wake up in the middle of the night to voices that she hears from the television static. Soon thereafter, a supernatural presence is felt in the house as objects begin to move by themselves and Carol Anne continues to talk to the unseen things in the TV. However, the paranormal activity grows more and more sinister, and when Carol Anne is taken by the spirits, her family becomes desperate to get her back.
2. The Characters:I don’t know if this was some kind of attempt to make the family portion of the film more cheesy and lighthearted like a Spielberg film (Steven Spielberg was, after all, one of the film’s producers), but I have to say that the characters in this film suffer from the “saying stupid stuff” syndrome that horror movie characters are known for. Most of the dialog in the film is ham-handed, nonsensical, or expository, which makes the scenes in between scares feel like padding. The gags that are played straight-faced are brilliant comic relief. Some of the other gags are borderline creepy, like when the teenage daughter is wooed by a group of perverted construction workers who are at the house building the pool. Why? It’s like an action movie, where the story is just there to fill the gaps in between the explosions and shootouts. Basically, Poltergeist’s script is kind of weak, and none of it is helped by the mediocre and annoying performances all around, especially the eccentric paranormal investigators. Many of the characters have this irritating habit of delayed-reaction syndrome, where after something shocking happens, they have to pause and turn their head slowly, as if it’s supposed to be scary. All it does it hurt the pacing of the film. In Craig T. Nelson’s case, well, he’s about as wooden as he ever was in any film he acted in. In fact, the only great performance in the film is by Heather O’Rourke, who is Carol Anne, the little girl whose utterance of “They’re heeeeere.” became iconic.
3. Special Effects Circa 1982: Poltergeist is laden with special effects that have stood the test of time. Some of the most iconic horror images have come from Poltergeist, such as the famous one where all of the furniture in a room is seen floating and spinning around. Horror films often don’t use a great deal of CGI; makeup seems to be a bigger department. Poltergeistmay be the exception, though some of its CG-laden scenes are quite extraordinary. However, the scenes requiring less CGI and relying more on practical effects and sharp editing, such as the famous chair-stacking scene, are far more shocking and scary.
The Bottom Line: Despite annoying characters and rampant Star Warspromotion (courtesy of executive producer Steven Spielberg), Poltergeist is one of the most influential American horror films ever. It set the standard for so many paranormal activity and haunted house films; if you watch Poltergeist, you can see how much modern films “borrowed” from it. The terrible Dark Skies, for example, shamelessly rips one scene right off of Poltergeist. Still, it’s a horror film worthy of its classic status.
Poltergeist is property of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and SLM Production Group. This review was written by me.
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