Director: Tobe Hooper Starring: JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson & Heather O’Rourke Synopsis: A family’s home is haunted by a host of ghosts. Rating: 15 Runtime: 114 minutes
Warning: Contains Spoilers!
Poltergeist has some odd distinctions for a horror film. Firstly, no one dies. And secondly, it’s not scary, at all. The film is directed by Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) and is produced by Steven Spielberg, and it is the latter whose fingerprints are all over Poltergeist. The usual Spielberg traits are all there. There’s the nuclear family living in a nice American suburban neighbourhood, with all the mod cons and it all seems very homely. Mom and Dad love each other, and apparently smoke pot before bed. The children bicker, but never really fall out and it’s all very lovely. That is until youngest daughter Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke) receives a message from the other side, and goes about informing everyone “they’re here.”
After the initial set, Poltergeist struggles to find its tone and rhythm. It’s not scary enough to work as a straight horror, yet it’s not funny enough to try to make a mockery of what’s happening in the Freeling household. I’m unsure of what the director and producers were trying to create here, but if you’re not making a scary film, then surely it has to send the genre up in some way? That’s not to say it should be lampooned at all, in a Scary Movie style, but could the film have benefited from a knowing humour at how silly the whole concept seems?
Instead Poltergeist goes for a serious tone, and telling the story in a what if this were real kind of way. The cast plays along with this and help proceedings move along safely and securely. Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams are the pillars of the Freeling household, and who have to find an inner strength they may not know they possessed, in order to free their home from the spirits that have overtaken it, and reclaim their child (Carol Anne) who has been taken over to the other side.
Seeing as Poltergeist tackles things in a very serious manner, you do have to question the intellectual levels of all involved. Why, for instance, do the Freeling family have to enlist the help of several paranormal investigators to confirm the house is haunted? It’s a fact the audience is quick to latch on to, especially after numerous supernatural events occur throughout the house, and seems to be an ill thought out idea.
Despite the stupidity on show here, and I do hate stupidity in horror films, Poltergeist remains a ceaselessly entertaining film, that I often find myself returning to. I enjoy the makeup of the family, especially the way Nelson and Williams commit to their roles. I also enjoy the journey the family, and the audience, take through the film as events go from bad to worse. And in a corny way, I enjoy the special effects. Yes, to a modern viewer they are extremely dated, but the craft and hard work that went into them is clearly on show, and they have a charm that modern CGI fests cannot hope to capture.
I understand that from reading this review, you may think that I have belittled the film, and that I don’t actually like Poltergeist, but in fact it’s quite the opposite. While it lacks genuine scares, and takes itself too seriously, it is nonetheless an entertaining film, where logic is replaced by well crafted set pieces that make up for any other disappointments.
In summary: Poltergeist remains watchable even at 32 years old, and has a sense of enjoyment, despite its flaws.