Saturday, November 8, 2008

Poltergeist (1982)

Directed by:
Tobe Hooper

Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams are a happily married couple who move into a seemingly harmless new suburban house with their three kids. Since the house was built on top of a cursed Indian graveyard, all kinds of strange and horrifying things begin to happen. When the furniture starts to move, a possessed tree and clown doll attack, corpses turn up in the swimming pool and cherubic young daughter Carol Anne (Heather O'Rourke) starts hearing voices coming from the television set before disappearing inside the television set, it's time to call in the professionals; a bunch of eccentric psychics (including the "endearingly" annoying Zelda Rubinstein) to save the day. Equipped with an enjoyably old-fashioned plot, good special effects and acting and a screenplay that doesn't miss the chance to throw in the occasional bit of comic relief, POLTERGEIST is one of the better haunted house movies from the post-AMITYVILLE HORROR resurgence of such films. Fairly violent at times (we get to see someone claw their apart for the family friendly PG rating!), it's also one that helped lead to the development of the PG-13 rating.

Producer and co-writer Steven Spielberg was rumored to have directed some of the scenes, which was one factor that helped to cripple credited director Tobe Hooper's reputation. It's hard to tell if that's true or not, but this movie is certainly very "Spielbergian" in tone and style. What really ended up crippling his reputation more than anything though were his other big-budget studio films, such as the strange and unsuccessful 'nude alien vampiress' science fiction flick LIFEFORCE (1985) and the badly conceived and delivered remake of INVADERS FROM MARS (1986). In fact, Hooper would never see a box-office success even remotely close to this one ever again. It was followed by two sequels (1986's POLTERGEIST II: THE OTHER SIDE and 1988's POLTERGEIST III) and an unrelated cable TV movie leading up to a syndicated series called Poltergeist: The Legacy. Apparently a remake -ugh- is currently in the works as well. The Jerry Goldsmith score was nominated for an Oscar, as were the visual effects.
Also with Beatrice Straight as a doctor, the late Dominique Dunne as the teen daughter, James Karen as a real estate agent, Virginia Kiser, Martin Casella, Richard Lawson and porn star Sonny Landham, who's seen cleaning a pool. William Vail (from Hooper's original TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE) and Lou Perry (TCM2) also have small roles.

Score: 8 out of 10

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