For me, Poltergeist was one of those movies that used to compel me to sneak into my parent’s bedroom (in my very 80s, very awful, She-Ra pyjamas) to the ‘forbidden’ VHS cupboard just so that I could get a glimpse of that terrifying video cover – you know, that one with the shadows? I was a good girl, so it wasn’t until I was at least 13 that I finally plucked up the courage to seize the moment, defy my Mother, and put that video in the damn player! Curtains drawn, feet up on the sofa, eyes glued to the television, jumping at every ‘house-noise’, terrified that my mother would come home from work before I’d finished watching the movie – it was a tense time for all involved (so, just me then…)
From the playful to the horrific manifestations of your worst nightmares, Poltergeist has a ghost to suit every occasion. Directed by Tobe Hooper and written and co-produced by one Mr Steven Spielberg, this instant classic hit the silver screens back in 1982 and has been terrifying teens for the past three decades.
Set in Cuesta Verde, a very boring, middle-class, identical housing development in California (those sorts of places really creep me out), the story focuses on the Freeling family, a completely average, stereotypical family, nothing at all like the sort you would expect to have such nasty goings on at home (well…at least not in the 80s). Steve and Diane Freeling (Craig T. Nelson and Jobeth Williams) are happily married and financially comfortable, with three children to call their very own. Their eldest is teen Dana (Dominique Dunne), followed by pre-teen son Robbie (Oliver Robins) and finally we have little Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke), who is just 10 years old.
It isn’t long before things start getting weird, but to my delight, and Diane’s apparently, the family is quite amused by the fact that she can get the ghost/s to move bits of furniture around. I, for one, would not be laughing my head off if my kitchen chair was sliding up and down the kitchen willy nilly. The fun and games soon lose their charm when Carol Anne gets sucked into the television set and a barrage of ‘shadows’ come flying out in her place. (You can be sure no kid sat near to or touched their TV for a good while after seeing that).
When things get too much and toys start flying around the children’s bedroom in a tornado, the Freelings decide it is time to bring in the services of psychologist Dr Lesh (Beatrice Straight), who calls for the help of the weird and wonderful parapsychologist Tangina (Zelda Rubinstein) in order to retrieve the Freeling’s beloved daughter.
Poltergeist, though its plot is simple, is effective, intelligent and highly enjoyable. It has all the charm of an 80s horror, the brilliant of a Spielberg production and all the scares of a good ghost story – let us scarcely even mention that horrifying clown, which haunted my nightmares for the remainder of my teens years.
The camera work and lighting come together to create the perfect eerie atmosphere (very Carpenter indeed) and whilst some parts of the film do make me chuckle (I’m sure not all of them were meant to), I get a chill down my spine every time I watch it.
The acting of the cast as a whole is superb and just a touch hammy which always does well with me, but Tangina, played by the delightful Zelda Rubinstein, is my absolute favourite. She is witty, amusing and absolutely bonkers, yet still directly provides a few of the film’s core scares.
As a firm fan of retro horror, Poltergeist ticks all my boxes, and whilst it is a far cry from the likes of the super jumpy and slightly try-too-hard Paranormal Activitys of modern day, I recommend that all fans of supernatural horror give this one a go, if they haven’t already – you will enjoy it.