When I was a kid I watched a lot of movies, I still do, but as a kid television and movies were a major part of my life. They were an escape from my life. My childhood wasn’t great, in fact like many of us, it was downright miserable at times. Movies and television allowed me to escape that. It allowed me to go places outside of my reality. (Books, music and Video Games would later end up in that mix but that’s not what this is about.)
There were key movies in my life that helped to make me who I am today. Movies that I have loved from the moment the opening credit rolled and still love now. This blog series is about those, My guilty pleasures, my favorites, my escapes. Some were very popular, others not so much. Some of these will have some real life take-aways, others are just for fun.
Today we discuss a film that continues to frighten families to this very day, this is Poltergeist.
Today’s Key Movie:
Producer Steven Spielberg and Director Tobe Hooper combine their magic in the horror realm by exploring the nightmare of a haunted house and the family that is affected by the army of angry ghosts.
The story is simple, the Freeling family have moved into a small planned community in a California Suburb. Unknown to them their new home was built on a former cemetery. Attaching themselves to a young girl, Carol Anne (played by Heather O’Rourke), the ghosts wreck havoc on the family with no end in sight.
Why this movie?
You have to understand that, while Toby Hooper had already started making his name in horror, at the time this film released, Producer Steven Spielberg had yet to become the household name he is today. So, when this film was released, people went nuts. Literally everyone was talking about it and, even though I was too young to see it in the theaters, the moment it was available to rent on VHS, my parents ensured it was playing on our television.
To say this film scared me as a kid would be an understatement. Not only did this film scare my young self half to death but, honestly, I think this could be one of the films responsible for my morbid interest in the paranormal and horror in general. While I was scared, the interesting thing was that I was also intrigued and found myself obsessed with this film. In the years following up to the sequel, which I will discuss later, I had to have watched this film over a few dozen times, each time finding myself more frightened and more intrigued than ever before.
Needless to say, this film is certainly one of my all time favorites and remains so to this day.
You like it, but is it really a ‘good’ movie?
Director Toby Hooper wastes absolutely no time getting the film going. Literally from the opening moments we are introduced to what will quickly become a nightmare no one will ever forget. While it is clear that Spielberg has his DNA all over the film, including a writing and producing credit, this is a Hooper film through and through. Having already proven himself with the iconic Texas Chainsaw Massacre and of course the Stephen King film Salem’s Lot, it was no surprise that Spielberg saw that this man had what it took to bring the soon to be famous director’s story to life. Hooper has a way of really getting under your skin with his films and this one goes well into your very soul. One aspect that Hooper excels at in this film as well is setting up subtle hints of what is to come throughout the film. From placement of certain toys to even some of the early supernatural events there are key easter eggs throughout the film that, when you go back and watch it, you start to notice that they have told you everything from the very start. By doing this, it almost forms a subconscious connection with the viewer making everything seem that much more familiar and realistic than you would expect.
To say the cast is tremendous is an understatement. Absolutely everyone involved is at the top of their game from Craig T Nelson as Steven Freeling, Heather O’Rourke as the famous Carol Anne to even the unnamed side characters. Hooper finds a way to make every single person in the film pull together creating a genuinely realistic world for this fantastic horror to exist in. It is that genuine reality that makes this film so frightening as even after the film is over, you find yourself wondering if such an event could happen to you.
One outstanding member of the cast is, of course, Zelda Rubinstein in the role of Medium and paranormal expert Tangina Barrons. While she is only introduced to family late in the narrative, her role is a pivotal turning point that has since cemented her character into the annals of horror films. In many ways, she is just as strange and frightening as the poltergeist itself giving her a unique position that creates a balance between the nightmare world of the spirits and the human world of the cursed family. To this day every time someone talks about trying to fight a haunting or a poltergeist, it is Zelda/Tangina that comes to mind.
In addition to the tremendous acting, one aspect that really makes this film shine is the special effects. In a time well before the common use of CGI, Toby, Spielberg and team utilized the talents of the fairly young Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) team. ILM accomplished these amazing affects through the use of intricate sets and practical effects. To say they pulled off a truly convincing haunting is an understatement and, to be honest, even with today’s level of special effects, even the remake could not live up to this film.
While most of the films Spielberg is involved with use the famed composer John Williams for the score, this was not the case with Poltergeist. Instead, Spielberg and Hooper went with the equally brilliant Jerry Goldsmith. Through his incredible score, Goldsmith manages to keep every moment with the appropriate tone and feel at every turn. Goldsmith has a knack for capturing the tone of every scene whether it is the quite times, the humorous moments or the nightmarish ending, each theme is presented in a tremendous fashion giving Poltergeist an incredible driving force.
All in all, this is a must see for any fan of horror or film in general. It is an extremely well paced and plotted film that not only manages to avoid the overuse of the now cliched ‘jump scares’ but is also able to get under your skin in every way possible. While some of the aspects in the film may need explaining to today’s generation, static on a television for one,with this film you will find yourself believing that the Freely Family could in fact be your own family.
If you like horror, if you enjoy incredible special effects, or if you just really enjoy a great narrative, this film is one that I can wholeheartedly recommend.
One interesting thing to note is that there is a speculation as to whether this film franchise is cursed or not. Ironically several of the primary cast, including Heather O’Rourke and Dominique Dunne, passed away rather suddenly withing a short time of being involved with the franchise. While this could have been nothing more than a coincidence, it is still a frightening prospect that, in their attempt to tell a dark story of a haunted family, Hooper and Spielberg may have indeed woken something that should have remained asleep.
OK, where do I get this movie?
This is one that I doubt will ever go out of print. I highly recommend the bluray edition as it looks tremendous on in hi definition with the practical effects looking better than ever. Until you grab your copy, check out the trailer, if that doesn’t convince you, nothing will.
Interestingly, while it was never intended to have a sequel, this film does set up the sequel with the mention of ‘the Beast’. We will talk about that film next week.
Late To The Game 6/11/2020
If you would like to read more reviews please check out the rest of the Key Movies Of My Life that comes out every Thursday.
For more retro TV goodness check out the rest of the Retro TV Reviews here. and, If you dig Music, I have a semi regular series called Stand Out Albums that covers some of my favorite records I have come across in life.
As always, please feel free to comment below and share your experiences with these episodes as well. If you just happened by, tell me what you think! Don’t Forget To Follow me if you like the blog!