Directed by Tobe Hooper.
Starring JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson, Dominique Dunn, Oliver Robins, Heather O’ Rourke, Beatrice Straight, and Zelda Rubinstein.
A family finds their seemingly normal home invaded by a malicious demonic entity that kidnaps their young daughter.
After the yesterday’s arthouse fare lets change gears, grab some popcorn and strap ourselves in for good old fashioned blockbuster horror fun. Produced and co-written by Steven Spielberg and directed by Texas Chainsaw creator Tobe Hooper comes the spectacular horror classic Poltergeist.
Poltergeist, a bit like The Blair Witch Project, is a horror film that I have some history with. It’s one that I remember staying up late one night as a child to watch and then coming to regret it when I awoke, screaming, from the inevitable nightmares. Unlike, Blair Witch, which has aged rather poorly and has lost most its ability to scare me, Poltergeist still scares the ever-loving shit out me.
Most horror films would give their right arm for one memorable moment of terror and, let’s face it, one is the most even some of the greats can manage. With the static on the TV, ‘They’re heeeeeere’, the spontaneously stacked chairs, the pissed off brother of Tree Beard, the (real) skeletons in the pool, the echoey ghostly cries of Carol Anne and the roaring skull beast, Poltergeist is a film that is packed to the gills with memorable moment after moment of sheer terror.
Yet despite all of those moments above, there is one moment that never ceases to ruin my underpants. THAT FUCKING CLOWN!! I hate this clown but I also love him, simply because he creates a kind of intense combination of terror and exhilaration that best be described as a horror fueled adrenaline rush. That moment in which we see his snarling grin lurking over the child’s shoulder never ceases to make me cover my eyes in terror, even as I enter my late 20s.
The special effects which bring this supernatural haunting to life are spectacular and still hold up remarkably well by today’s standards. The ghostly hands emerging from the static TV is a particularly spine-tingling moment, with Jerry Goldsmith’s Oscar-nominated score acting as a kind of musical voice of sorts to the spirit, with the brass especially doing the talking. The finale is probably one of the grandest to ever end a horror film as the house seems to come to life and it is royally pissed, throwing people around like rag dolls tossing corpses at cars and causing coffins to erupt from the ground before deciding to implode. This how I wish The Amityville Horror would have ended.
The acting performances are great throughout with the film being stolen by Zelda Rubinstein’s enigmatic performance as psychic Tangina Barrons, with the actresses hypnotically soft voice managing to command authority while also being a calming presence after so much nerve-shredding terror. I should also give praise to Heather O’Rourke who manages to simultaneously be both adorable and creepy with her utterance of the immortal words ‘they’re heeeeeeeere’.
I suppose we should address the big elephant hanging over this film; who actually directed Poltergeist? Many have argued that despite Tobe Hooper being credited, it is Steven Spielberg who deserves most of the credit being that he co-wrote the film from his original story and produced it, only giving up the directors chair due to a contractual obligation regarding his work on ET.
This argument is also aided with the film by the film beginning and ending with an eye-catching “A Steven Spielberg Production” title card which one would think leaves leave little doubt. However, many involved with the film has said that it was Hooper called most of the shots with Spielberg on set in an advisory capacity as a kind of unofficial co-director.
This is the argument that appears to ring the most true with the film looking and feeling very much like someone took the best qualities of both directors, Spielberg’s gift for creating spectacle (such as the special effects-heavy finale) and Hooper’s gift for creating terror (the face peeling, the skeletons in the pool and the clown) and blended them to create a horror masterpiece.
Regardless of who the real director is, Poltergeist is still one of the best horror films ever made with Hooper and Spielberg working in tandem to create a terrifying blend of spectacle and scares that will leave you terrified and exhilarated. This is one film that is essential viewing for horror fans everywhere.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★