Director: Tobey Hooper (Steven Spielberg…shhhhh)
IMDB Link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0084516/
Possibly my favorite ghost movie ever, Poltergeist is near and dear to my heart because I was basically the age of the son, Robbie (Oliver Robbins), and his bedroom looked very similar to mine (including all the Star Wars swag).
The story is of a suburban California family who find their house suddenly inhabited by invisible ghosts. At first the ghosts seem friendly, mostly speaking through the television, but during a massive thunderstorm, the spirits attack Robbie and suck little Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke) into the netherworld. The kids’ bedroom becomes a whirlwind of telekinetic activity, and the family locks it off while they try to find a way to recover the lost child.
A group of parapsychologists attempt to investigate the house and discover a doorway out of the spirit realm in the living room. They also capture video of dozens of spirits wandering through the house after a terrifying nighttime encounter. The leader of the ghost hunters calls in psychic Tangina Barrens (Zelda Rubenstein) who proposes going in after Carol Anne. Diane Freeling (JoBeth Williams), Carol Anne’s mother, passes through the portal in the closet of the childrens’ room, and using Carol Anne as a beacon, Tangina manages to free most of the spirits in the house. Diane and Carol Anne are pulled through the living room portal.
Thinking the house is “clean,” Tangina leaves. The Freelings prepare to move out, the house filled with too many bad memories, but before they can escape, the “Beast” (discovered to be the spirit of an insane preacher in the sequel) makes another attempt to capture Carol Anne. The Freelings then discover that the developer, Mr. Teague (James Karen, who later appeared in Return of the Living Dead), built the house over a cemetery and while he moved the headstones, he left the bodies in the ground.
As the Freelings make a mad escape, the house literally implodes (a very impressive visual created by sucking a balsa wood mock-up through an industrial vacuum cleaner) into the spirit world. The Freelings dodge exploding manhole covers and fire hydrants and eventually arrive at a hotel, where father Steve (Craig T. Nelson) shoves the TV outside.
There is a great deal of controversy about who really directed this movie. Technically, Tobey Hooper (of Texas Chainsaw Massacre fame) is credited as the director, and Steven Spielberg is the executive producer. However, it’s pretty clear that Spielberg, not Hooper, was really in charge. Spielberg couldn’t take a directing credit, however, because he was contractually obligated not to while filming hit monumental hit, E.T., which premiered almost simultaneously. The movie has a definite Spielberg feel, from the camera shots to the music cues.
The story is simple and the movie focuses more on the characters than on the effects. While there are some awesome effects shots for the time, they are reserved for very dramatic moments and not over used. The characters feel alive and real, a testament to both the director (wink wink) and the cast. The simple “they’re here” line instantly seared into the mind of watchers, remaining a classic horror line to this day.
One minor issue I have is the infamous “jump cut” which occurs after Diane shows Steven the moving chairs in the kitchen. The scene jarringly jumps to the Freelings outside their neighbor’s door. Why this strange cut occurs is beyond me, and so far there has been no light shed as to why it happens. Some people even seem to recall the scene being longer and believe that the movie was cut when it was released on VHS and television, but no original print with the scene intact exists. Additionally, there is scripting that went in that jump, and it may have been cut for language purposes.
There is an effort underway to remake this classic movie, and I’m not sure that’s a good idea. The movie was, basically, perfect the way it is, and it certainly does not need remade. Additionally, without the Spielberg touch, the movie could end up just another generic ghost movie.
My recommendation is to get a copy of this movie. There is a great restored anniversary edition that can be found on both DVD and Blu-Ray.