Story by Steven Spielberg, Produced by Steven Spielberg, Effects by Industrial Light & Magic/Lucasfilms . . . how could this movie not be a hit? And it managed to send a chill up the spine with no gore, no monsters . . . just two simple words . . . “They’re here”
The Freelings are just like any other American suburban family. But one night the youngest child, Carol Anne, hears a voice from inside the television set.
At first there is an invasion of friendly spirits, but then a terrifying force of evil threatens to destroy the house and carry off the children into an unseen netherworld.
Spielberg and director Tobe Hooper became embroiled in a terrible shit-fight over credit, but at least we found out why our parents always warned us about sitting too close to the TV.
Copious movie magic and southern California family dynamics aside, Poltergeist proves far more terrifying than most of Spielberg’s projects.
This swings the see-saw of credit back to Hooper, who knows a thing or two about scaring audiences out of their wits (exhibit 1: Texas Chainsaw Massacre).
What begins as a wondrous encounter with the supernatural soon turns horrific, as the spooks manifest themselves in increasingly nasty ways (and via increasingly elaborate special effects).
Skeletons start bobbing in the swimming pool, a boy is eaten by a tree and a paranormal investigator tears off his own face.
While anyone would be forgiven for asking why the family doesn’t just pack their bags and leave, Hooper keeps the shocks and surprises coming at such a deviously steady pace that common sense plays second fiddle here to suspense and outright horror.
Eerily, two of the actors who played the Freeling family died prematurely: Dominique Dunne (Dana) was murdered by her boyfriend less than six months after the film came out, and Heather O’Rourke (Carol Anne) died during surgery for intestinal stenosis when she was just 12-years-old shortly after filming.
Julian Beck (Reverend Kane) and Will Sampson (Taylor) who were in Poltergeist II (1986), died soon after – Beck of stomach cancer and Sampson of scleroderma.
So did Tobe Hooper’s career . . .
Craig T Nelson
Carol Anne Freeling