Once again we will be inflicted yet another uncalled for remake. For some unfathomable reason studios insist on taking truly great examples of the cinematic arts and watering them down like a good scotch and a rundown bar. Very soon the DVD/Blu-ray Poltergeist (2015) will be released. I thought it would be not only appropriate to revisit the original 1982 version but in this case crucial to my mental health to be reminded how the same themes actually can be formed into a truly great movie. Back when that film was first released in theaters I had a strong indication of how truly exceptional it was before I have even watched it. My wife had gone out with some girlfriends to the movies for a girl’s night out horror flick. My wife is not the type was easily scared or for that matter overly impressed by any special effects. When she returned from the viewing sheet side of the wall me up rapidly talking about a tree eating a boy and a steak forced the countertop. My wife to be so impressed by the film, especially a horror movie, I knew it was something I had to watch. Upon my return the theater my wife had that ‘told you so’ look on her face and I had to agree wholeheartedly that exuberant reaction to the movie was completely justified. I seriously doubt that my wife and her friends would have reacted the same way to remake, but I will reserve my judgment until the screener gets here.
The original film was introduced by Steven Spielberg and the only reason he did not directed himself was a contractual obligation in a conflict with the current project. The task of direction went to events upcoming master of horror, Tobe Hooper. Fans of the genre were already aware of his talent for frightening the audience with his earlier work, ‘The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’. Similar to Spielberg, Mr. Hooper also took on a television project with the miniseries of Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot’. Between Mr. Hooper’s mastery of what frightens people in this to Spielberg’s inherent genius as a storyteller this film had the creative lineage of great potential which thankfully was achieved. There’s always been some speculation that most of the directorial decisions were actually made by Spielberg or at least with Hooper closely collaborating with his producer. The credibility of this hypothesis can be supported by one of Spielberg’s trademark touches, the innocence of childhood as a major driving factor for the story.
Like the other film that Mr. Spielberg was working on at this time, ‘E.T. The Extraterrestrial’, the location was a popular choice for the filmmaker, an American suburban community, Cuesta Verde. It was an example of a very popular form of suburban growth, the planned community. Steven Freeling (Craig T. Nelson) is a real estate developer who lives with his family in the older section while earning a nice living by selling houses in the newer section development. His wife, Diane (JoBeth Williams) is a stay-at-home mom caring for their three children; teenage, Dana (Dominique Dunne), her younger brother, Dana (Dominique Dunne), and the youngest of the siblings, Carol Anne (Heather O'Rourke). Although there will be a number of visually independent resource shocks, the foundation for this are a story is based on frightening the audience by employing a steadily increasing psychological manipulation of the viewers. It all starts almost innocently enough as the parents here the voice of Carol Anne coming from the living room in the middle of the night. Going down to investigate they find a little girl sitting in front of the TV set apparently answering questions that are opposed of her by a voice unheard by anyone else. Making the scene even more eerie is the fact that the television set is not set to receive a channel, only the crackle of electronic ‘snow’ casting a strange flickering light on the room. As they been to pick her up to put it back to bed is a line that became part of popular culture, ‘’ They're here’.
The inexorable psychological hold steadily increases as additional eerie events begin to happen. Glasses break on their own, the silverware bends in the chairs in the kitchen begin to move on their own and even stack themselves in impossibly balanced configurations. It is happening with such regularity that Diane is able to put arrows on the floor and has Carol Anne slide along the floor tell by nothing that is visible. Diane is at least a good mother of sorts since she does have a poor helmet on the child during these demonstrations. The phenomenon is strange and undoubtedly supernatural but at this point is harmless. That is until the nighttime. There’s a tumultuous thunderstorm that fills the sky with flashes of lightning the sinister shaking of the booming thunder. Steven tries to calm his children by having them count the time between lightning and thunder to prove that the storm is moving away from them. That those work to a limited extent but chaos takes over as Robbie is disturbed by the large stuffed clown in the corner of his room seems to leer menacingly at him. Suddenly the branches of the tree just outside Robbie’s window break through reaching into his room grabbing Robbie and pulling him into the tree. Steven just barely manages to extricate his son just in the nick of time. Unfortunately, Carol Anne has been pulled into some extra dimensional space apparently through a portal manifested by the untrimmed television.
Deciding they need professional help the contact a group of parapsychologists from UC Irvine; Dr. Lesh (Beatrice Straight), Ryan (Richard Lawson), and Marty (Martin Casella). Their initial assessment is that they are experiencing a poltergeist, a disturbance of spirits focused on a location not a specific person. It is also likely that there is more than one spirit entity involved. When Steven confronts his boss, Lewis Teague (James Karen) about the bizarre occurrences he is told that the development was built on land that was once a cemetery. As it turns out is cheaper just to move the headstones to dig up and re-interred the remains. A strange portal remains active within their home. They are able to throw a tennis ball into the closet and Carol Anne’s room only to have it appear to fall from the ceiling in the living room, coveting some ectoplasmic slime. Marty was scared off by a steak falling across the kitchen countertop and then exploding maggots. When he looks into a mirror he sees his flesh quaffing off of his face leaving bare-bones and some muscle behind. Dr. Lesh, and relating this to Diane others one of the best lines of the film and complete understatement," Marty will not be coming back." Dana and Robbie are sent to stay with some friends for their own safety. Dr. Lesh recommends to Diane spiritual medium, Tangina Barrons (Zelda Rubinstein), in order to rid the house of the unsettled spirits and retrieve their daughter. With a rope tied around her raced Diane goes to the portal in the bedroom closet disappearing only to reappear moments later clutching her unconscious child. Tangina declares that "this house is clean". They try to get some sleep plans to immediately move the entire family from the house the next morning.
Unfortunately the spirits were only angered at the child being taken away from them in a new attempt to kidnap her manifest in what was to have been the last night in the house. One of the scariest scenes any hollow film when Diane falls into this room pool is surrounded by human skeletons bobbing up and down in the water. There are a couple of pieces of now infamous trivia concerning the scene. As it turned out it was less expensive to purchase real human skeletons than to have plastic ones manufactured. Because of all the electronic equipment around Ms. Williams was reticent about going into the water. She demanded that Spielberg also begin the pool at the same time albeit outside of the camera range. Demonstrating exceptional dedication to his project the filmmaker acquiesced to the actress’s demands.