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Poltergeist

What She said:

She

The 1982 horror thriller Poltergeist is well-known as one of the classics of the genre.  It boasts a fairly simple storyline, but manages to play on our natural tendencies to fear dark closets, clown toys, and anything lurking under the bed.  And there are some spooky ghosts who have very, very ill intentions.  Despite dated special effects, the film still manages to entertain while also delivering some chills.

The film tells the story of Steven and Diane Freeling and family.  They are your classic all-American family.  Dad is a successful real estate developer who works for the same company who built the Cuesta Verde neighborhood in which their own large home is located.  In fact, Steven does a lot of sales to future neighbors, convincing them to sign up for the same cookie-cutter home that his own family resides in.  Wife Diane is a stay-at-home mom.  Yes, this movie was filmed during a time when those actually existed.  She cares for the three Freeling children--son, Robbie, and daughters, Dana and Carol Anne.

Poltergeist

Youngest daughter Carol Anne shocks everyone one night when she starts talking to the household television.  As if that's not weird enough, she concludes the conversation by announcing, "They're here!"  And that's the point at which the crap hits the fan for the family.  Strange things start happening around the house.  They start small--chairs moving, spoons bending, things flying around--but before too long the ghostly presence in the Freeling household abducts Carol Anne, trapping her inside their television set.

The Freelings bring in some paranormal experts (don't ask me how they found them...1-800-4GH-OSTS?).  The group determines that the family is experiencing a poltergeist intrusion.  And we're not just talking about one ghost.  Oh no, there are several involved with this case.

The two remaining Freeling children are sent away, and paranormal medium Tangina Barrons is brought into the home to help.  She performs some sort of crazy ritual, opening a portal to the other realm, and helping the family to retrieve Carol Anne.  It's a success, and Tangina announces the house has been cleansed.  You know, that infamous line that Jim Carey resurrected so poignantly as Ace Ventura.

The Freelings decide to sell and move on anyway, but on their last night in the home, the demonic presence returns and attacks Diane, Robbie, and Carol Anne.  The group barely escapes, and when they emerge they find coffins and corpses rising from the ground.  It is revealed that Steven's boss had built the neighborhood on a cemetery.  Out of concern only for money and time, the company removed the headstones but left the bodies, hence all the evil presence.

Poltergeist

And there you have it.  It's a pretty classic tale, with all the right plot twists.  The characters are about what you would expect from a horror film--naive, a little stupid, and entertainingly frantic.  Patriarch Steven is played by a younger Craig T. Nelson and Diane is acted by JoBeth Williams.  Both are solid and convincing as concerned and terrified parents.  The children are a little hit or miss with their acting skills, but are effective enough.  My favorite character is, of course, the medium Tangina, played by Zelda Rubinstein.  She just has a real screen presence, and the character is iconic.  She has a true oddness to her.

You have to forgive the fact that this movie was made in 1982.  Sadly, it feels like it, from the clothes our characters wear to the film's special effects, if you can call them that.  Ghosts are depicted through superimposed animation, and there appear to be some puppets at times.  But while it does scream '80s, it also has a fun and campy feeling. 

The story, while simple, is solid, and it's brought to life in a very clean and effective way.  Nothing is overdone here, which can sometimes happen in paranormal films.  This is just straightforward horror thrills.  That said, I've never found this particular movie to be all that scary.  It's got some choice moments that freak me out a little--I've never liked toy clowns, and I found the scene where the dude's face melts off unsettling (who wouldn't?)--but overall this isn't the type of movie that'll give me nightmares. 

A solid Halloween horror movie classic.

Thumbs up.

 

Poltergeist

 

What He said:

He

I’ve wanted to watch this one for a while now. We never managed to squeeze it in during the Halloween season for some reason. It’s stupid because I can and do watch horror movies other than during Halloween, but we do amp up our viewings of the genre during this season, and this one never made it to our list. So recently, while on vacation and with some extra time at night, we picked this out from the video library of the place we were staying.

Poltergeist

Steven Freeling (Craig T. Nelson) is a very successful real estate agent with the average American family. He lives in the community his firm built and continues to sells homes there, as well as plan future developments. His wife, Diane, likes to smoke a doobie and get silly once and a while, but other than that she’s a pretty normal wife and mother.  There are hints that their oldest daughter Dana (Dominique Dunn)takes after her mom and likes to party. The two younger children, Robbie (Oliver Robbins) and Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke) are regular kids – for the most part. They like to play, watch TV, and do all the stuff most kids like to do.
Carol Anne differs from the rest her family in one major way though. There’s uniqueness to her. An x-factor if you will. Her “life force”, soul, or whatever you want to call it is stronger than the average person’s. There is something about it that attracts the undead to her. Spirits of those who have passed away, but not crossed over into the next life are drawn to her. Because of this, an extremely evil and malevolent sprit uses this trait to fool other spirits, whom I’m guessing he draws power from, into staying in this limbo rather than crossing over. The more spirits he collects, the more powerful he seems to get; which results in more horrifying acts happening around the house.

Poltergeist

See, when this ghosts first made themselves known to Diane (JoBeth Williams) and Carol Anne one day while the rest of the family was out at work/school, it was harmless stuff. They moved things around the house, stacked chairs, and other simple little tricks. But as time goes on and this evil spirit becomes more powerful, really bad stuff starts to happen. Inanimate objects come to life and attack members of the family. People start to see things that aren’t there too. It even tries to take the younger kids into this “limbo” where he and the rest of the spirits live.

This prompts the Freelings to go to the local university to seek out some paranormal investigators. I thought this was kind of amusing, because they do the same thing in Ghostbusters too and apparently in the movies colleges and universities are just loaded with paranormal investigators.  The group is led by Dr. Lesh (Beatrice Straight). Other than confirm the fact that the Freelings are indeed being haunted, there’s not much they can do. This is above Dr. Lesh’s pay grade.

She brings in a woman named Tangina. There’s your first clue. Nobody in the world is actually named Tangina. She (Zelda Rubenstein) is medium who has the ability to communicate with and cast out unwanted spirits. She is this tiny and quirky little woman with a funny voice. These are clues two, three, and four that this woman is all kinds of odd. Don’t get me wrong, she’s hilarious and entertaining, but she fascinating little oddball. It’s probably the fact that she’s practically a little person and has a funny little voice to go along with it, but there is a charisma factor here that cannot be denied. Watching her in this movie is flat out entertaining.  So anyway, Tangina comes in and attempts to “cleanse” the house of these spirits, particularly the evil ones. It’s not as easy as it sounds and a lot of crazy shit happens.

Poltergeist

I think this movie is simply awesome. I have always liked this movie, but have really come to enjoy it in the last several years. It’s creepy as hell. The visuals might look dated, but they still totally work for me. I love the portrayal of the supernatural world in this movie. It’s PG-13 and you might think that means it’s a little like in the scares/tension department, but this movie brings it. It’s also got just enough laughs. It’s a mostly scary movie, but there are some pretty amusing moments throughout it. It’s also a really nicely acted movie. You really get to know and care for the Freelings, as they are going through this harrowing experience. I don’t know if ghosts are real. I never saw one, but know a lot of people claim to have experiences with beings from another plane of existence. I’m not here to argue for or against their existence. What I am saying is that if something like this did actually happen, I can’t imagine how terrifying and stressful it would have to be. This isn’t exactly the kind of thing you can go to the police with. You tell them and they hang up on you if you are lucky. If you aren’t, they throw you in a mental institution. In addition to having to put up with terrible creatures from the afterlife, I can’t imagine having to explain why you look like hell or are calling out of work to your employer. You really feel for these characters. This is a damn good movie.

Rating: Thumbs up.

This movie review was written for your reading pleasure on October 25, 2014.

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