This House Has Many Hearts: Poltergeist (1982)

Yet another of the many movies I only have brief memories of watching during my childhood and of course I can only remember the parts that scared the living hell out of me, Poltergeist has also managed to cement itself centrally into the greatest horror films of all time, and deservedly so because it is genuinely quite good.  Upon initially watching this film one will find themselves worried that it is not only an incredibly cheesy film, but that the overall plot provides for some characters that are damn near impossible to relate with.  Yet about an hour in the movie shifts tones and appears to begin taking itself quite seriously, resulting in a combination of what can only be describe as high-intensity family drama and special effect heavy horror.  Sure a good bit of the film is dated, between the obvious fake gore and some of the animation based spectral effects, but for as many obvious tricks that are incorporated within Poltergeist, so to are some genuinely amazing tricks, particularly in the sequences involving crossing through to another portal.  While at some point in its production, Steven Spielberg, who while not the director, although he clearly has a heavy hand in helping Tobe Hopper make this film, probably decided that he wanted to give a shot at making the film family friendly, or at least heavily oriented towards a family commentary, however, the grotesque nature of many of the films moments, as well as a few to many drug and sexual references cause the film to be a bit more adult than I think Spielberg intended and the film was famously contested for its initial R rating, eventually earning a PG-13, I am sure the prolific director had to pull a few strings to make that happen, as the documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated Shows, he basically committed the impossible.  Overall, Poltergeist is a film clouded with urban legend and schlocky special effects, but somehow still manages to capture the imaginations of viewers twenty years after its initial release, it is a welcomed reminder that not every horror movies main focus needs to be explicit sexual and violent imagery,  although there is a tad sprinkled into this classic.

Poltergeist centers around the experiences of The Freeling's a family living in a a suburb in what can assumed to be somewhere in the midwest.  The father Steve (Craig T. Nelson) is a realtor in the area and is credited for the boom of sales in the area, his wife Diane (JoBeth Williams) is a stay at home mom who seems far more concerned with her continuing vanity, while their oldest daughter Dana (Dominique Dunn) and son Robbie (Oliver Robbins) prove troublesome with their incorrigible attitudes and undermining demeanors.  It is only their youngest daughter Carol Anne (Heather O'Rourke) who seems to be void of a disobedient bone, yet when she starts acting in an unusual manner by starring into a snow filled television or talking to people who are not around the family becomes worried and this sense of dread is only heightened by the clear occurrence of paranormal activity within the house, whether it be moving chairs or attacking trees.  One night the acts become so intense that Carol Anne is kidnapped into another realm, causing Steve and Diane to seek out help from a parapsychologist team led by one Dr. Lesh (Beatrice Straight) whose own expectations are altered when she quickly realizes that the heightened level of paranormal activity occurring in their home is unlike anything witnessed before, particularly in the ever increasing malevolence of the entities involved.  After a realization that many of the homes in the area were built near burial grounds and the complete psychological breakdown of one of her crew members, Dr. Lesh calls on the help of a renowned paranormal investigator named Tangina (Zelda Rubenstein) who helps to exorcise the ghosts from the house and return Carol Anne to safety.  The Freeling's after this fortunate rescue quickly plan their flight from the suburbs and seem assured in their escape until on the last night Robbie and Carol Anne are yet again attacked.  While trying to save them Diane falls into their unfinished pool ultimately revealing that the land they are living on is indeed on on coffins, the owner of the land was gracious enough to move the headstones, but not the actual corpses.  The end of the film is action packed and thrilling and eventually sees the escape of the family to a motel on the outskirts of town, one in which they remove the television from on their arrival.

One could read into the various commentaries on the decaying suburb ideology in America during the early eighties, which is reemphasized by the character of Steve who is simultaneously depicted rolling a joint and reading a book by then president Ronald Reagan, or the disconnect of a family in the wake of technological advance as is evidenced through each of the children's attachment to some form of electronics, although it can be said that the parents are equally guilty.  However, my favorite and perhaps the most fun reading of the film is the one in which the whole narrative serves as a metaphor for a couple struggling with the loss of a child to what can be assumed either an abortion or a miscarriage.  In the case of this reading it is clearly Carol Anne and both Steve and Diane suffer from its ramifications, going through their actions with a blasé attitude, often ignoring the children they already have, only to become so racked with desire to reunite with the lost child that they are willing to welcome bizarre fantasies into their daily thoughts.  Furthermore, the entire rescue scene plays out like a rebirth of sorts, with the closet to Robbie and Carol Anne's room serving as a womb that Diane must reenter, with the aid of Steve in order to rebirth their child.  The presence of an umbilical-like rope and a severe amount of afterbirth-like blood drive this ultimate metaphor home and the placement of Diane and Carol Anne into water after their rescue is only a greater addition.  Of course this is just one very specific reading of the work and is by no means a certain commentary within the film, but it would be interesting to stack this work in relation to Tobe Hopper's other works, Spielberg aside and see what they collectively say about birth, I know Texas Chainsaw Massacre has a few, at the very least backhanded, comments.

Key Scene:  There are one or two well placed monologues in this film that help completely reset the pace of the film and make the two hour movie seem all to short.

This is a classic of horror cinema and a must own to any one who claims to be a buff of the genre.

No comments:

Post a Comment