Craig T. Nelson
|"Now clear your minds. It knows what scares you. It has from the very beginning. Don't give it any help, it knows too much already."|
|Time: 114 mins.|
Academy Award nominations for Best Sound Effects Editing, Best Visual Effects and Best Score.
I don't know why I'm so drawn to this movie. I'm not generally a big fan of horror movies and yet every time POLTERGEIST comes on television, I'm compelled to watch it even though parts of it scare the dickens out of me. I now know where M. Night Shyamalan got his inspiration for the freaky kitchen cabinet stuff. On the surface, POLTERGEIST is merely a suped-up ghost story, but underneath, it taps into our notions of the afterlife, the existence of ghosts and the fear that toys can kill. We all had that one toy we just had to cover up or the closet door that just had to be closed or we weren't able to sleep. Spielberg is a master at working his way under your skin, and even though he was just the producer, his touch is all over this picture. The movie is a powder keg of emotions, taking you on a roller coaster ride you won't soon forget. Personally, the first instance of paranormal phenomena would have had me out the door, but if they had left right away we wouldn't have a movie.
The plot starts innocently enough, introducing the audience to the Freeling family. The parents Steve and Diane, played by Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams, are hard-working people who have finally realized their dream of a home for their children. Dana (Dunne), Robbie (Robins) and Carol Anne (O'Rourke) are your typical suburban kids who fight constantly, but are generally good-natured. Steve works for the housing office selling other homes in their development. They've lived in their home for over 5 years without a problem. Until one night they wake up to find Carol Anne talking to the television set, which is showing nothing but snow. They think she's just sleepwalking, which is something Diane did as a child. It soon becomes clear, however, that there's something strange going on in the house. They try to keep an open mind, thinking that the occurences are harmless and fun. Unfortunately for them, the ghosts living in the house have a bigger agenda than just moving chairs across the kitchen floor.
These spirits are trapped in a dimension they're not supposed to be in and begin to act out in very frightful ways. While trying to save their son Robbie from being eaten by the tree in their yard, Steve and Diane are unaware that Carol Anne is being sucked into this other dimension (through her evil closet of course). They have no idea where she is until they hear her voice coming out of the TV. From this point on, they are in search of anyone who can help them explain what's happening in their house and can help them retreive their daughter. This is the section of the film where the special effects become really cool. Granted not all of them hold up well, but for the most part they're still pretty scary. In the end, it's a mother's love that saves Carol Ann and brings her back to our reality.
What I find hard to believe is that this family would continue to live in the house after this episode. Who cares about packing your things? You have your lives, you can always buy more stuff. This sort of implausibility is what ruins the ending...that and the silliness of the house coming after them again. If they just slept at a local hotel and packed during the day they would have avoided the whole fighting for your life again scenario. I just hate horror movies where the killer/demon/whatever refuses to die. Granted it makes you jump out of your seat, but that doesn't make it right. For a horror movie, POLTERGEIST is pretty well-written. Scary, but with a lot of heart. The acting is pretty good as well. You have to give this group a lot of credit for making these situations seem completely believable. By the end of the film, you share in their desperation for an end to this unbearable situation. Tobe Hooper does a great job, giving the audience just enough time to catch their breath before the film picks up speed again and again.
What really grips at your heart is the fate of Carol Anne played by Heather O'Rourke. She is just the sweetest, cutest little girl and the fact that she gets sucked up into the television is just horrible. Of course, that's why you don't answer the strange voices you hear in your head. She is really the heart of the film and it's amazing the performance they're able to get out of this 5-year-old. The fact that she died at the age of thirteen makes the movie all the more sad and creepy. This is another film whose reputation was diminished by horrible sequels. If you're looking for a good scare, check out the original. Believe me you'll never look at your closet or the tree outside your bedroom window the same way again.