Remember when you were young and certain things seemed really scary? Sometimes, when you revisit them later you wonder why the hell you were scared of something so foolish. Here are some things that scared me when I was younger that make me wonder what I was thinking: alien abduction terrified me, especially after I saw the t.v. show Sightings, the moonlight glinting off the eyes of my porcelain doll collection, the tree outside my window that looked like a crucified person, and my friend’s bedroom door that had the shape of a face in the wood grain. Wtf, young Scarina? I was also scared by the movie Poltergeist, which I recently rewatched on a whim. I’m so sad that it just didn’t live up to how I remembered it.
Poltergeist is the story of the Freeling family. They live in a quiet suburb and are a typical family until they start to notice paranormal activity that centers around their youngest child, Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke, who died after filming the third movie in the series.)
Carol Anne disappears one night and the family calls on a team of paranormal investigators to find her. This leads to the psychic, Tangina, played by the epically outstanding Zelda Rubinstein, coming to clean their house. Spiritually, that is.
It turns out that the house was built on the remains of a cemetery and the company moved the tombstones but they didn’t move the graves. Oops.
So I’ve decided to divide my review into two parts, what I liked about the movie and what I disliked.
The special effects really didn’t hold up well, with the exception of the muddy pool full of real skeletons. In the iconic “They’re here” scene, Carol Anne is watching the snowy t.v. screen and this cartoonish skeleton ghost hand pops out of the t.v. and stretches across the room, like those rubbery floppy hands that you get from the fifty cent machines at the grocery store. It achieves a jump scare but then looks goofy. I actually giggled, giggled I tells yah. And the scene where Carol Anne’s room is going mental just looked like a Peter Gabriel music video.
The movie lacks a slow-build to the haunting. There isn’t a sense of escalation and this seems like a missed opportunity. While I found the movie to be overlong, not a lot of time elapses between Carol Anne announcing the presence of the ghosts and suddenly the family’s being attacked by an evil ent and there’s a portal coming from a closet. Sometimes, the mundane can be scary. This brings to mind the endless pool-cleaning sequences in Paranormal Activity 2. You see the vacuum cleaning the pool every night and every morning it’s out of the pool. Wtf? There needs to be a little bit of haunting, then a little more, and then a little more until the family’s being bombarded. Although, I wonder if my exposure to more contemporary haunting movies has left me jaded in this regard. Would I feel the same way if I had never seen The Blair Witch Project, The Eclipse, Insidious, and the Paranormal Activity series? Those are all haunting movies that I’ve enjoyed, that are fairly contemporary, and are all slow-building.
I didn’t find the rescue scene to be terribly climactic or scary. Nothing that was shown or implied seemed very threatening. I have to admit that I really preferred Insidious‘s approach to the netherworld.
I don’t mean to be so down on a movie that scared me so much as a child. There were some definite good moments.
I love the iconic images of Carol Anne communicating with the entities through the television. I’ve always found the t.v. snow to be creepy to begin with, and the touch of barely audible whispers adds to the creepiness factor.
While in my everyday life I’m an avowed skeptic, and I think that most cases of electronic voice phenomenon can be chalked up to auditory pareidolia, I do love when books and movies explore ghosts using technology. MGM is planning to remake Poltergeist and I wonder if they’ll incorporate current technology within the film.
I also appreciate the realism of the Freeling family. I don’t talk about acting a lot on this blog–I’m mostly focused on the blood and oftentimes the acting is terrible–but the actors are actually good in this movie. They all come together with a natural-feeling chemistry. Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams’s portrayals of the Freeling parents feel like they could be my parents or my friends’ parents. I love that they smoke pot and spend time in bed bantering with each other. They also live in a house that looks real and dress real. I mean, in most movies today, the houses look like mansions and the families wear designer clothes, but that’s not how I grew up and it’s not how I live now. I swear, if I ever make a movie, I want the costumes and set pieces to come from the Salvation Army. Everything looked lived-in.
I also love how the movie captures how scary things can feel when you’re a child. Steven Spielberg produced Poltergeist so you know it’s pretty much guaranteed to cast a fond eye back on childhood in a bucolic suburb. But then Tobe Hooper, the director, reminds us what it’s like to have a creepy doll in your room that scares you and is somehow integral to the architectural stability of the room because it can never leave.
My favorite sequence is the skeletons in the pool. This is actually scary.
Plus, there’s the well-publicized fact that those are real skeletons. Real skeletons are cheaper than fabricated skeletons, so Steven Spielberg and Tobe Hooper won the Missing the Point award by desecrating the remains in a movie about desecrated remains. Irony tastes good.
I guess the lesson I learned from this movie is that not all things that were beloved in childhood should be revisited because it just makes us sad when they’re not as awesome as we remember. Except for Garbage Pail Kids cards, those are always awesome.