I first watched Poltergeist back when I was like 11 or 12 and all I could remember from that point on was how absolutely frightening toy clowns were.
Poltergeist is not particularly scary as it is creepy. There's a scene where Diane Freeling (played in a milf sort of way by Jobeth Williams) places her daughter, Carol Anne (played by the late Heather O'Rourke), on the kitchen counter. The camera follows Diane from the shot of the dining room table to her retrieving something from a lower cupboard and then back to the shot of the dining room table where all of the chairs have been placed precariously on top of the table. It's a scene crafted from great care and lengths to ensure that your spine is chilled.
I've watched Poltergeist again recently in preparation for this list and found that it has held up through the years. While some of the special F/X don't really measure up to the standards of today...the tone of the film is still top quality. And that's what holds up to this day. The music...the pacing...the atmosphere. It's all so 80's...and yet, it's all so relevant now. Especially when you take into account other haunted house theme films of today. They pretty much lack the quality and expertise evident in Poltergeist. Even a film like the recent Insidious paid homages and cited it as an influence.
The premise is simple. Family moves into a house built on an old Indian burial ground and all kinds of ghostly stuff happens. Including their only daughter disappearing into a television gateway to the spiritual world. It's not long before a ghost hunting team is brought in to get little Carol Anne back.
One of the debates through the years is the fact that Tobe Hooper directed this film. Fact? Perhaps. But, if you watch the film you can't help but think that it has Steven Spielberg all over it. While Spielberg is producer and writer...it's been said that he had final say of how the finished product looked. When you compare Hooper's other fine works to this film...it kind of stands out as an odd duck. Whatever.
Although Poltergeist isn't necessarily Hooper at his greatest...it is a film that has gone down as a genre classic despite the directorial controversy. It's definitely not the goriest or even creepiest film on this list but, it's surely one of the best. It's a spook house tale that has heart that you can watch over and over again.
What counts here is the story crafted and the performances by Craig T. Nelson, the late Dominique Dunne (curse anyone?), the late Zelda Rubinstein (who actually passed on into the spiritual world this past year), as well as most of the supporting actors. It's a film full of substance crafted by masters of film.
Poltergeist is a film that you have to watch this Halloween season as it maintains some genuine scares within.
As a side note...there's a scene from the second instalment of the Poltergeist franchise that involves a tequila bottle and a worm. One of the most noteworthy scenes in horror film history as it illustrates a good reason to quit drinking.
4 out of 5
Thanks for reading!