Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, February 4, 2016


Robbie (Oliver Robins) and his malevolent clown
POLTERGEIST (1982). Director: Tobe Hooper. Produced by Steven Spielberg.

"It's not another tribal burial ground. It's just people."

A very nice family living in a development in Cueste Verde are subjected to all manner of strange phenomenon in their home, culminating in their little girl, Carol Anne (Heather O'Rourke) disappearing into a closet. Now most parents would at least try the police first -- after all a predator could have run off with the child during all the excitement (a tree with a hungry maw; a tornado etc.) -- but Steve Freeling (Craig T. Nelson) and his wife, Diane (JoBeth Williams) reach out to parapsychologists instead (if for no other reason than to get the plot moving). This is just as well, as the little psychic Tangina (Zelda Rubinstein) discovers there's an evil presence inside the house. Just when you think things have calmed down and the child has been returned, there's a bravura climax in which the Freelings discover just why so many crazy things have been going on with a vengeance. Poltergeist is in its way rather silly and even schlocky at times -- it's much more of a black comedy than a true horror film, but works on that level -- but it has some well-done FX and creepy sequences. On the debit side, Poltergeist takes a while to get going -- the day to day details of the Freelings lives are simply not that interesting -- and sometimes the pacing is off. The movie does do a very good job of getting across childhood fears, however.The acting is fine -- the children are especially noteworthy -- but the actors take a back seat to the special effects. Jerry Goldsmith's score helps a great deal in key action sequences. One quick and disgusting gore sequence doesn't quite fit the tone of the movie, even though it turns out to be an hallucination. In the thankless role of another parapsychologist, Beatrice Straight does little but flap her lips together. Followed by two sequels and a remake. Tobe Hopper also directed the terrible Eaten Alive.

Verdict: No masterpiece, but fun. ***.


angelman66 said...

I like this one more than you do, Bill, maybe because of my fondness for it since childhood. But it is a staple of my current DVD collection. You are absolutely right that this is 90% black comedy, though--maybe that's the reason I love it so much. Or maybe it is the super-campy performance of Zelda Rubinstein that takes it over the top for me.

But please go easy on my beloved Beatrice Straight. She is one of my favorite character actresses...and I prefer to say that she "wisely underplays" in this one. LOL ;-)

William said...

I actually thought Straight was a very good actress. She just didn't have much to do in this, and was often cast in over-wrought roles, no fault of hers. The lucky gal was married to handsome Peter Cookson, one of my favorite "B" actors.

angelman66 said...

I didn't know she was married to Peter Cookson, interesting. Love her best as William Holden's wife in Network, that small but effective role that earned her the Supporting Actress Oscar...