Who directed this movie? Was it control freak egomaniac Steven Spielberg (Still my hero, Stevie!), or poor sap semi-talent Tobe Hooper? The debate continues, and I could care less. For me, “Poltergeist” is still one of my favorite horror flicks of all time, and it’s a wonderful combination of both directors’ styles. For the Spielberg nuts, there’s wonder and magic and epic nightmarish fantasy, and for the Hooper fans, there’s the horror, the terror, the frantic energy in the climax, and that great scene of the face being torn from its bone in the mirror. This is a wonderful demented bastard child from two great directors, and “Poltergeist” is simply still a great piece of filmmaking.
Hooper simply wastes no time with “Poltergeist” as the film begins on a twisted note with the Star Spangled Banner booming over a television late in the household of the Freeling family, which then prompts the arrival of angelic Carol Anne, who gazes at the television snow with sheer delight and engages in a conversation only she can hear as her family looks on dumbfounded. Truly, it’s one of the most unnerving sequences in horror movie history. Something is coming to this household, and she is the only one who knows what it is. Why did Spielberg take such a vested interest and aggressive hold on the production causing a huge hooplah with Hooper? Simply, this is pretty much the sum of Spielberg’s childhood fears. Much of what occurs is what occurred in Spielberg’s childhood sans the supernatural.
The clown doll (that attack scene still gives me the willies), the surroundings, and even the eerie tree in the back yard, this is what Spielberg stemmed from, and while I still don’t condone Spielberg practically taking this from Hooper, his combination with the director gives us a movie that has practically everything for horror geeks. “Poltergeist” is simply a foreboding and awfully eerie little suspense that begins on a simple note. After a series of cute events like bending spoons, and a kitchen that causes objects to slide across the floor, things then start to get scary. In a device that would be used for quite a while, the Freeling family enlists the help of a group of ghost hunters to arrive to observe the apparitions and the Spielberg influence continues.
In a still illuminating scene, the leader of the small group of hunters, Dr. Lesh, watches a glowing lady descend along the main stair well. There is also the face ripping scene. Up close and personal, “Poltergeist” delves more into childhood fears and nightmares more than any other theme, as the fears of the two Freeling children collectively manifest all around them, and for the children viewing this film, the fears will touch a deep and vested raw nerve that they will not simply get over any time soon. Even after twenty five years, “Poltergeist” still can touch deep into the hearts of children. Following the Serling influence, Hooper grabs the innocent Carole Anne and brings her into an unknown and unseen dimension where she can only really communicate in a disembodied voice a la “Little Girl Lost.”
And we’re introduced to the spiritual guide Tangina, played by the ever memorable Zelda Rubinstein who knows all too well what force she’s dealing with and yet is always out matched by this immense force of evil in the end. Jobeth Williams is still a gorgeous Milf who gives a great performance. The scene where Carole Anne passes through her is still touching, and Craig T. Nelson provides his usual strong performance as the patriarch of the Freeling family who is involved with a crooked real estate conglomerate and can’t realize it in the fog of work, attempting to conform in his droning suburbanite existence, and these damned poltergeists.
Sure, at the end of the day there’s Spielberg in the film cell more than Hooper, but damn it all, it’s still a wonderful piece of filmmaking and it’s a pure masterpiece of spooks and wonder. The DVD sucks. While the film looks and sounds excellent, we’re given nothing but a documentary about the film. Where’s our two disc collector’s edition? Otherwise, “Poltergeist” is still a wonderful bit of horror fantasy filled with great performances and an utterly compelling story. It’s one of my favorites, and I still love it.