Tuesday, June 5, 2012

They Were Hee-ere!

How on Earth did I miss the 30th Anniversary of one of the best horror movies of 1980's? I have to thank JA at My New Plaid Pants for reminding me.

Tobe Hooper's Poltergeist turned 30 yesterday. Produced by Steven Spielberg (whose fingerprints are all over it), Poltergeist  was released on the heels of the rather disappointing film adaptation of Peter Straub's terrifying novel Ghost Story with the tagline "A real Ghost Story."

The 80's were very much a decade of movies that were shared with my sister and we both have many fond memories of sitting in awe of some rather amazing films. The Empire Strikes Back; Superman II; E.T.; Gremlins; Raiders of the Lost Ark; The Color Purple; Goonies... Still, Poltergeist remains probably the only movie from the era that we have both seen enough times that we can tell you exactly what's happening on screen, just by listening to the score. 

The Freeling family lives in a very ordinary suburban development called Cuesta Verde. Steven Freeling is a successful realtor for the company that built Cuesta Verde and his wife Diane is a happy, stay-at-home mom. Their three kids (Dana, Robbie and Carol Anne) have the usual sibling relationships. The Freelings are having an in-ground pool installed, further proof that their happy lives will only get happier. One night, young Carol Anne awakens and comes into her parents' room to watch TV. Of course, this was back when many regular stations signed off at midnight, so we are left to wonder just exactly what Carol Anne is watching and who she is talking to after the broadcast ends. After a strange light pours from the TV and leaves a black mark on the bedroom wall, Carol Anne announces "They're here!" to her startled parents. Thus begins a supernatural nightmare that will eventually drive the family from their home.

The excellent cast includes Craig T. Nelson; Jobeth Williams; Beatrice Straight; Zelda Rubinstein and James Karen. The special effects were state-of-the-art at the time and still manage to hold up 30 years later. While neither of us were ever actually scared by the film, there were plenty of things that managed to creep my sister and I out. The backwards music and menacing compass in the bedroom; the slithering steak and Ryan's face peeling; the evil tree and even more evil clown doll; Diane being thrust to the ceiling; the lengthening hall and skeletal demon; the rotting corpses in the muddy swimming pool... And of course, the loads of little touches that lent an air of foreboding, like the foreshadowing disinterment of the late Tweety, the canary.

Of course, there is the rumored 'Poltergeist curse,' thanks to the untimely deaths of young Dominique Dunne ('Dana'); murdered not long after the film's release by an insanely jealous boyfriend and Heather O'Rourke (Carol Anne); who died during surgery to repair an intestinal blockage just before the second (and far inferior) sequel was released. The so-called 'curse' is also often blamed for the deaths of several actors in the film's sequels, including Will Sampson, Julian Beck and even Rubinstein, herself. Nonsense and coincidences, of course. Both Williams and Nelson went on to successful careers in TV and films; most notably Nelson on "Coach;" "The District" and "Parenthood" (as well the voice of Mr. Incredible in Pixar's brilliant superhero/spy parody The Incredibles).

Plans for an inevitable and unnecessary remake have been announced, despite the movie still being able to surprise and scare those who've never seen it before. Truth be told, all the 3D CGI in the world won't make up for the excitement and awe of seeing the original Poltergeist for the first time. They just don't make 'em like that, anymore.

If you are a housing developer, please promise me that you'll move the bodies and not just the headstones. There'll be hell to pay, otherwise.

More, anon.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I took my nephew to see (I can't remember the name or who was in it but it involved two houses, ghosts, possession, cameras and was very scary) and it was very good and very scary and told my nephew that it was like they remade Poltergeist - he had never seen it!

So I rented it and he was more freaked by it than the movie whose name I can't remember. I was surprised at how morally forward/honest it was for a PG 20 years ago and that a lot of those things wouldn't be in a movie today.