Originally Published Thursday 9th October 2008
Poltergeist was one of the first horror movies I remember seeing as a child and it still has the same power to give me the creeps today as it did back then. As horror films go it’s not particularly frightening but it is, well, creepy. What makes it so is hard to pin down, maybe it’s because of the little girl and her “they’re heeeeerrrrreeee” line or maybe it’s the stories of a curse that’s associated with the production that kinda brings the horror of the film into the real world.
Poltergeist tells the tale of a young family just living their lives in sunny California. Steven Freeling (Craig T. Nelson) is a sales rep for the company that built his house and the rest of the development they live in. His missus Diane looks after the home and is busy raising their three children. Strange things begin occurring in the house, furniture moving by itself and the like, and at first it’s quite fun. Things take a turn for the worse when one of the children, Robbie, is attacked. The attack is a diversion to cover the youngest child, Carol Anne, being taken by something in the house.
Carol Anne’s frightened parents search the house and half-built swimming pool until she is heard in the master bedroom. Oddly though, her voice is heard coming from the television. Finally accepting that something supernatural is going on the Freelings seek out the help of some scientists from the university parapsychology department. These ghostbusters are well out of their depth and have to get help themselves from a diminutive medium with a funky southern accent in order to save Carol Anne.
In many American homes the TV acts as a substitute parent
Steven Speilberg movies are easy to spot, especially any made in the early eighties. He liked to use Californian suburban tract housing developments in his movies and he loves families with problems especially things like divorce (a core feature of E.T. for example). Poltergeist is set in a Californian housing development and sure enough there is tension in the Freeling family though this is caused by the events happening to them and the different ways they handle the pressure.
Poltergeist is one of the most well known horror films and has secured for itself a place in pop culture with parodies turning up on Family Guy and The Simpsons, mostly due to young Carol Anne’s performance. It also has some of the best stories associated with it, including the use of real skeletons in some scenes leading to a curse on the film. The curse apparently manifested itself in the untimely death of Heather O’Rourke, the actress who played Carol Anne, at the age of 12.
One thing really stuck in my mind from last night’s viewing. When Steven Freeling goes to the university he tells the scientists that Diane’s age is 32 and that their eldest daughter is 15, making Diane 17 when she had her. If horror films like A Nightmare on Elm Street teach us anything it’s that those who play around with booze, drugs, or sex get what they deserve, horror movies acting as modern day morality plays. In fact during the film we see Diane do soft drugs and drink spirits while Steven hits the sauce as soon as Carol Anne vanishes. While the disturbances in the house may have been caused by the location of the place, there is definitely a subtext about the adult Freelings behaviour.
Poltergeist is a slick movie but doesn’t lose sight of what it’s about – giving you the creeps. Two thumbs up for Poltergeist.