The moment I saw Diane’s(JoBeth William) reaction to the initial infestation of the haunting/poltergeist infestation, I knew I was in for a different supernatural movie experience. Tobe Hooper’s, Poltergeist, follows a suburban American family as their house is taken over by outside spirits. Though the haunting/infestation starts off as innocuous furniture re-arrangements, it quickly descends into a nightmare, as the family struggles to deal with make it through the ordeal
The first thing I really loved was how early on in the film the haunting is set up and its consequences foreshadowed. For example, the opening scene opens up on a television set playing the American anthem. The camera starts zooming into the TV, as the screen starts flickering. The focus on the flicker in the blue light highlights the association between a boundary flickering on and off, and is commonly used to amp up the tension of scenes or to highlight the absolute presence of the paranormal.
There also seems to be a critique of violence and appearances. As the first act continues to unfold, we see Carol Anne (played by Heather O’Rourke), watching a blank flickering screen. A scene exemplifying this that stuck out in my head occurred when Diane sees her Carol Anne watching a blank screen, calls it bad for her daughters eyes, then switches the channel to a war movie with violence on the screen. It felt like foreshadowing, as though Carol Anne would think something bad was good for her. But more importantly, it felt like a critique of how normalized violence can be. Diane immediately also turns away from the television, signalling she may not have seen what she put on for her daughter or know what the content was. This felt like a criticism of assuming the safety of common procedures- like sometimes the seemingly innocent, might have a malevolent undercurrent.
Effects wise, the movie is gorgeous. Some of the special effects seem corny now, but I’d assume they looked a lot scarier back at the release date. However, this only happens a few times. For the most part, some of the visual scares were downright disturbing. They looked real and alive, as though they actually came from some demonic realm.
Most of the problems I had with the movie stem from some early characterization which may or may not be unfair. I felt like some of the actions the characters took felt out of place with the events unfolding, but thankfully these moments were few and far between.
TLDR: Poltergeist was a beautiful film with great visual effects and an well-developed and fleshed out exploration of a family dealing with the unimaginable.
Final Rating: 9/10. This seminal work deserves a watch from crowds old and young. There’s something in it for everyone and no matter how scared or not scared you are by the end, you’ll have been entertained.
Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!