Even people who haven’t seen Poltergeist know of the curse surrounding this film. Television specials were made discussing it and many articles can be read about it. Rumor has it, because the skeletons used in a scene of the first film were actual, real skeletons (not plastic or fake), this franchise is cursed. Actors from all three films died (in real life) over the course of this franchise’s release. Sure, they died of things like cancer and kidney failure, but it is still creepy. Even the young star of all three films, Carol Anne, dies at the age of 12. Do I believe the set of Poltergeist was actually cursed? No. But it does make the movie a bit more scary and fun to watch, doesn’t it?
Poltergeist is a ghost story. It centers around the Freeling family and the strange things that happen in their house and to their daughter Carol Anne. The Freeling’s seek help in deciphering their paranormal situation in the hopes of reclaiming their lives and their daughter. This is a really, truly fun horror film. Directed by Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), I expected this movie to be gory and disgusting. But then, as I watched the opening credits, I noticed it’s produced and written by Steven Spielberg. Jackpot. As if there weren’t enough rumors surrounding this film, another states that since Spielberg was filming E.T. at the exact same time and couldn’t direct Poltergeist due to his contract, he hired Hooper to do it. But, he arranged for the sets of both films to be a mere 20 minutes apart and it’s said he was on the set of Poltergeist nearly every day and was pretty much the director. Who knows if this is true, but both Hooper and Spielberg are great, so it’s a win-win.
There is nothing glaringly wrong with this movie, so why the 7? Poltergeist consistently falls in the top ten of horror lists to this day and I agree it should be there. It slowly develops from a ghost story to a crazy paranormal adventure to an outright horror. The film packs in a few scenes at the end that are truly scary. When I first started watching, my husband commented, “This looks like E.T.” I laughed, but it was sort of true. Glitter and magic follow Spielberg to all of his films and this one is no different. From the very beginning, the audience can tell that is this a Steven Spielberg adventure. The attention to detail with the sets and the props and the story is unlike anything else. As with every Spielberg film, Poltergeist creates a world and sucks you into it with ease and grace. And while this is an amazing quality and one that makes Spielberg one of my all-time favorite directors, it does make the film seem more like an adventure and less like a horror. I know, I know. I complain if the movie is shitty and doesn’t have that sparkle and adventure and now I’m complaining when it does. Films just can’t win, can they? But they can. This is a great, great movie and I had a great time watching it. It does feel like more of an adventure, though, and perhaps a few more scares throughout the film could have prevented that. I'll remember how great this movie was, but I won't remember how scary it was and that is a factor in saving horror.
Poltergeist has great acting, great writing and a solid story. It is a horror adventure with some real scares toward the end. Most of it feels like a wholesome, family film though, and I think that is what prevents it from being a ten. Certainly memorable, this film stood the test of time and continues to haunt audiences today. Many films, including Paranormal Activity, draw from this one and they do say imitation is the greatest form of flattery. Horror is definitely a better place because of the Freeling family and their antics, I only wish it’d gotten a little more weird.
If you liked Poltergeist, you might also like Paranormal Activity, The Woman in Black and Mama.