Monday, January 24, 2011

The Greats: Poltergeist (1982)

I'll be honest here. I have well over a hundred DVDs that I'm proud to own. But really, they just sit there and collect dust. I am a movie fanatic, but I'm not the type who watches the same movies over and over again. I have thousands of favorite titles, many of which I'll be more than thrilled to give them a second, maybe a third viewing. But in that vast collection of favorites, there are only a select few titles that I will never tire of watching. If I catch it on TV, I will finish it all the way to the end. If I know it's on ahead of time, I will DVR it, even though I already own it.

Poltergeist is one of those titles.

This film was released in 1982, and it looks as glorious as anything on my 50" Plasma. HDNet Movies was showing this classic a few months back, and the quality of the HD transfer is superlative.

Tobe Hooper, with major help by Steven Spielberg, directed this classic white knuckle thriller about a family terrorized by spirits who are trapped in their home. According to spiritual medium Tangina Barrons (played so memorably by the great Zelda Rubenstein), these spirits are caught in between dimensions. After they died, they never moved on "to the light" after death. So the spirits kidnap Carol Anne, the 5-year-old daughter of Steven and Diane Freeling, thinking she's their salvation, a life force that will finally bring them to the light.

Talk about mistaken identities.

95% of this movie takes place in the Freeling house, and that just amazes me. The filmmakers managed to spring life into this house, making it one the most memorable set pieces in the history of medium. How do you forget that tree sitting outside Robbie's room? The chairs sliding across the kitchen floor? The exit portal in the foyer? You certainly won't look at unfinished pools the same way again. Every section in this home has a chance to shine.

Too bad the house vanished without a trace in the end before it had a chance to have a career in movies. Blame it on the Poltergeist curse, I guess.

Also memorable are Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams in career-launching performances. Both are wonderful actors who I've admired for years. They are believable as parents so fiercely protective of their children and are emotionally and physically exhausted from the turmoil surrounding them. It's a shame that Heather O'Rourke passed away after the third film; she had a sweet, angelic face and could have made a run at a decent career in Hollywood.

The sequels are far less successful, though I do admit to enjoying the third film to some extent. In it, Carol Anne moves in with her aunt and uncle (Nancy Allen and Tom Skerritt) in the city, only to be terrorized again by spirits who really, really want her to take them to the light. Damn it, man, forget the light already! There's nothing there! Nelson and Williams wisely avoided this silly mess (after the bitter taste the second film left us, I can't say I blame them), but Allen and Skerritt are well-cast as a couple who realizes soon enough that maybe they shouldn't have adopted Carol Anne after all. She's bad luck.

I guess they never saw the first two movies.

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