Sunday, August 2, 2015
(June 1982, U.S.)
Wow! The fact that I even have to specify the year 1982 in parenthesis to make it clear that this is the original classic supernatural horror thriller and not the most recent bullshit 2015 remake is totally sad in its own right! Hollywood continues to remake the classics (even the more modern ones), the remakes never go anywhere and no one ever learns from the repeated mistakes! Why, oh, why, for crying out loud???
Okay, but all that grief aside, this is the film that my generation embraced as one of the true horror greats of the 1980s (despite a PG rating at a time before PG-13 existed), as well as one of the best haunted house films ever made. By its own standards, there's a great deal of originality in its premise because gone is the gothic sterotype of the isolated, evil haunted house where awful events once took place and live on in the form of white ghosts, freaky skeletons, rattling chains, slamming doors and whatever other elements of fear that may have accompanied men like Vincent Price and Roddy McDowall. From the mind of Steven Spielberg himself, during the same summer he gave us E.T.-THE EXTRA TERRESTRIAL, the haunted house is now a simple, comfortable-looking family dwelling on a simple, comfortable-looking street in a simple, comfortable-looking suburban California town...
Not exactly a dwelling of fear, is it. No - it's a lovely house you and I might have lived in once or perhaps live in now, or more accurately, a house Spielberg himself may have lived in when he was growing up. It's a house filled with love, joy, Earthly pleasures and even a big, beautiful Golden Retriever named E-Buzz. Nothing could possibly be wrong with this setting...until malevolent ghosts invade the home and abduct the family's youngest daughter, Carol Anne (played by Heather O'Rourke, who died at the tender age of twelve from cardiac arrest, of all things). The invasion begins with the simple transmission sign-off static of the family television, in which Carol Anne appears to have an ability to communicate with whatever unsettled spirits are living beyond the tube. While the little girl can't fully explain what's happening with whom she calls "the TV people", she does seem to know when, "They're here!" Thus begins the ghostly events that include breaking glasses, bending silverware, stacked breakfast chairs and moving furniture. During a violent thunderstorm, all Hell breaks loose and Carol Anne is taken from this world and thrust into another dimension beyond the unknown that seems to generate from her own bedroom closet. She's not dead, though. Her voice can still be heard through the TV and it's now up to the family's love and devotion, along with the help of a team of parapsychologists that includes actress Beatrice Straight (in a role that far exceeds her ten minute total performance in NETWORK which mysteriously got her the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress), to get her back to the world of the living. Interestingly, unlike the Lutz family of THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (1979), the Freeling family is willing to (at least temporarily) learn to live with their ghostly guests and they struggle to get their beloved daughter back. Along the way, their are startling and spiritual images, horrifying shocks and bloody hallucinations that respectively follows the ghastly sight of hungry maggots on a leftover cold chicken wing! And yet, even during all of this time of terror, at no time is one made to feel that the Freeling home has become physically scary in any way. The home still remains a simple, comfortable sight to the eyes and the senses. It's only after Carol Anne is finally returned through the help of a (very short and squeaky-sounding) spiritual medium that the house itself takes revenge and attempts to destroy the family we're come to know and care about. In as much as this is a story about surviving supernatural horror, it's also as much a tale of family love, strength and bonding. Forgettable sequels like POLTERGEIST II & III aside, the Freelings have survived their ordeal and must now carry on and start over as a family...without a TV!
Now then, to know and love POLTERGEIST as much as I do is to also know and love all of the infamous events and controversies that have surrounded the film since its initial release, including the so-called curse of the film that managed to claim the lives of two of the three kids playing the Freeling children and the question of whether it was really director Tobe Hooper or Steven Spielberg himself who was responsible for the making and artistry of the film. That latter questions depends on one's own beliefs and dedication to the proper Hollywood research (that's YOU, Steven A!). However, as a fan of my own merit, POLTERGEIST implores me to ask questions; questions like why did Robbie Freeling ever purchase that large toy clown in the first place if it scared him? If the house knows what scares you, then keep scary-looking things out of the house! Oh, sure, the clown looks innocent enough, but do you really want this thing sitting in a chair staring at you while you sleep??
As for the menacing-looking tree outside of Robbie's window - if the thing frightens him so much, then why does he repeatedly leave his window shade open night after night (out of sight, out of mind, Robbie!). Honestly, I feel for the poor kid, but he doesn't seem all that bright to me. Still, I have to give him a few extra points for the great STAR WARS collection of toys and posters he has in his room. And by the way, let me ask this, too...just how old was Dianne Freeling (played by JoBeth Williams) when the happy couple started their little family?? When meeting with the parapsychologists for the first time, Steven Freeling (played by Craig T. Nelson) indicates that his wife is thirty-two years-old and that his oldest daughter Dana is sixteen years-old, which would make Dianne just sixteen years-old also when she had her first child. Wow! I honestly don't know whether to commend these two people for being so dedicated and committed to each other and their marriage or to condemn them for not practicing safer and more responsible sex!
You see - these are the questions guys like me asks of a supernatural horror film (go figure). Anyway, whether I have Steven or Tobe to thank for it, I say thank you very much for POLTERGEIST and I'm so sorry that modern Hollywood had to fuck it all up this summer (do not forgive them, for they do know what they do!)!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Tangina: "These souls, who for whatever reason are not at rest, are also not aware that they have passed on. They're not part of consciousness as we know it. They linger in a perpetual dreamstate, a nightmare from which they can not awake. Inside the spectral light is salvation, a window to the next plain. They must pass through this membrane where friends are waiting to guide them to new destinies. Carol Anne must help them cross over, and she will only hear her mother's voice. Now hold on to yourselves...there's one more thing. A terrible presence is in there with her. So much rage, so much betrayal. I've never sensed anything like it. I don't know what hovers over this house, but it was strong enough to punch a hole into this world and take your daughter away from you. It keeps Carol Anne very close to it and away from the spectral light. It lies to her, it tells her things only a child can understand. It has been using her to restrain the others. To her, it simply is another child. To us, it is the Beast. Now, let's go get your daughter."