I was always a horror buff growing up, I loved them, but Poltergeist is the one franchise that I never got around to watching. Not for any particular reason, the PG rating had nothing to do with it, but me and Poltergeist just never seemed to align at the right time. I've gone off horror movies lately for reasons I won't go into here, but I thought I'd make an exception and go watch the original Poltergeist before I watch the remake. Focusing on the suburban baby-boomer generation of Reagan America, middle class America is prospering, and Poltergeist is about the family that has it all, big house, car, kids, good job, dog, everything is perfect, that is until supernatural happenings start occurring in the idyllic household of middle class America.
At first it's only small things, fun and innocuous 'occurrences' that they can observe with no danger, but things quickly escalate into a struggle with a malevolent entity that's claimed their daughter for themselves. I don't want to criticize Poltergeist for being too cliched because it and The Exorcist created all the cliches in the first place, but watching it fresh, like I did, it's hard to not count the cliches that every supernatural possession movies have since abused to the point of impotency. I always thought Poltergeist was a horror movie, but I would hardly even categorize Poltergeist as a horror/possession movie. If anything, Poltergeist was more of a supernatural phantasm adventure movie than it was a horror movie, not that that's a bad thing, it just wasn't what I was expecting.
I have to wonder if the whole supernatural element was merely an allegory for our increasing dependence on TV. The ghosts are referred to as the "TV people" and at one point, the mother tells her daughter to stop staring at the static by saying "You're going to ruin your eyes, this is not good for you." and then mindlessly turns the TV on as they're showing a war being fought. Bombs, bullets and blades are flying left, right and center, and that's all fine and dandy, but watching nothing but static is not good for you... and what's the end shot of the movie? The husband, presumably, rolling the TV out of their hotel room. No more TV, or maybe I'm just reading too much into it and it is only about the supernatural and ghosts.
There was a very strong 80s vibe in Poltergeist, despite only being a very early 80s movie, it had a lot of that 80s charm. The family dynamic was solid and believable, but uneven, and the acting was a little bit cheesy every now and again, but it was also strong in parts as well. The editing was especially choppy though, which made it hard to get a good sense of time passing in the movie. Diane Freeling (JoBeth Williams) was one formidable and undeterable mom though, Steve Freeling (Craig Nelson) was no slouch either and they had great chemistry together, but Diane was really quite brave and stole the show for the most part. Tangina (Zelda Rubinstein) was too much, her performance could be considered the very epitome of hammin' it up, right up there with Anthony Hopkins portrayal of Van Helsing from Dracula. I'd even say she surpassed his performance in terms of 'hammin' it up', no joke.
Poltergeist is held up as a classic by many, but I have to say while I enjoyed the corniness of it, I didn't love it. Had I seen it back in 1982, I'd probably feel differently about it, but having seen much the same premise done over and over countless times before, it was hard to appreciate it for the standard it set at the time. It's a shame I didn't watch this decades ago, if I did I'd probably have rated it higher than I did now.
Written by - The Sentry - 22/06/2015