We’re skipping ahead in my collection now to POLTERGEIST (1982), because we just did the Your Moment of Rage on the new trailer, and the new film comes out this week, so I figured “Let’s make a theme of it”! Also, be warned, herein lie spoilers because I just couldn’t write a complete enough review without letting one or two of the plot points not featured in the trailer go. If you haven’t seen it yet, don’t let me spoil it for you, go see it. NOW!!!
So…POLTERGEIST (1982) is just jaw-dropping awesome. The visuals and the imagination they came from are worthy of high praise (for the time, of course), as is everything else about it. They story, the acting, the fear, and the terror, all get high marks with me. This could possibly (without thinking extremely hard about it) be my all-time favorite haunted house film. Why shouldn’t it be? It has everything you could want, scary spirits, mysterious occurrences, some excellent foreshadowing, a very likable cast of characters, one of the first double endings (that I can account for, anyway), and the surreal delivery of the late, great, Zelda Rubinstein. And it really delivers on the scares, both on a primal and an emotional level. I can’t say enough good things about this film, I just wanna gush about it for pages and pages and pages. However, I’ll try to corral myself for you.
The film starts off innocently. In fact the opening titles, is cut to a sweet and tranquil score by Jerry Goldsmith (this is mostly notable because Spielberg’s long-time score collaborator is John Williams), whose entire score for the film, both the sweet and the sour, is excellent and feels like perfection. Anyway, back to the film. It starts out innocently, showing us a family of five and a half. Mother: Diane Freeling, father: Steven Freeling, eldest daughter Dana Freeling (Dominique Dunne, in her only film appearance), middle son: Robbie Freeling (Oliver Robins), and youngest daughter: Carol Anne Freeling (Heather O’Rourke), and their dog E Buzz. Just your typical family going through life as normal as any family. Things get spooky, but not malevolently, as Diane notices strange forces in the house. Forces that stack chairs, slide things across the floor, she even finds them a bit entertaining.
But things go sideways pretty quickly. I mean, it’s all fun and games until someone is nearly eaten by a tree. While the rest of the family is focused on the tree incident, the spirits in the house use the distraction to ‘take’ Carol Anne. Who is now only reachable through the television static.
With next to no choices on how to get their daughter back, Steven and Diane visit the parapsychology department at the local college. The team is skeptical, as they’ve never really encountered any irrefutable hauntings. When they get to the Freeling residence they are bombarded with evidence of the paranormal. For one member of the team, one night is enough. Of course, in his defense, if the spirits in that house were to make me feel I ate maggoty chicken and tore away chunks of my face, I’d probably get the hell out, too.
Realizing that the paranormal events taking place at the Freeling residence is above their paygrade, they call in Tangina (Zelda Rubinstein), the tiny, but powerful, psychic (she was 4’3”). She brings the first bit of good news we’ve heard in a while from the movie, she says that Carol Anne is not dead, but alive in the house, on the spirit side, not to be confused with the other side, very important. Tangina explains why they took her to begin with, because she has a very bright life force, and although the majority of the spirits in the house are confused and stuck, there is one evil one that keeps Carol Anne close to him. Now to be honest, there is some other stuff that Tangina said about this, but it seems to contradict itself at times, and other times it just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. I’m making an assumption here, but I think the evil spirit was holding on to Carol Anne because the light of her life force rivaled that of the light linking to the other side and the evil spirit (who we’ll meet in part II) wants the confused spirits to stay and follow him instead of going to the actual light they’re supposed to in order to cross over.
With the help of Tangina and a pretty cool rope trick, Diane retrieves her daughter. Then there’s the big happy as the family is reunited and Tangina says one of my favorite lines of all time “This house is clean”. Now that we have Carol Anne back everyone can get out of the pool and go home, right? WRONG! The rug is pulled out from under you suddenly, and without warning. This is when everything goes from bad to the absolute worst you can imagine. Everything we’ve seen up to this point is mere child’s play when compared to the scares the ending has in store. When it happens, it definitely catches you off guard. Which is probably my favorite thing about POLTERGEIST (1982). The false ending.
I’m sure there was one, but I can’t think of a movie before POLTERGEIST (1982) that had a false ending. If I’m wrong, and you know one that came before, please say so in the comments, as I’m either completely forgetting something I should know, or I’m just plain wrong. Either way, I want to know.
I would be an idiot if I didn’t mention the supposed POLTERGEIST curse. Some believe that when they used real skeletons in the pool scene (apparently they were bought because they were cheaper than fake skeletons), they shook up some bad ju-ju, placing a curse on the entire POLTERGEIST franchise. The damage in POLTERGEIST (1982) was Dominique Dunn, who played the eldest sister in the film. The same year POLTERGEIST (1982) was released, her boyfriend choked her to death. The somewhat creepy part of this is the last time you see her character she has a bunch of hickey’s on her neck that kind of resemble bruising from being choked to death. That was the first film. So how do they deal with her character in the sequel? They, no joke, wrote her out as though she never existed. The sequels were cursed to, seeing the death of the evil preacher, Kane, from the sequel, and the death of Heather O’Rourke during the filming of the third film in the franchise. A tragic curse, or tragic coincidence. Either way it’s tragic.
There’s still a ton of interesting trivia when it comes to POLTERGEIST (1982), but like I said at the beginning, I’m gonna try to keep this without mindless stuff as much as possible.
So go watch POLTERGEIST (1982), and get ready this weekend for POLTERGEIST (2015). If the remake (or reboot, whatever) is a disappointment, I can almost guarantee that POLTERGEIST (1982) will not be a disappointment. But make sure you watch it with the shades drawn, and the volume high.