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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Sean Kelly

Revisiting 1982 – Poltergeist

PoltergeistIt is time for the tenth entry in my year-long series in which I revisit some of the most classic films to be released 30 years ago in the year 1982 (the year of my birth).

Just in time for Halloween, this month I will be talking about the classic Steven Spielberg-produced horror film Poltergeist.  As always, there may be SPOILERS during this discussion.

Let’s Begin.

Poltergeist can generally be considered a companion piece to E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.  Both films were filmed back-to-back and were released a week apart.  Also the films are essentially thematic opposites, with E.T. being representative of suburban dreams and Poltergeist being representative of suburban nightmares.  Even though Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) is credited with directing the film, some argue that it was actually writer/producer Spielberg who did the bulk of directing and it was only a contractual clause for E.T. that forbid him from being credited.

Before I move into talking about the more ghostly aspects of the film, I thought I should discuss an odd bit of editing, which actually caused me to wonder if there was something wrong with the CinemaNow stream I was watching the film on.  At approximately the 34 minute mark, the film suddenly cuts away mid-scene right into the middle of the next scene.  The jump is so jarring that I am sure those watching on DVD would think that the disc actually skipped.  There’s no official explanation for this jump cut, but one hypothesis is that the scene in question was trimmed down because of disparaging remarks in the scene against Pizza Hut, which would definitely be an odd explanation if it were true.

Poltergeist is your typical Spielbergian family horror film.  While there are definitely some thrills and chills, at the end of the day the film is fun for the whole family.  There is of course one exception.  During one particular scene, a paranormal investigator starts having a hallucination in the bathroom that he is tearing off chunks of his face.  While the face-tearing effect is obviously fake, it is also very gory.  In fact, the MPAA actually initially gave Poltergeist an R rating and it was only on appeal that it received its current PG rating.  It will only be about two years later when Spielberg successfully lobbies for the creation of the PG-13 rating after similar “Hard PG” ratings for Gremlins and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

This was my first viewing of Poltergeist and one thing that was very apparent for me was that there were many plot similarities between this film and James Wan’s 2010 horror film Insidious.  Both films feature a haunting centred around a child, the calling in of paranormal investigators, and a scene in which one of the parents enters the spirit world to save the child.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Poltergeist turned out to be an influence on Wan for Insidious.

I found it interesting that Poltergeist essentially has two climaxes.  The first major climax involves the rescue of the youngest daughter Carol-Anne from the spirit world.  Once that is resolved, the audience is lead to believe that the hauntings have stopped, as the family prepares to move out.  However, the film has one final set of scares as corpses begin rising from the ground and the entire house ends up getting sucked into the spirit vortex.  It was definitely a good way to end the film with a bang.

Spielberg made it a point to cast mostly unknowns in this film, though one of them – Craig T. Nelson – went on to be famous with the TV series Coach and, later, The Incredibles.  One tragic aspect associated with the film is how Heather O'Rourke, who played Carol-Anne, and Dominique Dunne, who played the teenage daughter Dana, have both since died.  Dunne was strangled to death by her boyfriend shortly after the films release and O’Rourke died in 1988 of septic shock due to intestinal stenosis.  These deaths, along with a few others related to the sequels, have resulted some claiming that the Poltergeist film series was cursed.

Well that concludes my discussion of Poltergeist.  Next month, I’m going to enter the world of Jim Henson and check out The Dark Crystal.

Sean Kelly

About Sean Kelly -

Sean Patrick Kelly is a self-described über-geek, who has been an avid film lover for all his life. He graduated from York University in 2010 with an honours B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and he likes to believe he knows what he’s talking about when he writes about film (despite occasionally going on pointless rants).