Monday, October 31, 2011
Devon #7 = Poltergeist
Poltergeist surprised me. It starts out barely feeling like a horror movie, instead invoking nostalgic charm. The opening scenes of the Freeling family, pre haunting, reminded me vividly of being a kid, especially with the son's Star Wars bed sheets and Captain America comics. Every member of the Freelings is happy, with the parents seeming in love, arguing about putting in a swimming pool, and doing their best to preserve the innocence of their younger children. It feels like a Steven Spielberg film, which isn't coincidental. A clause in Spielberg's contract with Universal Studios forbade him from directing anything while working on E.T., and it has been suggested that this clause was the only thing preventing Spielberg from getting a directing credit on Poltergeist. Instead, Spielberg produced, and Tobe Hooper (of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) directed. No matter who had creative control, the film succeeds in sucking you into a false sense of security, put at ease by the happiness of the family, and maybe some slightly bad acting. But after some time with little to no paranormal activity occurring, the daughter, Carol Anne, disappears, and a long period of tension begins. This tension builds exponentially, slowly leading to one of the scariest finales I have ever seen. As said finale approaches the bad acting seems to vanish, but the charm remains. This is why the film works; its a scary movie that focuses on plot, character, and mood rather than jump scares and gore, or even a single death, to be effective. It puts equal emphasis on both "horror" and "movie".
Some parts of the film are more of a mixed bag.. While most effects have not aged very well, the scariest point of the film, the finale, has some excellent examples of practical effects done right. The film does have an anti-suburbia message, and it's pretty obvious, but some of the symbolism was actually subtle and effective. If you don't like flashing lights you are going to have some trouble watching some of the most famous scenes of the film, especially the very creepy first minute. And lastly, if you don't like any comedy in your horror, stay away, because while Poltergeist only has about five or six jokes, they're all really well done. I would go as far to say it's one of the funniest movies I've seen in ages. Also of note is a fantastic score by Jerry Goldsmith, which highlights every emotion perfectly.
This movie has earned its reputation. Watch it around Halloween, late at night and under a blanket. You will be taken back to childhood. You will emphasize with characters that feel truly three dimensional. You'll laugh your ass off. And then finally, when you don't expect it, the movie will finally reveal it's true self and you will be scared. When I was young, about ten or so, I watched Jaws in my basement. I felt scared because I cared about the characters. I didn't know what would happen. It wasn't just a movie, it was an experience. That feeling, that rush, hit me again when watching Poltergeist. This movie understands horror far more than Saw, Paranormal Activity, or any slasher remake. If you watch it on its own terms, this movie will make you revert into a little child, alone and terrified. That's horror.
By the way, this is well known, but still, some skeletons that appear near the end of the film are real. Buying them was cheaper than making props. Enjoy!