Oh how the rating system has changed. While most of the ratings are on films to give a parent guidance as to what their children can watch sometimes those films deserve a viewing beforehand all the same. The reason I say this is because Poltergeist (1982). The feature garnered a PG rating. Yes, PG. So when it came on HBO one day when I was home sick from school, my mother thought it would be okay for me to watch. She knew that watching a horror film would keep me entertained and take my mind away from the fact I was sick.
Boy was she right and for all the wrong reasons. After viewing Poltergeist I did not want to sleep in my room because the was a tree outside the window. Despite the fact I am an avid tree lover I was half determined the tree would swoop me up and try to eat me afterward. These moments are probably half of the reason I’m a little on the weird side. Regardless that tree frightened me and the idea of leaving a television on at night could not occur within my room for a very long time. Now some kids probably feel the same way about The Ring (2002).
While I cannot say for sure if the reason ghosts scare the hell out of me stemmed from watching Poltergeist, it would not surprise me if that’s the reason. This movie is not for the faint of heart, but every horror fan needs to watch once in their lifetime.
The film surrounds the Freeling family. They are a family of five and they have it all. Three children and a loving marriage in a suburban neighborhood. Who else could ask for more? They are living the American dream. Soon the young family realize that their house has a few visitors. Ghosts. At first they feel that the ghosts are friendly and will not harm them. They start moving around objects in the house, especially in the kitchen. One afternoon the mother, Diane Freeling (JoBeth Williams), discovers if she sets her daughter, Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke), of the floor, the little girl can slide from one part of the kitchen to the other. Completely normal!
Soon the family realize that the spirits are not half as friendly as they let on in the beginning. They begin to terrorize the family and even kidnap the youngest daughter, Carol Anne. The family, of course, call in outside assistance, but how does one really explain to anyone a ghost captured their daughter? Many methods are produced to attempt to get Carol Anne back, but will the family’s problems be over if they do get their daughter back? Only those who have seen the feature know for sure.
The thrills and chills, the acting is some of the best I have seen in any horror film. Craig T. Nelson, who plays the father Steve Freeling, is the typical family man. He is truly perfect for the role. He can go back and forth between fear and amusement with ease. Though at one point in the film the family shows nothing but fear and who can blame them?
Williams shines as Diane. She is the devoted mother who just wants her baby back and will go to hell and back to retrieve her baby girl. Quite frankly, I would like to believe that any mother would go through what Williams did in the film to protect her family. Diane Freeling truly deserves the fictional mother of the year award for 1982, because she goes above and beyond. Another fantastic performance goes to Zelda Rubinstein. So many nuances to her performance that I am still amazed by even today.
My other favorite performance by an adult within the film goes to Beatrice Straight, Dr. Lesh. While she believes in the supernatural, this is the first case she has ever dealt with that has so many complications. This is obvious the deeper into the case her and her crew go with the Freeling family. Her fear and acceptance of what is occurring around them is rare in a thriller, even if the person believes in the subject.
Last, but not least I must praise O’Rourke. One cannot talk about this film without bringing up the lovely little lady who played Carol Anne. From the moment she utters “They’re hereeeeee” one knows she will deliver an impeccable performance. And at such a young age this manages to amaze me about her. She is the shining star of the film and manages to steal every scene she performs in. Poltergeist is a rare film that shows why good acting in a horror film is important.
I also cannot talk about Poltergeist without talking about “The Poltergeist Curse”. Years after watching the film and discovering IMDB, I began to read about this so-called curse. This curse is so well known in Hollywood that E! True Hollywood Story produced the episode “Curse of Poltergeist”. Most of these reports always stem from the rumors that people say real cadavers were props in both Poltergeist and Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986). Most famously the rumors are that the bodies found in the muddy water in the pool toward the end of the first film are all real. If this is the case Williams really did go above and beyond for her craft is all I have to say. There is no way that anyone could talk this writer into swimming with those things.
Furthermore, the eldest daughter Dana, played by Dominique Dunne, died by the hands of an abusive boyfriend the same year the film released in theaters. The film released on June 4, 1982 and she died on November 4, 1982. Then actor Julian Beck, Henry Kane in Poltergeist II, died before the second film was ever released. Granted, his diagnosis with stomach cancer came before he accepted the role, but the cancer moved a lot faster than doctors had expected.
Another victim of Poltergeist II is that of Will Sampson, Taylor the medicine man. A little over a year after the release date of Poltergeist II, Sampson lost his life as result of post-operative kidney failure. It was also said that some of that could have been because of per-operative malnutrition as well.
And on the saddest note of them all, O’Rourke passed away four months before the third and final installment of the franchise released. While doctors stated that she was suffering from acute influenza, they later discovered that she was suffering from septic shock. She also suffered from acute bowl obstruction, which was also also misdiagnosed. Is the curse real? While no definitive answer will ever exist, the coincidences are hard to ignore.
Overall, Poltergeist is one of the best horror films of all time. The fact this film can still scare me all these years later speaks volumes. Back in 1982, the special effects were outstanding and they still are today. Poltergeist has many twists and turns that will give anyone goosebumps and after all one of the fun parts of the Halloween season. It also has a remake that isn’t horrible, but it’s definitely not the original.
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