From Atlantis to Interzone

Poltergeist (Hooper, 1982)
December 8, 2008, 12:00 pm
Filed under: Film


Past experiences with horror films centred on apparitions suggest that a low-key approach usually produces the best results, although this is obviously not always the case. That Poltergeist is such a successful entry in the ghostly sub-genre comes as something of a surprise then. With Steven Spielberg’s involvement in various aspects of the production, as well as contributions from such people as Jerry Goldsmith, Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy, the film can definitely be considered miles apart from other acclaimed ghost films on a lower scale such as that film about that witch causing mischief in Blair. There are definitely low-key scenes of terror and intrigue in Hooper’s film but there are moments, particularly in the latter stages, that are particularly bombastic and yet still remain effective. It is a wonderfully put together piece of high-budget horror, with the exemplary effects work remaining impressive after 26 years as well as the addition of wonderful cinematography, lighting and sound. In terms of the latter technical aspect, Jerry Goldsmith’s contributions are worthy of praise. The music here is some of the most chilling and effective I’ve come across in a horror film.

There have been many discussions concerning who the true creative force behind this film is. Regardless of whether Hooper or Spielberg directed it, there are some truly wonderfully crafted sequences here, with personal highlights being Carol Anne’s encounter with the ghost in the television (“They’re here”), moving chairs, the appearance of one giant apparition towards the end and the gruesome reveal of a certain unpleasantness in the family pool. A familiar aspect of Spielberg’s films present in his script is the idea of a family struggling to stay together through hardship, and the work of the actors creates a very believable, strong family unit, with Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams shining as the parents. Heather O’Rourke, as the youngest child and the one kidnapped by the spirits, proves to be the film’s highlight, through such moments as the aforementioned television sequence and even in quieter scenes such as those before any signs of supernatural activity occur. She’s one of those children in peril who you actually care about and that’s one of the strength of Hooper’s/Spielberg’s film. Despite all of the gruesomeness and terror, there is a deeply involving family struggle at the heart of it.



3 Comments so far
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Its been a while since I’ve seen this movie, so correct me if I’m wrong on any of this. First off, great review,I particularly like that you mention the family aspect of Poltergeist that is much stronger then in similar cases such as Amityville Horror.

But what I wanted to talk about was how you mention the gruesome end being different from most effective ghost stories, and I find that false, it follows a similar structure to a good percent of effective atmosphere based horror. That being the large and movie long buildup resulting in some sort of gore or alarming conclusion. Rosemary’s Baby is a classic example. Now, here in lies the major problem I have with this movie. IT completely messes with the buildup and ends up having something like two conclusions. It would have been better had it not broken up the growing intensity with the fauxending in which they return and believe everything to be all right (this is all based on hazy memories, so again, if I’m wrong, please say so). There was no real reason for it, and it really just came off as being cliche and messing with the atmosphere.

Comment by hobojoebob

That’s not what I said. :|

Comment by spengo

Asking questions are really good thing if you are not understanding anything totally, but this article presents pleasant understanding

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