Poltergeist: On-This-Day Thursday
Every Thursday, an older film released on this opening weekend years ago will be reviewed. They can be classics, or simply popular films that happened to be released to the world on the same date.
For June 4th, we are going to have a look at Poltergeist.
It's weird to admire Poltergeist as a whole, rather than imagine all of its individual, pop culture parts. It's also insane to imagine that this film came out anytime during the first half of a year (rather than at Halloween, or even during the cold winter), but alas this is a June 4th release. What this tells me, is that Tobe Hooper functioned by trying to make a great horror film, rather than aim for the buzz. The terrifying moments were to appeal to a greater fear. The film came out when it was ready.
Poltergeist is definitely an inspiration to many modern horror films, but many of these followers are pale attempts. What these successors fail to remember, is how much of this film relies on the positive atmosphere and not just the creation of terror. We have a family put together by Steven Spielberg (in a writer position here), that has to endure the storm together. Togetherness may not always be the wisest idea, as daughter Carol Anne acts as both the portal to the unknown, and the bait by the unknown. So much of this film operates around the comeuppance of the persistence to disturb the settled. The building of a house on an old burial ground. The feeding into curiosity of what the others can do. A poltergeist is a ghost that can move objects at will, but so much of this film is based on self infliction.
So, which moment is the best? The clown strangulation under the bed? The phantom assembly of chairs? "They're here!"? Nope. I'm going with the face-shaving moment. Why? Again: it's self destruction. This was by far the scariest moment for me when I was a kid, because I just could not understand why anyone wouldn't stop peeling their face off once they even got close to starting. It was another indicator that this film about family was hell bent on tearing these people apart. In this scene, it was almost like destiny. If everyone else is being removed from our traditional whole, why shouldn't I be?
Say what you want about the terrific special effects, and the great use of heightening senses. At the end of the day, Poltergeist lingers, because it knows how to dig deeper into your being more than you realize. It wanted to tell a family story first, then continue with whatever scare tactics were necessary afterwards. So many horror directors need to watch Poltergeist again, only because this film (and The Exorcist and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, of course) is the one they usually try to rip off the most. You cannot have negative without positive. You cannot sink into fear without knowing what the good life was like. You cannot take people away without making them mean something. Hooper aligned all of his pieces, shouted "begin," and let his soul (or spirit) guide the rest of the way. That's why Poltergeist is so genuine. That's why it'll never leave you.
Andreas Babiolakis has a Masters degree in Film and Photography Preservation and Collections management from Ryerson University, as well as a Bachelors degree in Cinema Studies from York University. His favourite times of year are the Criterion Collection flash sales and the annual Toronto International Film Festival.