Play It Again – Poltergeist

Play It Again – Poltergeist. Starring Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams, and Heather O’Rourke. Directed by Tobe Hooper. Rated M. By Jess Lomas.

Play It Again is a weekly feature in which our classic-film connoisseurs revisit a revered motion picture from the annals of movie history, to see if it holds up… or if it has aged terribly. And yes, it takes its name from a famously misquoted Casablanca line (hey, whatever; it fits!). 

One should worry when the highlight of a film occurs within the first fifteen minutes and involves a man attempting to ride a bicycle and balance a slab of beer. After such hijinks it’s surely all downhill as the Freeling family entertain some unwelcome visitors in Poltergeist, the Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre) directed horror feature co-written and co-produced by Steven Spielberg.

The paranormal incidents begin when the Freeling family – pot-smoking parents Steve (Craig T. Nelson) and Diane (JoBeth Williams), eldest daughter Dana (Dominique Dunne), son Robbie (Oliver Robbins) and the youngest, Carol Anne (Heather O’Rouke) – are asleep. Carol Anne is summoned to the static on the television where she begins talking to an unseen presence. Next come the storms, the unexplained energy forces moving objects and people, and finally, the magical closest, which sucks Carol Anne in, trapping her in an alternate spectral plane. What begins as trivial soon turns dangerous and the Freelings recruit para-psychologist Dr. Lesh (Beatrice Straight) who in turn brings in clairvoyant and spiritual “cleaner” Tangina (Zelda Rubinstein) to save Carol Anne and banish the spirits plaguing their home.

The movie was a hit on its release in 1982 and has since spawned countless references in popular culture, from the creepy line, “They’re heeere,” uttered by the adorably creepy blonde Carol Anne, to the self combusting house. If you’ve never seen Poltergeist you’ll be familiar with many of the picture’s key sequences. Unfortunately, in-between these eerie or clever moments enveloped in tacky 80s special effects is a story weighed down with too-long monologues and over-the-top acting. It’s cheesy fun but scary it is definitely not.

To call Poltergiest horror is somewhat misleading (the fabled “Poltergeist curse” is scarier); perhaps “spiritual drama” is a more fitting description until the closing scenes in which a clown comes to life and gives coulrophobics the fright of their life. If it’s thrills and chills you’re seeking out you won’t find them here but Poltergeist is a charming time capsule of the early eighties horror genre that delivered some original ideas.

3/5

Poltergeist is available on DVD and Blu-ray. It can also be streamed instantly on Quickflix PLAY.

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