When deciding on a horror film for my List of Shame, I naturally devised a list. This list contained a lot of old B-horror films from the 80s and 90s. Hiding amongst these bad horror films is one that I truly was ashamed of not having seen, and that was 1982’s Poltergeist. Produced by Steven Spielberg, and directed by Tobe Hoper (Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)), the film depicts a happy family in suburbia being tortured by a poltergeist that lives in their house. The general plot goes a little something like this: a poltergeist haunts their house, built on a sacred Indian burial ground, by rearranging furniture in their kitchen. When their son is almost eaten by a tree, and their daughter is taken into a parallel universe within her closet, the couple (Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams) seeks the help of paranormal researchers from the local college, and a psychic (Zelda Rubinstein) who helps them cleanse the house. They get their daughter from the house, and leave just before the house crumbles in on itself, disappearing into thin air.
This film came out in 1982, a time I call the mid-morning of Steven Spielberg, somewhere between Jaws, and Indiana Jones. He had a producing credit, and a writing credit (I think he was added for marketing purposes), but he released E.T. that same year, stealing any chance for Poltergeist to win any Academy Awards. Back when the Academy Awards had some semblance of current filmmaking, they seemed to understand their categories and had fitting nominees. Poltergeist was nominated for Best Sound Editing, Best Visual Effects and Best Original Score, all swept out from under them by E.T.. When seeing this film for the first time I really was impressed with the sound editing. All of the Foley didn’t seem too forced, or out of place, and the dialogue wasn’t noticeably ADR, both very hard things to accomplish in a horror film from the eighties. The visual effects were alright. There was one gruesome moment where one of the researchers skin falls off his face in a dream, but the effect where the scenery is literally flipped upside down was overwrought by a lot of other horror flicks of its time. I thought the lighting was particularly good when the ghosts came down the stairs, and the tree that tried to eat the little boy was pretty amazing. I wasn’t entirely impressed by the score, it was John Williams-esque (Star Wars), but not quite.
There’s certainly a reason as to why I hadn’t seen this in the 26 years of my existence, and I think it’s because I had a hard time disassociating nods from pop culture, and even parodies of the film. In particular the Family Guy episode called “Petergeist,” where Peter desecrates the remains of a sacred Indian burial ground, and the house becomes plagued by a poltergeist. When watching Poltergeist, I kept thinking how the closet in the childrens’ room was a doorway to Meg Griffin’s butt, and that every time Craig T. Nelson threw a tennis ball into the closet, it would fly out Meg’s ass. The film seemed really stupid and dated, and quite honestly it is, but it had some importance in filmic history. The visual effects may seem a little dated now, but they are very important to recognize and admire, because none of that aesthetic exists today, though it should.