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H'ween Horrorthon: Poltergeist

This chilling and controversial haunted house thriller was the late Tobe Hooper's lasting legacy.

By Carlos GonzalezPublished 6 years ago 6 min read
Courtesy of MGM Pictures.

Hello and... boo!

The latest in my horrorthon is a classic ghost story from the mind and imagination of director Steven Spielberg, but the reigns of the direction were handed to director Tobe Hooper, the man who scared generations of roving hitchhikers and weed-obsessed youths with one man—Leatherface, in his seminal 1974 cheapie-chiller The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

There has always been a raging debate as to "who" actually directed Poltergeist. Many critics and movie geeks have unanimously agree that the Spielberg stamp is clearly visible here, and considering the raw, visceralness of Massacre of Hooper vs. the magic that is Spielberg; it is hard to discern who had the most creative control of the film and its direction.

I personally could care less. I saw this film years ago as a kid on HBO, before I could appreciate the letterbox aspect ratio on DVD and Blu-ray and being an easily impressionable kid, I honestly took the PG-rating to heart. I mean, after all, this was the man who took me, along with a squashy alien being on a magical moon ride on a bicycle with his last masterpiece, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. I had no idea what a poltergeist even was. I got into the film's groove as I was introduced to the Freeling family. Young Heather O'Rourke, as the cherubic, blond girl Carol Anne, approaches the large Zenith television and begins talking to it. I kind of sat there, lost and confused, yet, quite intrigued.

Everything up to that point, was pure Spielberg. The suburban homes that all like sterile clones of nuclear bomb test sites. The tacked-on smiles on the faces of the kids riding their bikes and terrorizing the adults on their way to their neighbor's house for Sunday afternoon football. Mom making the kids' bed and kids, either stuffing their face or staring at the ominous tree, daring himself to climb it.

Then, the canary dies and it all goes downhill from there.

At the time, I honestly did NOT believe I was watching a horror film—thought I was watching a sweet movie about white suburbia and thought maybe E.T. had a kid sister somewhere. It was fifteen minutes after Oliver Robbins, (Robbie) stares down a big, freaky-looking clown doll. At this point, I was getting weirded out. Where the hell was E.T.'s sister—Dang it?! When the kids sleep in their parent's room and the TV set turns on by itself (playing the "Star-Spangled Banner," making it too much like a death march); Carol Anne wakes up again and approaches the set and reaches out her hand. The ghostly skeletal hand reaches right back. I think at this point, I lost it. My undigested food decided to go kersplat in my pants. I was breathing rapidly and my heart rate jumped about a thousand beats per second. O'Roarke utters the iconic line: "They're heeeerree!" Oh, so now it dawns on me! This is a horror movie! Damn you, Spielberg!

The kitchen scene was also the thing that set my nerves frying like chicken. The kids are in a rush to finish breakfast to get to school. The dog is finishing the leftovers. All leave, say Diane (JoBeth Williams) and daughter, Carol Anne (O'Roarke) and the family dog, E. Buzz. One second her back is turned and then—chairs are all on the table. Seriously... WTF?!?!

As the Freelings are desperately trying to wrap their heads around the paranormal events in their home, Robbie is having another staredown at the family tree, hoping and praying that it doesn't burst through the window. Does it? Did the T-Rex in Jurassic Park decide that the dim-witted lawyer in the can was NOT worth eating?

Then... Carol Anne is sucked into the closet and... ok, give me a second, I just peed all over myself.

In all seriousness, Poltergeist was a pull-out-all-the-stops scare show with so many memorable shocks and eye-popping effects that I'd never seen in any movie at that point. But, what separates this from the standard ghost horror fare; The Amityville Horror as a prime example of how not to do it, is putting the viewer center stage in front of the roller coaster and tear out the breaks! It also helps that the family enduring the horrors is both sympathetic and real. You care enough for their plight and hope in all sincerity that they can retrieve their kidnapped child from the clutches of "The Light."

Much has been said, not just if Hooper had directed the film in its entirety, but if the film had a curse on it as well. Let's face it, a film being made about paranormal activity could invite the wrong energy if not handled the right way. It was sad, losing Heather O'Rourke at such a young age, as well as the tragic murder of young actress, Dominique Dunne, just as she wrapped shooting, and even reports of on-set injuries and even a reportedly real-life incident with that demonic clown doll that nearly choked Robbins to death. The most telling of the potential urban legend was the use of real skeletons in the climactic pool scene that led to even more speculation of whether the set indeed was possessed with a malevolent spirit, or 'its.

Who the hell knows. Here's my simple two cents. A real horror film does what it's supposed to do—scare the living shit out of you, and it does it admirably. Real horror movies stay in your mind even after it is long over. This does it, indeed. To be fair, I do believe Hooper contributed plenty of creative input, as he once admitted that he had had a poltergeist encounter early in his youth. By the way, the lay definition of a poltergeist is a noisy, rattly ghost.

If I had to quibble about something, it's the fact that it earned a PG-rating. Uh-not even close, bub! It was an R-rated film from start to finish. Spielberg had broke many boundaries in the past with his films, but, I'm sorry, when a man rips his whole face off in front of a mirror, it doesn't qualify as alien cute and cuddly. It was here and other films that forced the MPAA to add a new rating: PG-13. My verdict? Still an R—as in revolting!

In closing. Poltergeist is in my Top-10 of all-time Best Horror Films—and for good reason. It deceived me in the outset, but took me to hell and back, and I never recovered. More than Leatherface ever did. Thank you Mr. Spielberg and most especially, Mr. Hooper... wherever you are.

P.S. Do NOT under any circumstances see, or validate the 2015 train wreck reboot! I will hate you forever! Seriously... as a heart attack!

Next up: A razor-bladed sandman haunted our dreams for all eternity.


About the Creator

Carlos Gonzalez

A passionate writer and graphic artist looking to break into the BIG TIME! Short stories, scripts and graphic art are my forte! Brooklyn N.Y. born and raised. Living in Manchester, Connecticut! Working on two novels now!

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