Halloween Horror Month: ‘Poltergeist’

Review

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Graphic by Mae Bruce

‘Poltergeist’ (1982) haunts audiences with its unsettling cinematography.

Toni Trankaroff, Reporter

Poltergeist (1982), written by Stephen Spielberg and directed by Tobe Hooper, leaves the viewer with an entertaining thrill and a taste of sweet nostalgia. This exciting yet subtle, creepy, and nightmare-inducing film is regarded as a cult classic. It became the eighth highest-grossing film in 1982 for several reasons. Without too much graphic violence, Poltergeist relies on spooky visuals and paranormal matters that will linger in your mind for days. Spielberg, director of classic films such as Jaws and E.T., is forever one of the most influential figures to grace Hollywood. Alongside Spielberg, Hooper is the famed director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and together, these two do not disappoint.

The movie begins with a seemingly normal family, the Freelings, comfortably living in their home. In the next couple of scenes, Steve Freeling finds his youngest daughter, Carol Anne, speaking to the television as if she were talking to someone. This sets off a series of sinister paranormal events that affect the whole family. From getting attacked by a tree to an investigator’s face melting off, this film has remained a classic even after its release 36 years ago. Not only does this movie keep you on the edge of your seat the whole time, but it portrays an interesting theme: family will do anything for each other through the life cycle.  

Throughout the movie, there are some iconic scenes that stand out because of the sinister feeling it leaves you with. One of the most significant scenes that ties to the familial theme is when Diane Freeling, Carol Anne’s mother, finds the entrance of the other dimension in the children’s bedroom closet after Carol Anne has been abducted. She decides to go to purgatory to rescue her daughter by tying the two portals so she can pass through. Eventually, Carol Anne and Diane are seen escaping purgatory while viewers anxiously wait to see if Carol Anne will take a breath. This scene symbolizes rebirth, considering Carol Anne was the first baby born in the house, which is why the Beast takes interest in her.

Not only does the theme make this film a classic, but the effects were quite modernized for its time. In one of the scenes, a paranormal investigator gets his face melted off and ripped apart in seconds, but the actual production took days to create; the FX team didn’t just put makeup on Martin Casella, they created an entire lifelike bust. The team went above and beyond and not just for those kinds of special effects. Alone in the house on their last night, Robbie, Diane’s son, gets attacked by a clown doll, and Diane gets thrown onto the ceiling by the force. She then gets dragged to the swimming pool, and skeletons surround her as she tries to escape. The twist, though, is that the skeletons were actual human remains, and Diane’s blood-chilling scream wasn’t method acting. No one knew that the skeletons were real, but the crew later found out. Apparently, making skeletons out of rubber was too expensive, so they went with the chilling but cheaper alternative.  

Overall, Poltergeist will always stay a classic because of its chilling special effects and the close bonds between the family. It took a different approach to horror: not gruesome, but sinister. I never knew what was going to happen, and it always kept me engaged. Even after 36 years, this movie never fails to frighten its audience.