Poltergeist (1982)

(On Cable TV, April 2016) I sat down to watch Poltergeist with some apprehension: Horror movies often don’t age well, and this one had a reputation for being heavy on special effects, which don’t always age very well either. I had dim memories of being scared of parts of the movie as a young kid (enough so that without quite remembering why, I started feeling queasy when I saw the steak moving across the kitchen counter…) but otherwise approached the film fresh. Fortunately, Poltergeist still works splendidly today. It’s suspenseful, funny at unexpected times and crazy when it needs to pull all the stops. The special effects are not bad, and if the film feels familiar (it probably codified half the story beats we now associate with haunted-house stories), it’s also just quirky enough to feel fresh. The early eighties setting now has a definitive charm, as do some of the special effects limitations. Interestingly enough, modern technology now arguably enhances the film’s sense of dread: When I was intrigued enough to wonder what a hand-drawn 1988 Super Bowl poster would be doing in a 1982 movie, I immediately used my phone to Google my question … and really did not expect the answer I got. (Also: That steak crawling on the kitchen counter scene? Still gross after all these years.) On a more light-hearted note, I was impressed at the unexpected humour shown in the film as a family playfully accepts the presence of paranormal forces in its house (before a family member disappears, that is), and even more impressed at how the movie pulls out all the stops when it’s time for stuff to get completely crazy, either at mid-movie or during the all-out finale. Never mind that the various scares don’t really amount to something cohesive given the premise of the film: it’s thrilling enough to paper over any objections. The directing helps: Tobe Hooper may be listed as the director, but there’s a definitive early-Spielbergian quality to the result that practically makes the movie a full entry in Spielberg’s filmography. Of the actors, Craig T. Nelson is very good as the fatherly anchor of the film, with young Heather O’Rourke being iconic as the young Carol-Anne. Poltergeist is still fairly well-known today for a good reason: it has aged very well and even its competent 2015 remake makes it look even better.

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