8. Poltergeist

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Movie: Poltergeist

Release Date: June 4, 1982

Director: Tobe Hooper

Starring: JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson, Beatrice Straight.

Tag Lines: “From a dimension beyond the living, a terror to scare you to death.”

“Mommy, Daddy, where are you?”

“Its form is revealed, Its focus is clear and the games are over.”

“They’re here.”

“It knows what scares you.”

“Some things have to be believed to be seen.”

“The first real ghost story.”

Relevance: I grew up two blocks away from my paternal Grandparents and one block away from my maternal Grandparents. Family was always around in one capacity or another and I grew up with lots of love and attention. My family wasn’t rich by any means and I wasn’t spoiled but I never wanted for anything. My maternal Grandparents (Tom and Josie) were especially close to us. I spent many hours with them either at our house, their house or in the back seat of their car tagging along on their monthly grocery run. They were also our babysitters whenever my parents went out for a night on the town (which was a rare occasion). It was on one of those nights at my Grandparents house that I first saw the trailer to ‘Poltergeist.’

‘Poltergeist’ was released in theaters in June of 1982. It received major critical acclaim and was a movie that everyone was talking about. You couldn’t go anywhere without hearing, “They’re here.” Audiences flocked to see it and it became the highest grossing horror movie that year as well as the eighth highest grossing film overall. It was nominated for three Academy Awards and was instantly deemed a modern horror classic. I was eleven at the time and loved everything horror. I remember sitting on my Grandparent’s couch in my pajamas with all of the lights off watching television with Josie. (Tom was in the kitchen having a shot and a beer.) It was one of those rare nights my parents were out and about and I was spending the night with them. I don’t remember the program we were watching, but I do remember the commercial for ‘Poltergeist.’ “It knows what scares you” was the tag line at the end of the trailer and I was immediately intrigued.

Being eleven, there was a slim chance I wasn’t going to convince anyone to take me to see the film. I was right. I didn’t. ‘Poltergeist’ was one of those movies that I so badly wanted to see in theaters and never got the chance. However, every time that trailer was on TV I was glued to it. There was a novelization of the film released that same year and I was able to convince my mom to buy it for me. I was only eleven, but there I was reading an adult book about death, ghosts and the supernatural. That’s how badly I wanted to see the movie.

It wasn’t until 1983 when I finally got the chance to see the film. The movie was going to air on HBO and I was super excited. I was in the sixth grade and using our handy dandy HBO Guide was mapping out the times I would be able to catch it. The first airing was on at 2:30 pm in the afternoon on a weekday. I went to a Catholic grade school that had hours of 8 am to 2:30 pm. I was dropped off and picked up at school by neighbors that lived two houses away from me. I figured I was going to miss the first fifteen minutes or so, but I would be able to catch the bulk of the movie. I talked about it all day with friends. There were two other friends that were going to watch the movie as well and we were all super excited. The plan would have worked marvelously if it weren’t for my mother.

My mom was not at all a fan of horror. She loathed everything scary, including Halloween. When I got home that afternoon around 2:50 pm I ran into the living room, put on HBO and plopped down on the couch. There I got to see the first glimpse of ‘Poltergeist.’ Then my mom walked in. “I am not watching this movie. Turn the channel, now,” she yelled. We only had one television set that had HBO back then, so my plan was foiled. There was no arguing with my mother. She ruled the house, especially the television. If I wanted dinner, heck if I wanted to live, I had to change the channel. I did just that and then went upstairs to sulk.

I finally got to see the movie later that month when it aired again and was given permission by my mom. Sometimes after waiting so long to see a movie, the hype is so grand that the movie is sort of a let down. That was not the case with ‘Poltergeist.’ I loved absolutely everything about it. It was scary and creepy and had great characters with a fantastic story. It was thrilling to watch, and I did so over and over again. It was a movie that I recorded on a blank VHS tape and watched incessantly. I am sure my family got sick of hearing it play, but I didn’t care. I absolutely loved the movie and seeing it was by far the best thing that happened to me that year.

‘Poltergeist’ has remained my favorite horror movie of all time and one that I have owned in every format available, including the 25th Anniversary DVD. I was able to make it to the theaters to see both of its sequels, although I did skip the remake released in 2015. (I eventually saw it via rental and was none to impressed.) I don’t even know why they tried. There was nothing at all that was going to top the original. It’s constantly referenced and quoted by me and friends and a movie that still entertains me and one that always will.

Today’s Thoughts: “Now clear your minds. It knows what scares you. It has from the very beginning. Don’t give it any help, it knows too much already.”

Like yesterday’s movie (see 9. West Side Story), I watched ‘Poltergeist’ with my husband. He was mostly quiet through the movie until he got a phone call, eventually leaving the room to finish the conversation. He didn’t make it back to see the ending but asked if it ended the same way. I told him this time Carol Anne came back as a Gremlin and they fed her after midnight. “Good ending” was his response.

‘Poltergeist’ is still one of the best movies ever made and I love watching it every single time. It just never gets old for me. There is such a nostalgic feel to it now and although some of the special effects are dated, the film is still completely effective. One reason is the story. Steven Spielberg created, as usual, such a human story underneath the supernatural elements and with the direction of Tobe Hooper the screenplay just works marvelously. Secondly, the cast is sublime. JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson, Beatrice Straight, Oliver Robins, Dominique Dunne and Heather O’Rourke are perfection. The acting is so good throughout, rare in the horror genre, especially Ms. Williams. Her performance as the matriarch is simply incredible. And of course there is Tangina Barrons, played fabulously by Zelda Rubenstein. Her character is the one whose quotes get used the most by me. After a day of chores you will always here, “This house is clean.”

‘Poltergeist’ is a horror classic hands down, no arguments accepted. It still knows what scares us and is able to do so in such a fun, entertaining beautiful way. The movie has been in my life for so long and it will remain with me until I “go into the light.” I strongly recommend this movie, especially if you have never seen it. Watch it immediately. Nothing says “Marry Christmas Eve” like a man eating a chicken wing filled with maggots than peeling his face off. Happy Holidays!

Awards: Academy Award for Best Effects, Visual Effects, Richard Edlund, Michael Wood, Bruce Nicholson (nomination), Academy Award for Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing, Stephen Hunter Flick, Richard L. Anderson (nomination), Academy Award for Best Music, Original Score, Jerry Goldsmith (nomination), BAFTA Award for Best Special Visual Effects, Richard Edlund (winner),

Ways to Watch: Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu, DVD Availability.

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