Combustible Celluloid
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With: Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams, Beatrice Straight, Dominique Dunne, Oliver Robins, Heather O'Rourke, Michael McManus, Virginia Kiser, Martin Casella, Richard Lawson, Zelda Rubinstein, Lou Perryman, Clair E. Leucart, James Karen, Dirk Blocker, Allan Graf, Joseph Walsh
Written by: Steven Spielberg, Michael Grais, Mark Victor, based on a story by Steven Spielberg
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 114
Date: 06/04/1982

Poltergeist (1982)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

They're Here

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Poltergeist was as big a hit for director Tobe Hooper as was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), even if it wasn't quite the same type of cultural phenomenon. Its success probably rested more on producer and co-writer Steven Spielberg, who was on a massive box office roll at that point. Though it's unconfirmed, certain sequences look as if Spielberg may have directed as well, perhaps in re-shoots after Hooper had turned in his cut. Regardless, it's a highly effective and uncommonly emotional horror film, and in the summer of 1982, I preferred it to Spielberg's more universally admired E.T.

In the suburbs, a young girl (Heather O'Rourke) begins hearing voices from the television set, and is soon abducted into the screen. Her father (Craig T. Nelson), mother (JoBeth Williams), older sister Dana (Dominique Dunne) and brother Robbie (Oliver Robins) attempt to find her. They hire a medium (Zelda Rubinstein) to clean the "possessed" house, and each experiences spooky occurrences of their own. Robbie battles a demon tree, while other characters are plagued with things like steak. (All of these terrifying things are found in any suburban home.)

Hooper and Spielberg spend a great deal of time setting up the suburban world of the characters, and we know them each intimately before the terror starts. (Parts are actually pretty funny!) The filmmakers also understand the value of a good resting point before things fire up again. The special effects may overwhelm the ending, but they do little to dull the power of the whole. The film spawned two sequels, and each of the films were plagued with creepy events. Dunne was murdered a few months after the first film opened, actor Julian Beck died after making Poltergeist II, and little O'Rourke died at age 12 after completing Poltergeist III.

Warner Home Video has released this MGM film on a new DVD for its 25th anniversary. It includes a new featurette on the nature of poltergeists in the real world.

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