While living an an average family house in a pleasant neighborhood, the youngest daughter of the Freeling family, Carol Anne, seems to be connecting with the supernatural through a dead channel on the television.
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An odd creature this, combining Speilbergian sentimentality with modest horror tactics - a formula continued with Gremlins replacing shlock with slapstick. It holds attention despite uneven pacing, variable performance styles and certainly one false finale too many. A tightening of plot and reduction of length would have improved matters, although the occasional satiric barb on Americana pokes through in recompense.
At a recent screening in San Francisco, I was disappointed to find that the 70mm print was in such bad shape that "Poltergeist's" deep blue and black hues instead read as magenta. I was worried it would impact my enjoyment of finally seeing the film on the big screen, but such is the power of "Poltergeist" that five minutes later it didn't matter. The warmest, funniest, and most joyous horror film ever made.
In '82 this well told mix of family story and horror film delivered both jolts and a moving story about the power of familial love. 30 years on the effects are pretty damn creaky but the tale is still enjoyable despite all the copycats and parodies since. Jobeth Williams was spectacular here and interesting turns by Straight and Rubinstein were fun as well. Less successful were the child performances.
Whether Spielberg was the secret director or just an extremely helpful producer, this is still an important entry in his canon, a B-side to E.T. that captures childhood fear as much as E.T. did childhood loneliness. And if you pay attention to the little details (and you really should), you get a pretty bitchin' satire of the advent of Reagan's America. One last thought: WHY DIDN'T THEY LEAVE THE GODDAMN HOUSE!?!