Updated: Nov 12, 2019
Nominee #7 - Poltergeist (1982)
A family and their home are targeted by demonic entities, specifically interested in their youngest child.
Director: Tobe Hooper
Writers: Steven Spielberg (screenplay), Michael Grais (screenplay)
TV sets were never the same again. Just as Jaws scared people out of the water, Poltergeist (1982) ensured people never looked at their televisions without feeling a little creepy sensation run down their spines. Spielberg took his own fears of a tree outside his window and of clowns and gave them starring roles in this horror classic. Tobe Hooper gets official credit as the Director but this is a Spielberg film all the way and his handprints are all over it.
The journey from playfulness - spoons bending, chairs in a pyramid, shelves shutting - to terror is so gradual; it’s like a laugh that turns into a scream.
The movie starts off innocuously enough with a typical everyday family we can identify with, whose home is abruptly visited by strange phenomena. The reaction begins with amusement, but as the visitation gets more terrifying in its antics, the family is swept into despair when their daughter is sucked in through the TV set into a portal of horror.
The journey from playfulness - spoons bending, chairs in a pyramid, shelves shutting - to terror is so gradual, it’s like a laugh that turns into a scream. The movie tightens it’s vice like grip as sequence after sequence lifts the terror quotient to the next level.The special effects manage to chill even though they didn’t have the benefit of today’s CGI and that is the strength of the movie. A great plot, well drawn characters and the tension of the beast that underlines the whole movie.
Carol Ann played by Heather O’Rourke is at the centre of the plot. It is she the poltergeist chooses. Her vulnerability adds to the sheer helpfulness that the family and we, as the audience, feel. Craig T Nelson playing Dad - Steve Freeling; JoBeth Williams playing Mum - Diane; Dominique Dunn playing the teenage sister - Dana; and Oliver Robbins playing the brother Robbie - all deliver a fabulous performance as the family thrust from normalcy to fighting for their lives and sanity. Zelda Rubinstein as the medium Tangina Barrons brings an other-worldly air to her character and becomes the family’s line of defence.
With a choice of relatively unknown actors, Spielberg and Hooper keep the focus on the plot and the horror unfolding. Jerry Goldsmith came up with a memorable score ( he also did the music for The Omen (1976)) and the editing by Spielberg favourite, Michael Kahn all work well together to make this a horror classic for the ages.
It’s hard to imagine that the touchy, feely E.T. (1982) and Poltergeist (1982) released within a week of each other from the same man’s imagination and creativity. As Spielberg put it: “If E.T. was a whisper, Poltergeist was a scream.”