Horror Bingo 2022: Poltergeist (1982)

Friends, enemies, random passersby, the end is in sight! I have two more reviews to write (not including this one), and then Horror Bingo 2022 will finally come to an end. (I’d hoped I’d be able to finish up this week, but alas, that was not meant to be.)

Today’s film is a horror movie classic. It is also, hilariously, the only horror movie I liked as a child—hilarious because I did not like most scary things until junior high and usually ran to my room to play whenever any movie frightened me.

Tobe Hooper Poltergeist GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Poltergeist, though? Poltergeist, I liked.

Year: 1982
Director: Tobe Hooper
First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Streaming Service: HBO Max
Spoilers: Definitely
Grade: Chocolate

There are a few reasons that Poltergeist might appeal to people (and/or small children) who don’t normally like horror movies. The body count is extremely low, only 1: Tweety the Bird. There’s not much in the way of gore (save poor Marty’s face, of course), and some of the special effects—particularly by today’s standards—are a bit, hm. Cartoonish? Whimsical? Personally, I suspect that I liked Poltergeist as a kid because I liked Carol Anne, and because ghost stories have never particularly scared me. Even as a child, I was always afraid of serial killers, not the supernatural.

That all being said, there are still some awesome creepy moments in this movie. I love Carol Anne talking to the TV people, as well as the reveal of her own voice coming from the television. Also, the maggots, the meat, the stacked chairs, and—of course—that cursed clown doll. (I kind of want that clown doll. I’d buy it and put it in the guest bedroom—at least, if I had a guest bedroom.) And you can’t go wrong with “Carol Anne’s Theme.” I’m all about that haunting lullaby shit.

Some of my favorite moments in Poltergeist, though, are the ones that aren’t meant to be scary. I like that we have little normal scenes with the family (the kids at the dining table, Steve’s dueling remote battle with his neighbor, etc). I like the foreshadow of Dead Tweety being dug up. I fucking love the last shot of the TV being pushed out of the motel room. It is legit one of my favorite last shots of any movie ever. And there are just so many excellent line deliveries and reaction shots in this film. Obviously, I love all the classic quotable lines, but if I had to pick a favorite per character:

Carol Anne: “Can I have a goldfish now?”
Diane: “You wanna see your mommy lying in a cigar box covered in licorice?”
Tangina: “You’re right. You go.”
Robbie (attacking the clown, hysterical): “I hate you! I hate you!”

(Honestly, Robbie has a lot of good moments to choose from. Seriously, that scene where he hears Carol Anne’s voice from the TV and is freaking out, trying to get Diane’s attention . . . that’s good shit. That kid hits notes.)

Finally, some random musings:

It’s been a pretty long time since I’ve seen Poltergeist all the way through, so a few things that I’d forgotten: A) The Star Spangled Banner, B) the fact that Steve is a regrettable 80’s man who’s apparently reading a book about Reagan for fun, C) how goddamn rough Steve looks after Carol Anne’s disappearance, D) how much I actually like the parapsychologists, and E) how little screen time Zelda Rubinstein actually has. Damn, if she doesn’t make the absolute most of it.

The least believable thing about Poltergeist? The neighbors, mostly because they are the least nosy neighbors to ever exist. Sure, that one guy helps Diane out of the pool near the end of the film, and everyone gathers around to gape while the house is literally being sucked up into a black hole. But when everyone’s running around screaming in the middle of the night because they can’t find Carol Anne or because a tree is trying to eat Robbie? Nothing. Nada. No one witnesses the tornado. We don’t even see anyone peep out the windows. Who the hell are these incurious bastards?

I’m not particularly interested in talking about the whole Tobe Hooper vs. Steven Spielberg directorial debate or the supposed curse of Poltergeist, like, Heather O’Rourke and Dominique Dunne didn’t die because of a curse; they died because life is awful and depressing as shit sometimes. I will say, though, that while I always thought the whole “we used real skeletons” thing was an urban legend, there apparently is some actual evidence to back up that claim.

I have a long list of Women in Horror to cosplay someday, and I’m adding Diane in her red-orange jersey to that list. (Obviously, Zelda Rubinstein’s look is also extremely iconic.)

Next Up: Ring

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