Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg’s 80’s tale of the evils of television revolves around the Freeling family. After five-year-old Carol Anne wakes one night and proceeds to have a conversation with the television, the family begin to experience increasingly severe disturbances such as earthquakes, moving furniture and a possessed tree. When she is taken by these mysterious forces her parents call in the professionals in order to rescue their daughter, who they can communicate with through their set and rid their house of its malevolent spirits.
Poltergeist is a well-executed, genuinely entertaining horror movie, although today’s audiences accustomed to the likes of Saw and Hostel may find it tame in comparison. With its chilling atmosphere, facilitated by an excellent Oscar-nominated score from Jerry Goldsmith, as well as some genuine scares playing on classic childhood fears, most notably from one of film history’s creepiest clown dolls, Poltergeist shows how successful horror can be without gratuitous amounts of gore.
The film displays impressive special effects throughout (another Oscar nomination), although some of them may seem laughable to contemporary audiences well versed in CGI. But often in Poltergeist the terror comes from what can’t be seen rather than what can, with mystery surrounding the spirits in the Freeling house and the other dimension that they and Carol Anne are inhabiting.
What holds the scares together so well is the thoroughly engaging plot, concerning characters that one genuinely begins to care about when they inevitably find themselves in peril. This is all down to both Spielberg’s brilliant screenplay, containing the perfect dose of light-heartedness and humour to balance out the horror and tension, and its superb acting. A particularly notable performance comes from young Heather O’Rourke who sets the standard for creepy kids in horror movies with her portrayal of the angelic Carol Anne, whose infamous line, “They’re here!”, was voted as the 69th greatest movie quote of all time by the American Film Institute.
Spawning two sequels as well as a TV series, and with a modern day remake currently being planned with The Evil Dead’s Sam Raimi producing, Poltergeist is undeniably an important landmark in the history of horror cinema, and to this day is still influential to horror fans and movie-makers alike, clearly inspiring modern films such as the Paranormal Activity series. It is interesting to imagine what potential the remake has with the use of the latest special effects, but ultimately, it remains a classic horror film from a time when the genre was arguably at its best and therefore, much like the cemetery grounds on which the Freeling house was built, would probably be better left untouched.