‘Poltergeist’ remains horror classic

By Marilyn MacLaren, Staff Writer

“Poltergeist” (1982) is a supernatural horror film directed by Tobe Hooper and produced by Steven Spielberg. Starring Heather O’Rourke as Carol Anne, the sweet 5-year-old girl is kidnapped into another dimension by supernatural beings, where a dark entity known as the Beast uses her innocence to distract lost souls from the Light, their salvation. 

The only contact between Carol Anne and the rest of the Freeling family is through an empty channel of TV static, which quickly serves as an instantly recognizable icon associated with the film. The duo of Hooper and Spielberg, who at that point had both had a hand in horror and supernatural subjects, bring these themes to what seems like the average American family and turn their dream life in California suburbia into a nightmare. 

The film also stars Jobeth Williams and Craig T. Nelson as Diane and Steven Freeling, the loving, concerned parents prepared to do anything to rescue Carol Anne and keep their family safe. The relationship between Diane and Steven both as a couple and as parents indeed shows how supportive and determined they are to protect their family. Along with the help of Southern medium Tangina Barrons, played by Zelda Rubinstein, the family will come together to bring Carol Anne safely back from the Other Side.

The Freelings begin by trying to approach the terrors they are experiencing with some form of rationality. Yet, the strange and frightening events that occur while Carol Anne is trapped grow increasingly sinister as the film progresses. The camera work throughout these scenes adds an unnerving edge that complements the horrors the characters are experiencing. Utilizing almost uncomfortably close-up shots of the Freelings, their faces filled with raw terror, effectively bring those same feelings of fear to the audience. 

This technique is used as Tangina explains the purpose of the Beast capturing Carol Anne, as Diane sits stunned, frozen in fear of the dangers her daughter faces. A similar moment is when Diane looks back to reassure Steven will not let go of her lifeline as she ventures into the void to save Carol Anne, her eyes wide and face illuminated by lights flashing around her. 

Williams’ pure desperation and intense fear shown while approaching the void, bravely facing the unknown to rescue her daughter, makes the experience emotionally relatable for the audience. Although the circumstances of the film involve supernatural elements, the fear of losing a child or even someone you love is an extreme, real scenario that gives an emotional response, which Hooper and Spielberg take advantage of in their storytelling. 

Another one of the many elements that make Poltergeist such a classic is the dynamic of the Freeling family which undoubtedly helps to balance the supernatural horrors they find themselves in. Every interaction feels natural and flows like a real family, with dialogue that meshes and layers in each conversation giving the scene life. 

Since the beginning, each personality is distinct, particularly in how each family member approaches the first disturbances that happen around the household. Their strong bond, although a bit cheesy, keeps the spirits at bay and reunites them in the end before their desperate escape from Cuesta Verde.


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