Poltergeist by Tobe Hooper turns forty, and the opportunity was too good to pass up: we looked at it for the umpteenth time, knowing that once again the Freelings would be able to defeat the infestation and save little Carol Anne . The beauty of beautiful films, however, is that you can watch them and re-watch them endlessly but you will always find something new in them, some ideas from which to start talking about them for half an hour.
Guess what? It happened exactly like this.
1) Poltergeist it’s still very scary
It is useless for you to pretend nothing has happened, there is nothing to be ashamed of: Poltergeist it is a horror and as such its purpose is to scare. And he does it! Especially in this age of rather limp fright, it is a manual of horror grammar and in particular of how to effectively use the jump scarean instrument often abused and poorly exploited but which in the hands of someone who knew how to do it like Tobe Hooper becomes very powerful.
2) Poltergeist still puts a great deal of anxiety
Which is perhaps worse than fear, because it pervades every second of the film from the moment Carol Anne ends up being swallowed by the television, and then disappears from sight but not from the hearing of the rest of the family. It is the same terrifying idea that Richard Matheson put on paper in the 1950s Lost little girl (in Italian you can find it, along with other sensational masterpieces like Dark street by Arthur C. Clarke, in the anthology The second book of science fiction curated by Fruttero and Lucentini), and which later became a famous episode of On the edge of reality.
3) The Freeling family works because it isn’t perfect
The risk when you stage a classic little family and put it in danger thanks to the use of ghosts or other supernatural creatures is to portray the little family in question as if it had just been rejected by the White Mill because it was too perfect. Instead, Spielberg and Hooper prefer to tell us about the Freelings in the most plausible way possible: they are affectionate parents and even a little rebellious (when their children don’t look at them they get stoned!), But they are also a classic American high-bourgeois family that votes Republican, like demonstrates his father’s adoration of Reagan. We are not saying that being a Republican is a flaw, but that it must not have been easy for someone like Spielberg to take a Republican and make him the hero of a film without a shred of optimism.
4) The film looks dangerously like The exorcist
As in Friedkin’s film, in Poltergeist she is the little girl of the house, a symbol of innocence, who is attacked by evil entities. As in The exorcistparents turn first to science and academia, which however proves powerless in the face of a true supernatural manifestation, and then to a specialist who understands that the threat is of a spiritual and not a rational nature (and therefore Tangina Barrons is Father Merrin ).
5) It is unfair to say that “Spielberg actually shot it”
It is true that for years the true authorship of the direction of Poltergeist, and that Spielberg was always present on the set to impose his ideas and vision on a Tobe Hooper painted as a sort of personalityless performer. He is unfair to one of the most important horror directors ever, whose hand is impossible not to see in the most tense scenes of the film. Spielberg has always had a penchant for the horror, and certainly his presence helped to hold off and regiment Hooper’s cruder and more spontaneous style, but Poltergeist it’s also a film that works by accumulation and overload, something Hooper has always been a master at (as expected from one who started with Do not open that door).
6) It’s a film about family …
The reason why Poltergeist had such a resounding success is that it was not a horror focused on monsters but on their victims: the whole story is seen from the eyes of the family who suffers from the haunted haunted, and tells of their efforts to defeat it. We even have to get to the (double) final to understand precisely why the ghosts are angry with the Freelings.
7)… but maybe it’s not a family movie
Unless your creatures are very brave, because, well, go back to point 1. And yes, we know that at the time we wrote that Poltergeist is the perfect horror for the whole family! Think of it this way: maybe wait until we have completed the canonical 13 years required by the rating.
8) The ending is surprisingly political
The cause of the awakening of the poltergeists is, basically, a building abuse: the greed of the man who swallows every corner of America and turns it into a series of cottages disturbs the spirits of the dead who lie right under the foundations of the Freeling house. And that they shouldn’t be there: the Cuesta Verde community was built on what was once a cemetery, and which has been moved for the occasion, but not entirely – only the graves have been relocated, the buried corpses have not been have been moved. Inattention? Greed? Rush? Cost cutting? The fact remains that Poltergeist says that if you don’t respect your own past you can’t hope for a future.
9) Eventually the dog is saved
Is very important.
10) There is a reason why Stranger Things pay homage and quote Poltergeist since the first season
The Freelings’ room is so full of 80’s pop icons that it looks like something out of an episode of the Netflix series.
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