Thursday, October 3, 2013

Poltergeist


  I have nobody to blame except myself for not having seen this sooner. This Spielberg/Hooper movie is actually fantastic. I've been on a roll with classic horror movies I've never seen before, this was definitely on my list to finally watch. After going through Rosemary's Baby, The Exorcist, The Shining, and Halloween (all of which have reviews pending) I took a break to work on some video reviews. Still haven't published those reviews yet, but I saw Poltergeist last night and felt it was perfect to start off this trend with. The 80's as anyone can tell you is my favorite era for movies. Movies from that era pretty much dominate my favorites list, so I was starting to feel weird that I'd never seen some of these. Boy I was missing a lot of fun. There might be some mild spoilers ahead for anyone who hasn't seen it. Fair warning.

  Poltergeist eases you into the story with this middle-class, all-American family going about their daily routine. The young boy has Star Wars posters on his wall, the little girl plays with toy dolls and ponies, the teenage daughter stays up all night on the phone, and goes out with friends. The parents of course are rarely granted reprieve from their kids. One little thunderstorm and half the family climbs into mom and dad's bed.
So it's a very typical sight. However, it's also a welcome one that never directly descends into cliche.
They seem like a very loving family and they're instantly endearing. They're in for quite the shitstorm though.

  As it turns out the developers the dad works for built the entire neighborhood over old burial ground and the spirits are pissed off. They start messing with this family's house. Small things at first. Objects slide across the floor by themselves. Chairs stack themselves when nobody is looking. Voices communicate with the little girl through the TV and she states, rather iconically: "They're heeeere!" It's a very unnerving moment despite having seen it out of context only a hundred times. However, things begin to escalate. Another thunderstorm hits, and the creepy tree outside smashes through a window and pulls the boy out... and begins to eat him. Things go crazy all over and it's sheer chaos.

  The special effects on display, while a few decades old, hold up VERY well. I believe that special effects main purpose are to help the story tell it's tale without getting in the way or distracting from it. The effects in Poltergeist do just that. They seamlessly blend into the narrative, heightening the scare factor exponentially. Some older movies aren't so lucky, (i.e. ED-209 in RoboCop) when you see an effects heavy scene, sometimes it's so jarring the only thing you can think is "oh look, a special effect." Thankfully that disconnect never occurs in this movie.

  At one point in the movie, the family has a team of paranormal investigators over. The trio boasts about having seen a toy car move across a linoleum surface, by itself, over a period of... seven hours. The dad's reaction is priceless, right before he shows them a whole room of objects swirling around and being animate all by themselves. Again, more priceless reactions. A lesser movie would've had the trio of paranormal investigators run out of the house, screaming. Usually when paranormal investigators show up in movies, they're crackpot hacks with an agenda, and almost ALWAYS out of their league. Thankfully, these characters didn't fall into cliche like that. They stick around and despite being way out of their depth, they make every effort to assist the family in every way they can. This trio of characters was pretty great like that. They seemed like people genuinely interested in helping. Not just making money or something. That was refreshing.

  The special effects only get bigger and better as the story careens towards it's impressive and gut wrenching climax. In my humble opinion, 90% of any effective horror movie is good acting. Even a movie with outstanding special effects can be reduced to pseudo-parody by shoddy acting. Safe to say, this movie was excellent acting from all the actors. Special credits to the mom who went through some crazy shit in this movie. Also, I've always felt the stakes in anything are raised when kids are involved. You don't mess with parents and their kids. Threaten their kids, and they'll brave demons and hell itself to protect them. It's amazingly emotional. It's also why Aliens is one of my all time favorite movies. The trio of main characters, Ripley, Newt, and Hicks, form a sort of makeshift family unit. Forged together under the fire of survival. It works so well in almost any movie where the actors are up to it. Poltergeist is no exception. Fighting to save the lives of your kids is always more intense than fighting to save your own life. There's something about that which takes Poltergeist to the next level, managing to be a thoroughly effective, moving, funny, and scary horror movie despite it's PG rating.  I've seen R rated horror movies that were nowhere near this stirring.

  Great movie.

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