Thursday, 14 March 2013

Poltergeist (1982)

“They’re heeeere!”

It’s so weird to watch this film for the first time knowing what happened to Heather O’Rourke (she died at 12, seemingly of natural causes), especially given that this is a pretty damned eerie film in any case. It is, of course, a superb piece of cinema. I don’t consider this to be a Steven Spielberg film, on the grounds that he didn’t direct the thing, but he nevertheless co-wrote and produced it. And I have to say that this film exhibits all of Spielberg’s considerable strengths and absolutely none of his emotionally manipulative downside.

It would have been easy, in a film like this, for the main protagonists to be mere ciphers, but they’re not; they’re well-rounded individuals, particularly Steven and Diane, who convince as a baby boomer young couple (how old this makes the film sound!), smoking weed while at the same time being caring parents and natural suburbanites. Heather O’Rourke, of course, steals the show as the oddly creepy Carol Anne, but the whole family feels real.

This being a film set in suburbia, and interior décor being something that quickly dates, every scene is absolutely redolent of the early Eighties. Also, it’s an odd experience to see a film for the first time when that film has so permeated popular culture. The climax of the film, as the house is swallowed up, immediately made me recognise an obvious reference in an episode of Family Guy that I’d seen just a few days before. (Oh, and regarding dating of the film and popular culture, I’m rather afraid I actually recognised that particular issue of Captain America.)

The film, is far less based on the traditional narrative of poltergeists (a strong psychic link to an adolescent girl rather older to Carol Ann, not that I necessarily believe in all that), and is far closer to the more mainstream idea of a ghost. Certainly, the sheer number of poltergeists here, and the apparently demonic nature of the malevolent entity behind all this, does not reflect what I was expecting from the film. But this isn’t an investigation of the poltergeist trope, it’s a big budget Hollywood movie (in marked contrast to most of the other Eighties horrors that I’m blogging at the moment), and so this large amount of spectacle is appropriate.

The earlier part of the film is suffused with lots of small, scary moments. The level of scariness is quite mild to start with, but there are a hell of a lot of scary things, and for a lot of them you don’t quite k now why they’re scary. It’s not until that scene with the maggots that the gears change. One nice touch, though, is that Diane is not initially scared of the poltergeists, and tries to have fun with them. After all, that’s what I’d do.

The film sort of pre-empts Ghostbusters by having the family consult a bunch of paranormal professionals, led by the charismatic Dr Lesh. But it’s the diminutive Tangina Barrons who is the real star here.

The ending of the film is drawn-out but dramatic; I certainly didn’t feel any indication of “too many endings” syndrome. And, of course, the film just had to fit in a scary clown.

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