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Poltergeist

Year: 1982
Studio: MGM
Director: Tobe Hooper
Producer: Steven Spielberg/Frank Marshall
Writer: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Craig T Nelson, JoBeth Williams, Dominique Dunne, Heather O'Rourke, Oliver Robins, Beatrice Straight, Zelda Rubenstein
There was a period where Steven Spielberg turned his filmmaking eye towards a fantastic institution (in the objective sense of the term) of popular culture and made every genre exciting.

He did it with killer animal movies and rewrote the rulebook. Then he did it with alien visitation and gave the genre that would make his name a thrilling shake-up.

Then he and buddy George Lucas bought the Saturday afternoon matinee serials to a new generation with an iconic hero. So after 'doing' sharks, aliens and adventurer archaeologists he then 'did' ghosts.

Except – as those in the know howl – Tobe Hooper is listed as Poltergeist's director to this day. But (say purists) if you know the legend, Spielberg was so hands-on during the shoot and edit that Hooper's name is a courtesy more than anything, his role virtually an assistant to The Beard.

Spielberg's early modus operandi was to inject humanity into a cold, calculated objective look at a subject. He managed it most brilliantly in Close Encounters, which played like a documentary about a suburban boob who's contacted by extraterrestrial beings.

And he/Hooper takes a similar approach here, chronicling the trials and tribulations of the Freeling family with a very firm grip on the science and theory behind the idea of poltergeist intrusions, as opposed to plain old hauntings.

Real estate agent Dad Steve (Nelson) and his hot housewife Diane (Williams) want nothing more than a regular life in their cute Californian suburban estate house where they're raising their three kids, rebellious teen Dana (Dunne), nervy Robbie (Robins) and cute as a button Carol Anne (O'Rourke).

No explanation is ever given as to why spirits from another dimension attach themselves to the lively and spirited Freeling household, but in real life kids and preteens do indeed attract them, and Carol Anne is the conduit. After spending many a night talking to the TV people, who communicate with her through the after-broadcast snow, she somehow allows them into the real world, leading to the movie's most iconic line; 'They're here'.

From there, everything goes wrong. Carol Anne disappears, held captive in whatever world lies beyond that of the house – a world that can only be accessed through the kids' attic, the equipment and expertise of a team of parapsychologists led by Dr Lesh (Straight) or psychically via eccentric medium Tangina (Rubenstein).

It gets increasingly grotesque and horror movie-ish by the climax, with coffins and bodies bursting up out of the ground, but earlier scenes such as the lights drifting down the staircase and the arrangement of chairs into crazy patterns every time Diane turns her back.

There's a lot more discussion about (for example) the social themes of Romero's work in reflecting society like the connection between zombies and shopping malls, but just look at the premise of the spirit world coming into our via the TV, rather than the church of spirit medium's table. Was it just a convenient cinematic device or a sly comment not only about the evils of TV making freaks of our children and turning them 'ghostlike'?

Whatever the case, the pre-CGI era effects were as inventive and effective as those of Close Encounters of the Third Kind before it, and though it won't scare your socks off these days, it remains a classic of the modern horror genre.

And if you believe the other legends about Poltergeist, it's one of Hollywood's cursed movies, little O'Rourke dying at age 12 from Crohn's disease and Dunne (brother of screenwriter and American Werewolf in Londonco-star Griffin) murdered by an ex boyfriend barely into her 20s.

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