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Wednesday, 21 May 2014

POLTERGEIST: Good Old Fashioned Ghost Drama

Tonight, I will have nightmares about maggots in my food, but I’ve made peace with that.

4 Stars

You know it’s a Spielberg picture when the plot scrutinizes family dynamics - and that over the top score also gives it away. 

The film is really well done and reminds me why I like ghost movies. No handheld cameras or overused FX here, just good old fashioned ghost drama. 

I haven’t seen much else of Tobe Hooper’s work, butI think it’s safe to assume it is Spielberg’s vision that really comes through here. Offbeat middle-class life shines superb, with wonderfully quirky moments like when Diane and Steve lie in bed smoking pot while Reagan gives a speech on the muted T.V. 

What really makes this one great is the family’s reaction to Carol-Anne’s disappearance. Distressed, but not crumbling by any means, they simply accept what has happened and seek out the appropriate form of assistance. Their casual and rational approach makes the viewer believe in what is happening with total ease, whereas today in a lot of haunting movies the emphasis is put on the slow realization of what is happening - as if to convince the audience. I’ve always found that strange considering the diegetic world is necessarily a false one and can therefore adhere to any laws of physics it so chooses. And that’s what we get here, the T.V. people take their daughter, and the family immediately understands this as plausible. It’s the type of film escapism that is often difficult to come by these days.

The characters are great, as well. Diane is a wonderful mother, but it’s nice that she is presented as more than that. She and her husband share a wonderfully goofy connection and it is this side of Diane that shines throughout. Rather than losing her mind when she discovers the house is haunted, she embraces it and has fun with it. It is this free-spirited nature of Diane’s that allows her to remain grounded throughout the course of the ordeal.

Steve is also interesting because his stuffy job does not define him in the way middle-class men tend to presented on-screen, in the 80s in particular. He sees the fault in what his cooperation has done when he figures out that they have built on a cemetery, and is not afraid to confront them about it. Prior to this discovery, Steve simply accepts his job as a part of his life, but by no means does he allow it to take him over. In fact, for such a big shot, he is rather humble and laid back.

Together with their fun loving kids they create an image of middle-class life that is non-threatening, which is not something horror often does. Since Hitchcock’s Psycho the genre has been committed to twisting the concept of normal so as to present it as scary, which is one thing that makes the genre so special and compelling. 

But that is not the case here... And somehow, it’s refreshing.