Feminist, Fictionista, Foodie, Francophile

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Halloween Movie Marathon: Poltergeist

I used to be afraid of the dark. When I was little, we lived in a house with a great back yard filled with trees that were perfect for climbing. But one of those trees had branches that would rattle against my bedroom window whenever the wind was up and I always felt like it was going to break the window and come in after me.
So when I saw Poltergeist and that kid-eating tree in it, I knew that I was not alone in my fear, and I totally bought into what happened next.
I really liked JoBeth Williams as the mother in this movie, and found Craig T. Nelson a very sympathetic suburban dad. both actors are still working, but JoBeth's career as a leading lady never really blew up the way it should have. 
It's really sad to think that two of the three kids who played the children in the movie are dead--Heather O'Rourke at twelve from cardiac arrest and intestinal stenosis and Dominique Dunne murdered by her abusive boyfriend. One of the last hard-news stories I covered as a reporter was a meeting of Parents of Murdered Children (POMC) where Dominique's mother Ellen was a speaker.
Ellen was in a wheelchair then, gaunt from the disease that finally killed her and still regally beautiful. John Van De Kamp, who was then the California Attorney General, was also a guest and his law and order platitudes fell on deaf ears and unsympathetic hearts. It was a tough room.
Zelda Rubenstein's Tangina was a terrific character, and the character was a highlight of the veteran character actress' career, which also included an ongoing gig as the narrator of a show called The Scariest Places on Earth.  (I didn't know this, but before Zelda turned to acting, she earned a degree in bacteriology and worked for years as a lab technician at various blood banks.)
Poltergeist was directed by Tobe Hooper, whose big claim to fame before that was directing the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and the Stephen King miniseries Salem's Lot, starring David Soul, Lance Kerwin (the James at 15 star turns 50 next month--don't you feel old?) and James Mason. (There's one heart-stopping moment in that mini that scared me to death and I knew the book really well and was expecting it.)
Poltergeist came out 30 years ago (the same year as E.T., actually) and it would be interesting to see if it still has the power to scare.


  1. Even though it's a bit of a mess, I love this movie. It simultaneously reminds you of your fears as a child (the tree, the creepy toys, things in the cupboard) and adult fears (death, the influence of TV, losing your children, something (literally here) rotten underneath the suburban dream). Some wonderfully memorable imagery too - the coffins rising up and spilling their contents, the "pool" of the dead, that horrid clown doll, the guy tearing his face apart). Spielberg's influence was clear and it can be argued it was Hooper's last good film (and the less said about the sequels the better!). Think I might get my DVD out and enjoy the ride again...

  2. That creepy clown doll in the rocker!!! I think I saw the sequels but really don't remember them, while this one is very vivid in my mind and I haven't seen it since it came out.