We now hit the half-way point to the Summer of 1982 and this entry the first movie I actually saw in theaters 30 years ago.
Poltergeist is a fairly important movie for several reasons:
- It got actors JoBeth Williams and Craig T. Nelson noticed. They were cast in this because they weren’t famous, thus they would fit the “unassuming” roles.
- Even if Tobe Hooper was only around in name only (more on this below), Poltergeist was his first mainstream film. Hooper went on to direct others and TV shows. The Austin-born director still works to this day.
- In 1982, Horror movies were often Slasher flicks, gore-ridden or not done well. I am probably wrong on this but in my defense I only remember American Werewolf in London and The Howling. Poltergeist was a nice change.
- I am confident Poltergeist helped fuel the argument toward the creation of the PG-13 rating which appeared in 1984. There’s nothing in it warranting an R, even by 1982 standards, especially when Jaws was “downgraded” in 1979 for HBO.
Alamo Ritz must’ve been reading my mind (I know nobody important reads my site) since the pre-movie show was changed up and consisted of music videos from 1982, plugs for upcoming sitcoms (I forgot Nine to Five had Rita Moreno), the bumper for the ABC Movie of the Week, and sitcom openings: Newhart, Cheers and St. Elsewhere. The comical MC (Zack?) gave the basics while dressed as the iconic little girl, he was chased to the stage by the other host wearing a sheet, the ol’ cheap ghost costume. Other than informing the crowd that tonight’s print was nearly pristine (the reels’ heads and tails were never cut, very rare for a 30-year-old film), the host handed over the main introduction to someone from Ain’t it Cool. Thankfully it wasn’t the infamous and smelly Harry Knowles. The gentleman gave a nice heartfelt talk about it being his earliest memory on TV. What he brought up was the controversy regarding who really directed Poltergeist…after he checked for Tobe Hooper being in the audience, he wasn’t. Controversy? This might be too strong a word. The point is, Spielberg actually was the director but couldn’t receive credit for a couple reasons: his contract to Universal while ET was in production and the DGA ruled against it. I doubt there was a long-term rift between Hooper and Spielberg for the former has directed many other Spielberg-based productions like Taken and Amazing Stories. The AiC guy said he interviewed many people involved with the movie’s creation, namely Zelda Rubenstein (the little psychic), all answered without hesitation about Spielberg’s involvement.
On to the show! To maintain the scary mood we were treated to the trailer for Beyond the Black Rainbow which comes out next week! Then we came back to the appropriate time period via Amitytville II and Halloween III.
How is Poltergeist 30 years later? Very good. Several things came up I never noticed when I was 13. Thanks to the intro, Spielberg’s DNA was more obvious throughout: comic relief namely, the lighting effects he used in Close Encounters and “fire” splashes were from Raiders. The one instance involving the scientist, the mirror and the sink didn’t gross me out like it used to; the appliance on the actor is pretty noticeable. I jumped a couple times despite knowing the plot throughout. If I ever had kids, I would show them this should they demand to see something frightening. Maybe use it as a tool to dispel any possibilities of them believing in ghosts and psychics because they’re both bullshit.
Spielberg certainly gained additional respect points from me after watching Poltergeist. I was already applauding his public apology over digitally removing the guns from ET, they’re back for an upcoming re-release. Now I’m super impressed. Over thirty years ago, he managed to juggle this movie and ET at the same time while barely taking a breath after Raiders which was the Summer of 1981 hit. I still take issue with the Lowest-Common Denominator elements his work often contains but he has too many notches in the my “win” column for me to disdain or say is overrated.
1982 (13-year-old me): A. Unlike other pre-teen/teen boys, I never enjoyed Horror or primarily Slasher flicks. I had many classmates who thought Friday the 13th and its numerous knockoffs were entertaining. I found such stuff sick. Poltergeist was very different. Nobody died, it wasn’t based on some phony-baloney memoir as per the Amityville or Exorcist purporters, the special effects were top notch, there was no Jason and no traditional, hokey Universal monster.
2012: A. When it comes to this genre, I wish there was a device which allowed us to selectively erase parts of our memories so we could enjoy the surprises in these movies again and again. The device already exists though but it only works on a select few, it’s called Fox News. Cheap political shot aside, Poltergeist continues to hold up. I feel it will join the core canon shared with other Horror classics. What’s on said list, I will defer to the two experts I know, I’m stumped after The Exorcist. Maybe they’ll share this with me.
Poltergeist‘s life lessons as per other 1982 features:
- (Spoiler Alert) Demand an accurate survey of the land before you build. Check for flood plains, sinkholes, landfills, fault lines, aquifers, abandoned mines and most importantly…graveyards or Indian burial grounds
- Counting the time gaps between thunder and lightning really works to pacify scared children if you don’t have a smart phone on hand
- Hypocritical Boomers/Yuppies who voted for Reagan continued to smoke weed