Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist (1982) continues to rank among a handful of truly scary horror movies. That the film’s narrative mixes both the light and the fantastic is perhaps no great surprise given that Steven Spielberg was its’ executive producer and co-writer. Yet, it is Hooper’s involvement on the project, coming as it did a scant eight years after his foray into tasteless gore with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) that helps to keep Spielberg’s usually light touch with SFX whimsy well-grounded in a dark realm of truly palpable chills.
Behind the scenes, the shoot was as arduous and traumatic as anything seen on the screen. Production memos report that actor Oliver Robins was nearly strangled by his toy clown when the release apparatus suffered a malfunction and instead continued to tighten. While horror aficionados have ascribed a ‘damned’ quality to the making of the film – primarily because two of its youngest cast members, Heather O’Rourke and Dominique Dunne suffered gruesome deaths shortly after wrapping – the film itself emerged relatively unscathed from this macabre backstage intrigue, becoming an instant – and now enduring - blockbuster.
Craig T. Nelson and Jo Beth Williams are cast as married couple, Steve and Diane Freeling. He’s a successful architect. She’s a hip housewife with plenty of time to discover the growing mélange of oddities creeping into their new home nightly. At first it’s just a bunch of chairs regrouping themselves in the kitchen or some kinetic energy that causes objects to slide across the floor. However, before long, the Freeling’s youngest child, Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke) is hearing strange voices coming from the static off the T.V. As the supernatural signs become more ominous in tone, and eventually life-threatening, the Freelings contract a paranormal psychologist, Dr. Lesh (Beatrice Straight) and her psychic compatriot, Tangina (Zelda Rubenstein) to unravel the secrets of their spirit-possessed abode.
Unbeknownst to Steve, his most recent and successful housing development project has been built on lands of an ancient Indian burial ground. Rather than relocate the bodies, the developer, Mr. Teague (James Karen) has simply removed the headstones and bulldozed the corpses to make way for this new subdivision. Tragically, for all the living concerned, Teague’s frugality doesn’t necessarily mean that the dead will remain buried for very long.
The film is a potpourri for special effects, with matte paintings, full scale models and puppetry, claymation, pyrotechnics, mood lighting and good old fashioned sound effects providing most of the earthly bound scares. In fact, they were Oscar nominated and continue to hold up remarkably well under today’s digital scrutiny. It’s a pity Hooper and Spielberg did not collaborate on future projects in this same vein of genius, since Poltergeist is a fright-fest with much to admire.
Warner Home Video’s Blu-ray reissue exhibits a 1080p anamorphic image so sharp and smooth with solid colors, deep saturated blacks and a considerable amount of fine detail evident throughout that you'll practically feel the unearthly ghosts haunting your living room. All of the shortcomings of the DVD have been eradicated for a stunning new visual presentation that will surely not disappoint! The 5.1 audio mix is a tad dated but continues to hold its own and is considerably aggressive during action sequences.
Given that Hooper and Spielberg did not get on, there is no audio commentary or ‘making of’ featurette to mark the occasion of the film’s 25th anniversary. Instead, there is a scant featurette on real life hauntings and some junket materials, but curiously enough, no theatrical trailer. Bottom line: for transfer quality this Blu-ray comes highly recommended!
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)