Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Bald Mountain Night 21: Poltergeist

Each day in October, intrepid blogger Alex Boivin will watch a horror movie. These movies are all new to him and are part of his month-long effort to fill in his gaps in the horror canon. If he doesn't die from fright, you just might get to read about about his exploits in cinema during the Halloween season.

"From the guys who brought you Congo comes Poltergeist: a horror movie for the whole family!"

Released in 1982, Poltergeist was Steven Spielberg's first successful foray into the role of film producer as opposed to director. Even though he's only credited with the story, co-authorship of the screenplay, and the film's production, his fingerprints are all over this one: it's pure multiplex entertainment.

I was at first a bit baffled by Poltergeist due to it's curious position as quite literally a family horror film. For the first hour and a half of the movie, there's really nothing that scary (minus a scene of a man ripping his own face off), but in the final 15 minutes it really kicks into high gear and becomes a balls-to-the wall horror flick. The story concerns a family who lives in a splendid little suburban California housing development. Their youngest daughter Carol Anne suddenly begins displaying strange behavior towards the often malfunctioning television, announcing that "they" are heeeeere and before you can say "built on top of a graveyard", the house is being afflicted with moving furniture and other household objects and Carol Anne is dragged into another dimension by ghosts. Enter a team of parapsychologists and a diminutive medium and you've got yourself a Poltergeist!

Poltergeist's suburban setting is the first indication of a theme of contradiction and illusion vs. reality. What looks like a safe suburban home is actually a ghostly haunting waiting to happen; there's also television static that communicates more than the regularly scheduled programming, a kids' room that displays both Sesame Street and Alien posters on the wall, and parents who smoke pot while reading biographies of Ronald Reagan. I was told that this movie was "almost Exorcist scary" by friends and family members all my life but now that I've finally seen it, I must say that I can't see what everyone was so afraid of. Most of the movie is just plain fun and actually quite funny (favorite part: the family's teenage daughter arrives at the film's finale with a giant, obvious hickey on her neck which is never commented upon), it's only in the waning minutes of the film when the ghosts' true nature is revealed and they really make themselves known that you could even really call it a horror move. But in the end, if the Misfits wrote a song about your movie, you must be have done something right.

Final verdict: 56 Congos