Back before ET started shooting (About 5 months in fact), Steven Spielberg stopped quickly to make this film about a suburban family terrorised by malevolent spirits. Only he didn’t direct it, only he sort of did. Or something.
The question of Who Directed Poltergeist? has been widely debated by a few nerdy people since the film was originally released, though really the drama started during production. Texas Chainsaw Massacre director Tobe Hooper was officially hired to direct the film, but Spielberg was there every step of the way. It also feels completely and utterly like a Spielberg film. But lets save this drama for Wilda Valderama as I’m probably going to write about it another time.
Films are almost always about something. There’s an upcoming documentary called Room 237 which is about the many many theories that people have about The Shining. Some swear that it’s about the massacre of American Natives, others say it’s Stanley Kubrick admitting that he was the one who filmed the fake moon landings. Poltergeist is about the fear of suburbia.
The Freelings live in the suburb of Cuesta Verde with their three children. One night their youngest is drawn toward the static of the TV. There’s the sense that some of this has happened before, but it’s just par for the course. Things start to get weirder though, an earthquake rocks the house and only the house. Chairs move on their own and eventually little Carol Anne is taken away, but she’s still in the house…sort of.
Poltergeist is light on actual honest-t0-god scares though a few scenes still work incredibly well, such as the tree that comes to life, or that creepy ass clown that no parent would ever EVER buy their child. But it makes up by just being so damn good in a way that those early Spielberg productions were. The early scenes with the family feel real, not that there’s much going on here, but what could just be thin sketches before we get to the scares manage to actually define these people really well (There’s also the potential, subtle, joke that the oldest daughter is in fact pregnant).
The adult Freelings, Steve and Diane make up one of my favourite movie couples. Yes that’s a thing. The brief moments we see them just be a couple of screen are some of my favourite in the film. They smoke pot and they make eachother laugh, it’s simple but it feels real. Oh but that’s the other thing that Poltergeist is about, the emasculation of the American man. Steve is, despite his best efforts, largely ineffectual. It’s in fact up to the trio of women to get things done, including Diane who reacts to the initial ghostly goings on with glee, probably because something is breaking up the drabness of suburban life.
I’m saving a lot of what I want to say for later on but Poltergeist isn’t just about ghosts, it’s about what happens when the children of the 70’s who smoked pot and fucked around have to face up to responsibility in the 80’s, and what a terrifying time that was.
And you thought it was just that film with the scary tree in it.