Eric’s Guide Through the ‘Poltergeist’ Series
Wwwweee’rrreee hhheeerrreee to look back at the “Poltergeist” series.
“Poltergeist” is a classic and considered one of those essential horror series, despite the fact none of the sequels are considered very good. Is that warranted? Are there any gems hidden in this franchise? Probably not, but it should still be fun to look them over.
*Minor Spoiler Warning.*
The story is about a family living in a newly built neighborhood as they begin to notice strange occurrences around the house. They seem to mostly revolve around the TV and youngest daughter Carol Anne (played by Heather O’ Rourke). When Carol Anne is taken by the poltergeists into their realm it’s up to the parents to find a way to bring her back with the help of a mysterious psychic Tangina. “Poltergeist” is wonderful and absolutely worth your time. I call it a perfect beginner’s gateway into horror. It’s not gory or very adult in its themes yet has a really good balance of scares that will leave an impact, but nothing too scary for the younger viewers. Although I will say I watched this movie late one night (I had seen it before a few times) with the lights off and I have to say it left me feeling kinda creeped out. Not many films can still do that on repeat viewings.
Inspired by a classic “Twilight Zone” episode: “Little Girl Lost” Steven Spielberg produced this with Tobe Hooper (“Texas Chainsaw Massacre”) directing. There’s a lot of controversy surrounding this as actors and crew have offered different accounts of who really directed this film. I don’t pretend to know the true answer, but I will say as a viewer it sure does look and feel more like a Spielberg movie. Just everything about it, from the acting, lighting, themes to the style of the camera shots FEEL very Spielberg like. It could be he secretly directed it to get around certain contract issues at the time or it could have been Tobe Hooper trying to make it like the producer’s own style. Ultimately it doesn’t matter as it is a great film. It was conceived to be the sister film to “E.T.” and I must say it does feel like this family could run into Elliot and his family in the same neighborhood.
I’ll tell you what I think are the best parts of the film more than the scares it’s when the characters are discussing the ideas of this other realm. There’s just something about it (I love stories about alternate dimensions) and the music that just gives a real sense of how big this all is. There are so many memorable lines, scenes, scares it would be impossible to talk about them all. I’ll mention one though, the pool scene. There’s a part where the mother falls into the pool and is surrounded by decaying corpses. Now, according to the movie trivia they were real skeletons because it’s easier and cheaper to get them than to create props. Some question this story and exactly how many were real and what not, but either way it gave rise to this film’s biggest legacy outside the film itself with the Poltergeist Curse. Basically every accident onset or untimely death of an actor or crew member connected with the film is seen to be a part of it. I personally don’t believe in that kind of stuff, but concede there are a lot of sad stuff that happened with these films.
Eric’s opinion: See it and learn where a ton of references come from.
2.) Poltergeist II: The Other Side
I never really heard anyone talk about this film before. Other than to mention that H. R. Giger (designer of the Xenomorph in “Alien”) did some of the designs of the poltergeists. However, most of his designs ended up not being used. So that’s the knowledge I went into the film with. It’s one of those films with a lot of cool ideas and concepts and it probably is what makes me look back on the film more fondly. Despite all of that though the film is kinda dull. In between all the cool ideas and moments the film just kinda drags. The scares aren’t as memorable, but it has a few like the possessed braces scene and of course the puke ghost. Which is the most obviously Giger looking design. It’s in this film that we learn the true origin of the poltergeists. It’s not the haunted Native American burial ground, it’s a cult leader Kane and all the people who died with him on the site. I will say the actor who plays Kane is one of the creepiest supernatural villains ever. Sadly he died shortly after filming. A lot of the film has interesting themes like family and even explores good ghosts as a counter to all the darkness we normally see. One part I really liked early in the film was when the parents are going over their finances. They acknowledge how screwed they are as the banks obviously won’t accept that their house folded in on itself into the ghost realm. Just that kind of reality is really great in these kinds of sequels.
Other than that the ending really succumbs to the last film’s problems of too much special effects. While the first film had great characters and a story to ground the visual effects this does not. After a while you can’t help but really notice how you’re just watching a bunch of actors on strings in front of a blue screen as the effects people go nuts with the visuals. Again, the grandmother becoming a guardian angel to them is an interesting concept, but the ending just goes so overboard with the effects it undoes that a bit. It’s great to see the characters back, but there’s one glaring omission. The teenage daughter is nowhere to be seen. It is said in the original script there was a line about her being away in college and I’m not sure why it was deleted. The real reason for her absence is a sad one. Dominique Dunne was murdered by her ex-boyfriend. So rather than recast they sent the character off to college. I don’t have an issue with that it seems like a reasonable explanation and way to handle the tragedy. Maybe they took it out because the main theme of the film is about family and drawing strength from each other. Thus, having that line would make people wonder how come the other daughter wasn’t there. Either way it was probably the best option of a bad situation.
R.I.P Dominique Dunne.
Eric’s opinion: Only if you’re interested in learning some more, but not necessary.