Sunday, May 31, 2015

Poltergeist ★★★1/2

Image result for Poltergeist 1982 film stills

    Fundamentally speaking, the 1982 film entitled "Poltergeist" can surely be designated the most quintessential cult classic ever made. It has everything: An overemphasis on branding, recreational drug use, excessive gore, a string of memorable dialogue, an eerie and downright ominous musical score, and several strange and heartwarming stories surrounding its production. (The latter consisting of quite a few mysterious and unfortunate deaths involving cast members aligned with the process, along with moments oozing of auteur professionalism, as producer Steven Spielberg had to console both the lead actress and leading adolescent star--albeit in different fashions--in two instances of pure terror.)    

    Not to mention a number of included elements drawn from the real life experiences of the filmmakers themselves--that being a fear of creepy clowns and menacing trees--both apprehensions of a young Spielberg. Yet, what is most intriguing about this picture is the puzzle surrounding the final product. Although the credit of direction is given to Tobe Hooper, it would seem that Spielberg's creative talents were far more tangible (Spielberg is listed as producer and contributor of the script) except, of course, until all hell breaks loose within the last fifteen minutes of the film. (A decision that will be discussed further and one that could have used a little more "E.T." and less "Texas Chainsaw Massacre.")

    In essence, however, it is this strategic build-up and sense of unpredictability (a trademark of Spielberg's directorial ambitions) that fuels this film to success. For, it creates an atmosphere knee deep in human emotion--and although most of the frightening images evoke a rather perturbed feeling instead of unadulterated terror--it never becomes lost on our minds. This portrayal of your typical 1980s suburban family and the everyday occurrences that surround their lives is exceedingly simple; nevertheless, doubtlessly effective.

    We are thrown into a world much like our own by way of several key scenes and a set that certainly utilizes its live screen capacity to the fullest extent. "Star Wars" memorabilia tends to litter the children's bedroom in the most genuine manner, and scenes involving that of mischievous children and nighttime scares (best represented by the alarm of a frightful thunderstorm and the uneasiness surrounding a darkened bedroom closet) only add to this air of authenticity. When paranormal activity begins to rear its enigmatic head--culminating in the abduction of the family's youngest child--we are never in doubt as to its plausibility, simply because of the coaxing that has already taken place.

Image result for Poltergeist 1982 film stills

    Accentuating this ambiance of sheer captivation are two indispensable performances provided by JoBeth Williams and Craig T. Nelson as the lovable and fearing parents. Nelson truly embodies the run-of-the-mill working man, who spends his free time hosting football parties and indulging in marijuana, among other things. Yet, it is his change in disposition, once things begin to unravel, that really highlights Nelson's inner solicitude--which has clearly been there all along--still never becoming more present than that first instance in where we see its effect on his mood. Williams obviously has a more emotionally charged role here and excels in her delivery time after time, when force is ultimately needed to guide her conviction. She clearly comes off as a tormented mother, whose only goal is to protect her children, and this is not only refreshing, but invariably winning.

    Although the theme of "Poltergeist" generally settles around that of emotional mood and the fear accompanied with uncertainty (or the fear of the misunderstood for that matter), there are numerous hints to something larger at play. There is the underlining notion of the ramifications of man's tampering, scenes exposing both of the younger children to death and suffering (loss of innocence), and a symbolic treatment of the television that would have Philo Farnsworth himself brimming with delight. (The latter of which is best encapsulated via an intrinsic metaphor, as once the youngest child, Carol Anne, is caught sitting too close to a scrambled TV set, she is told that it is "bad for her eyes," and the set is then changed to an unblemished station, providing our adolescent with images of war and destruction instead.)

    Which brings us to the most pivotal decision of the production: The unnecessary act of bombarding the audience with a ludicrous amount of grotesque images and bewilderment in the last fifteen minutes of running time; a decision that surely came from the mind of credited director Tobe Hooper, whose reputation for these types of qualities precedes itself. It was intelligibly the wrong calculation, considering the resolution of the conflict had already been completed and nothing of any value was added, except, of course, for an ending motif that again alludes to the destructive nature of the television on our lives.

    "Poltergeist" has a monumental foundation based on a plethora of magic moments that only Steven Spielberg can provide. A magical kiss in a time of great turmoil, the act of covering up a frightening clown in a moment of adolescent terror, and several instances of emotional restraint that charm from days on in. Let's be honest: Although the previously mentioned, and rather unfortunate, sequence of events does allude to the workings of Hooper, Spielberg obviously had a hand in the commitment, considering his heavy contribution to the script. (Now, it is not uncommon for screenplays to be thrown out from time to time, but this still does not explain why Spielberg insisted on slipping into a pool of mud, complete with real human skeletons, in an effort to console Williams, which just so happens to take place during this string of nonsense.) "Poltergeist" will always be characterized by the magic of Spielberg and this reckless decision, the blame of which will ultimately have to be pinned on the filmmaker, himself. He is a brilliant artisan and should have known better in this particular instance, in what can be deemed the pinnacle of his career. After all, 1982 was noted as the "Summer of Spielberg," not the "Summer of Hooper."      

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