Poltergeist is consistently rated as one of the top horror movies of all time. I remember the 1982 hype and trailers- “They’re herrrrrrrre!”. I remember Poltergeist being on late on regular network TV when I was young. The chatter around my neighborhood was that Poltergeist was as scary as Jaws, Alien, and the teenage monster slasher movies I was never allowed to watch. Well, I never watched the whole thing until last night (I’m 33 now). I can safely say that Poltergeist is overrated, and Poltergeist sucks.
Before you think I’m an ignorant mutant, you can check out my other DailySkew movie reviews and see that I am a certifiably fair critic. So let me quickly tell you why Poltergeist is overrated: it’s a typical 1980′s suburb movie that is an uneven mix between parody, horror, and comedy. You’ll excuse me if I come from the school of horror films should be dark, scary,creepy, or frightening. Others focus on gore or thrilling suspense, and that’s fine too. But comedy? What a bad mix for my tastes. The only thing that Poltergeist has in common with The Exorcist is the last three letters of their titles.
Instead, Poltergeist is a movie that is similar to Gremlins: scary for kids (who should not have been allowed to see it anyway- producer Steven Spielberg obviously used his pull to make this movie a PG rating) but didn’t work for me (or my wife) as adults looking for a scary movie. Poltergeist is a “black humor” movie, along the lines of Edward Scissorhands, also uneven. For Poltergeist, it’s like director Tobe Hooper had a kickass scary adult movie in mind, but Spielberg censored it and had him edit it down for that PG rating.
Based on its reputation of being one of the best horror movies of all time, I wasn’t expecting such a suburban plot that Spielberg was obsessed with in the 1980′s. Check out his Amazing Stories TV show at the time: all of these lily white upper middle class families are all the same. They are walking stereotypes: a family devoted to making money, a sexy mom, geeky father, snobby teenage girl, a boy and a girl that argue, and a dog that’s smarter than they are. Methinks Hollywood had a yuppie fetish in the 1980′s- some sick self-reflection and self-loathing.
The only character worth caring about is the little blonde girl Carol Anne. The mother (JoBeth Williams) lost me when she was very uncaring and joked about the death of Carol Anne’s bird right from the start. The dad (Coach Hayden Fox, LOL) is a typical 1982 dad, but the smoking pot thing while reading a Ronald Reagan book is just too yuppiesh for me. The little brother (Oliver Robbins) is your standard immature, obnoxious kid seen in American cinema. The teenage daughter (the late Dominique Dunne) is a spoiled slut.
Poltergeist certainly starts out fine- the little girl (the late Heather O’Rourke) sees something in the snow of the television. And the Poltergeist theme by Jerry Goldsmith is totally awesome, but it quickly becomes a cross between The ‘Burbs and Gremlins, which I guess is like the aforementioned Edward Scissorhands, but without Johnny Depp’s coolness or innovative Tim Burton directing.
I do think it’s a shame about the so-called Poltergeist Curse- the tragic early real life deaths of Heather O’Rourke and Dominique Dunne. They seemed like nice girls in real life, but this movie review isn’t about real life.
Poltergeist isn’t for kids: there is a pseudo-rape scene, panty shots, some cursing, sexual innuendo, on-screen drug usage by parents, a face ripped off in the mirror, a living tree, dead bodies, and a bunch of screaming. Poltergeist is charming for many adults and teenagers from that era, which is why it still ranks so high today. As far as horror goes, there’s only two scenes (total time: 2 seconds) where you may lose your popcorn, but both are shameless and cheap, not built on suspense.
For the record, almost every horror movie is overrated according to the message boards; that’s because we all have different subjective measures of what is scary or gory. However, there are around 25 horror movies that consistently get ranked high, and are seen as classic movies beyond reproach, and Poltergeist is one of them. But after watching it for the first time, I have to go on the record and say Poltergeist is overrated and Poltergeist sucks.