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Random thoughts about sound and vision.

All-American Horror Story: POLTERGEIST, Then And Now

"They're heeeeerrrrrreeeee....."

Hard to believe but it's nearly 33 years since little Carol Anne uttered those words and POLTERGEIST first scared audiences. POLTERGEIST is a big-budget horror movie set in the heart of American suburbia, with the Freeling family under siege in their own home by forces beyond the grave.

Produced by Steven Spielberg and directed by Tobe Hooper, the film has a likeable cast (Craig T Nelson, Jo Beth Williams and the excellent Zelda Rubinstein as eccentric medium Tangina), a terrific Jerry Goldsmith score and plenty of old school ILM special effects. It was a huge success at the box-office (one of the top ten biggest moneymakers of the year) and spawned two inferior sequels - POLTERGEIST II in 1986 and two years later, POLTERGEIST III. The original is also noteworthy for the extreme difference in ratings it was given on either side of the Atlantic - in the US, it was awarded a family-friendly PG certificate, whilst here in the UK, it received an X; nobody under 18 allowed.

Sadly, POLTERGEIST is a film burdened with a troubled and controversial production history and subsequent tragedy - far too much to discuss here but thoroughly covered at this excellent Poltergeist Fan Site.

To this day, POLTERGEIST remains good fun There's precious little logic to the screenplay but taken as a cinematic ghost train ride, the movie works just fine. The scares are well-judged and there's surprisingly little gore - unusual for a horror movie released in the stalk & slash era. POLTERGEIST is also a key member of the Class Of Summer '82 - a summer which boasted the release of many classic sf and fantasy movies. ET, BLADE RUNNER, THE THING, THE ROAD WARRIOR, TRON, STAR TREK II, TRON - an embarrassment of riches and not equalled until arguably last summer.

In 2007, a lavish 25th Anniversary DVD of POLTERGEIST was planned for release but this had to be abruptly abandoned. None of the principals - Spielberg, director Tobe Hooper or the lead actors - wanted to be interviewed about the film. Because of this, there's precious little in the way of behind the scenes material about POLTERGEIST, albeit this brief "making-of" doc that was included on the laserdisc release:

The news that POLTERGEIST has being remade caused my heart to sink. I shouldn't be surprised - remakes are common currency in Hollywood these days. Good remakes, though, are few and far between - DAWN OF THE DEAD (2004) springs to mind but it's the exception that proves the rule.

On the plus side, Sam Rockwell takes over from Craig T Nelson as the father and Jared Harris replaces Zelda Rubinstein in the role of the spiritual medium. However, the trailer for the remake doesn't inspire much in the way of confidence. It revisits familiar landmarks from the original - the closet, the clown doll, the tree - but seems to favour the "electric cattle prod" type of scare that's unfortunately the norm in horror these days.

We'll know for certain if director Gil Kenan really knows what scares us when the film's released at the end of July.