Thursday, July 23, 2009
By Eric Jessen 7/22/09
Poltergeist: an epic battle between a spindly fluffy haired mom and the angry spirits of the dead, modestly entertaining, creepy, but with one too many mysteriously moving inanimate objects and a story full of holes.
Living under a subdivision and specifically Diane (JoBeth Williams) and Steven's (Craig T. Nelson) wholesome family home are spirits. They terrorize, furious that the always evil real estate agents built housing on top of their cemetery.
The terror is at first conservative: a stormy night, a dark closet, weird noises, an eerie old tree, and a spooky clown. The suspense builds at a slow but reasonable pace, not particularly exciting but with my confident expectation of a good payoff.
Suddenly the terror and movie spirals out of control into the laughable and ridiculous: the tree possessed, grabs a small child Robbie (Oliver Robins). There are TV monsters, green fog ghosts (reminiscent of Ghost Busters), another dimension that sucks you in and spits you out covered in red slimy goo. After the cute daughter Carol Anne is whisked away by the spirits into the strange dimension, the family first seeks help from three parapsychologists, Dr. Lesh (Beatrice Straight), Ryan (Richard Lawson) and Marty (Martin Casella). They are overwhelmed: Marty inadvertently eats a maggot covered drum stick and scratches off his face (bad use of makeup). Unable to retrieve Carol Anne, the parapsychologists consult a spiritual medium. Tangina (Zelda Rubinstein) speaks with the spirits, gibber jabbers about demons and souls and telepathy (the actors trying to keep a straight face). When the courageous mother Diane enters the dimension tied to a rope and rescues Carol Anne, all is well, despite Steven being attacked by a giant clay head that looks like Mussolini (from Amercord).
The spiritual medium proclaims “this house is clean,” and the family is back together. The movie seemed to be limping to a finish. I was, at first, unaware more absurd terror was to come. The family decides to spend one last night in the haunted house and the mother takes a warm bath leaving the kids alone in their room: these were my clues to the impending onslaught of insanity.
Diane, half naked, is thrown around her bed in a thrusting, humping motion and then dragged up the walls and across the ceiling. The aforementioned spooky clown becomes possessed and starts chocking Robbie. The dark closet turns into a giant orange anus and coffins and skeletons start sprouting up from the ground. Finally some explanation, some attempt at clarity: the spirits of the dead were terrorizing because they were mad about their tomb stones being moved but not their bodies.
By the end my head was aching. I was out of breath, annoyed that it carried on and on. Poltergeist is mildly entertaining PG horror for the first hour, but it has no direction and little purpose. There aren't any characters, only a puppet family to wail and scream, their triumph over the demon spirits supposedly showing the strength of a traditional family's kinship (Note - Steven reads “Reagan: The Man the President” and at the end they ditch TV). There is not much of a story, only a 114 minute long excuse to show 1982 special effects. It drags on with no end in sight but with timeless clever lines like “they're here,” and enough budget to make a great horror movie, all Poltergeist needed was a more focused script.