Poltergeist (1982): Produced by Spielberg, Directed by Tobe Hopper

Poltergeist, skillfully directed by Tobe Hopper, was produced by Spielberg in the same year, 1982, that he made “E.T.,” which is considered to be one of his masterpieces. Spielberg is also credited as contributor to the original screenplay.

Spielberg hired Hooper as director, based on the latter’s success in 1974 with “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” which went on to become a cult movie.

The two films are complementary, representing different facets of Spielberg’s sensibility and world view. Showing the dark side of Spielberg’s California suburbanism, the film revolves around the Freelongs, a typical middle class family.

Even though Poltergeist” is inferior to “Ë.T.” on any number of levels, it was nominated for three Oscars, but won none. (See below).

This family, unlike most of Spielebrg’s on screen families, has two parents. In the first act, we get the family’s routines, how father Steve (Craig T. Nelson) falls asleep night after night in front of the TV. With his energetic, upbeat wife, Diane (JoBeth Williams), Steve has three children: sixteen-year-old daughter Dana (Dominique Dunne), eight-year-old son Robbie (Oliver Robins), and five-year-old Carol Ann (Heather O’Rourke).

Gradually, bizarre, mysterious events begin to occur, such as the pet canary dying, or kitchen dishes and items of furniture moving around. Before long Carol Ann is called into the TV set and a strange green light hits her. Drawn to the TV set, the haunted girl begins to talk to “the TV people,” before disappearing completely.

Unable to find his daughter, Steve consults Dr. Lesh (Beatrice Straight, who won the Supporting Actress Oscar for “Network), a psychologist who sees the crisis as a paranormal phenomena, which needs the intervention of an exorcist named Tangina (Zelda Rubinstein) to find the missing girl.

The movie relies on too many cheap tricks, like Diane blowing her hair at a crucial moment, so she is unable to hear or see the atrocities in her house. The climax, with mommy Diane sunk into a muddy pool surrounded by skeletons is rather cheesy.

Some critics dismissed the film as vapid, but for me, it’s a competent B-level horror film. If the hero of Ë.T.” was a boy, here it’s a girl. By standards of the time, most of the visual and sound effects are good, though occasionally, the narrative is too silly and predictable for its own good

Oscar Nominations: 3
Original Score: Jerry Goldsmith
Visual Effects: Richard Edlund, Michael Wood, Bruce Nicholson
Sound Effects Editing: Stephen Hunter Flick, Richard Anderson

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

The Scoring Oscar went to John Williams for “E.T,” which also won the Sound and Visual Effects Oscars.

End Note:

Dominique Dunne, who played the teenage daughter, died soon after the film got made. O’Rourke, who appeared in the film’s sequels (1986, 1988), died after the third film was produced.

Running time: 114 Minutes.
Directed By: Tobe Hooper
Written By: Michael Grais, Mark Victor, Steven Spielberg
Released: June 4, 1982.
DVD: April 18, 2000