Poltergeist (1982)

Poltergeist (1982)

“It knows what scares you. It has from the very beginning.”

A suburban mom (JoBeth Williams) and dad (Craig T. Nelson) try to protect their kids Dana (Dominique Dunne), Robbie (Oliver Robins), and Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke) from malevelent forces in their house, eventually drawing on the help of a team of paranormal experts (Beatrice Straight, Richard Lawson, and Martin Casella) and a medium (Zelda Rubenstein).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Ghosts
  • Horror Films
  • Kidnapping
  • Steven Spielberg Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “thrill-a-second horror movie” — directed “by Tobe Hooper under the close supervision of Steven Spielberg” — is “suspenseful, scary, witty, [and] imaginative”. He points out that Richard Edlund’s special effects are dazzling, especially the parade of the ‘lost’ ghosts down the staircase and the startling appearance of the giant demon head”:

But he argues that “what makes [the] film really nerve-wracking — especially if you’re a young viewer — is that every thing (trees, dolls, toys, records, furniture) comes to life and becomes hostile.”

He adds that the “characters are appealing” (though he complains that “Dunne’s character has nothing to do”):

… and posits that the “finale, which is too much like the end of The Amityville Horror, is anticlimactic — all the skeletons, the mud, and the loud screaming are annoying.”

I’m of two minds about Poltergeist, which I never saw as a kid or teen (I was horror-averse until my adulthood, when I could finally approach the genre from a sufficiently analytical lens and avoid sensory overload). While I recognize its innovation in terms of special effects and numerous thrilling moments, I find the storyline and characters frustratingly inconsistent. (To name just two glaring errors, Nelson has purportedly missed days of work while his younger daughter is missing — without the police being notified? And distraught Williams apologizes to Straight for inconveniencing her?!) Some have argued for “hidden depths” in the film, finding meaning and nuance in each narrative or visual twist, while others have semi-jokingly pointed out “everything wrong” with the movie. Ultimately, film fanatics will need to decide for themselves whether this becomes a beloved favorite or a once-and-done cult flick with historical significance.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fine central and supporting performances

  • Nicely done special effects
  • Atmospheric cinematography

Must See?
Yes, simply for its cultural relevance and cult status.


  • Cult Movie
  • Historically Relevant

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)


2 thoughts on “Poltergeist (1982)

  1. A once-must, as a classic ’80s horror flick.

    Those of us who saw ‘Poltergeist’ on its release in theaters didn’t realize what it was asking of us. ~ which was… it wanted us to accept a story which simultaneously made sense yet, on its own terms, did not seem to make much sense at all. The reality of its premise seems to combine conflicting sources of terror, which are nevertheless in alliance. Therefore, if you try to make complete sense of it for yourself, you’re probably screwed.

    Mainly because ‘sense’ may be beside the point here. Contrary to being an act of ‘putting it all together’, this is a film that doesn’t just want to scare the crap out of you; it also wants to mess with your head. On a number of occasions, it suggests that the other-worldly force at work is a single ‘entity’ with its own dual nature that will thwart your sense of logic at every turn.

    In spite of all of the talk re: discontented spirits who haven’t moved on, what the film itself really wants as a response is a simple reaction of ‘What the fuck was that?!’ It doesn’t really want you to understand much of anything – which is its strength.

    The cast is appropriately and uniformly stunned throughout – and the standout performance rests with Rubinstein as the medium à la mode.

  2. ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2 out if ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

    A popular film and a fine horror flick. It’s supposedly meant to be a companion piece to ET from the same year. However, I don’t think it has any great significance beyond being a box office hit. For the budding FF not must see, despite being recommended and well worth seeing.

    Students of horror will want to check it out though.

Leave a Reply