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DVD Review: Poltergeist (25th Anniversary Edition)

Written by Senora Bicho

It’s here! The newly restored and remastered 25th anniversary Poltergeist DVD is out in time to provide some chills and thrills for Halloween. It had been years since I last watched it all the way through and so I was looking forward to finding out whether or not is still holds up as one of the scariest films of all times.

Poltergeist originally hit the theaters in June 1982, but I rented it on home video much later on as I did with Jaws. Both films scared the living daylights out of me although Jaws has had more of a lasting effect. Being in a swimming pool alone can still frighten me. On the other hand, a stuffed clown might make me chuckle but doesn’t put me in mortal fear. While both of these horror classics have always had a connection in my mind, I was surprised to learn that Steven Spielberg was involved with both films. Tobe Hooper is the credited director of Poltergeist because contract obligations Spielberg had with Universal Studios required he only work on E.T. until its completion. However, from most accounts including those from both cast and crew, Spielberg was really the one behind the camera.

Poltergeist is the story of the haunting of the Freeling family home. This all-American family consists of parents Steve and Diane and their three children, Carol Anne, Robbie, and Dana. The problems begin with a common item found in almost every home, the television set. Five-year-old Carol Anne starts speaking into the TV one night while the rest of the family is asleep. She wakes them as she gets louder and louder trying to understand the voice on the other side of the static-filled channel. The late Heather O’Rourke wonderfully plays Carol Anne. It is a great creepy scene that sets the stage for the rest of the film.

Cut to the next day and an overview of the Questa Verde community. It appears to be the perfect suburban development with neighbors mowing lawns and children playing. That evening Carol Anne starts talking to TV again but this time a spirit appears and goes into a bedroom wall. As the family awakes Carol Anne delivers the famous “They’re here” line. Paranormal activity gets underway during breakfast the following morning. At first Diane (JoBeth Williams) is fascinated with the playful occurrences and is excited to share the activities of the day with Steve (Craig T. Nelson). This playful nature changes very quickly when a tree attacks Robbie and Carol Anne disappears.

The rest of the film revolves around getting Carol Anne back. At first, Steve and Diane seek assistance from a university parapsychology team. When it becomes apparent that the situation is beyond their expertise, they bring in a spiritual medium, Tangina Barrons (Zelda Rubinstein). With her help they are able to save Carol Anne and eventually flee the house just before it gets swallowed into a burst of light.

While there are great performances and some spooky moments, I wouldn’t consider this a scary film. It is a well-written story that is ultimately about the love and bonds within a family. Perhaps my lack of witnessing any paranormal activity firsthand along with not believing in ghosts played a role in my reaction to the film. Those that do believe in poltergeists and the idea of a haunted house might have a more frightful experience.

The digitally restored and remastered picture looks fantastic. It is crystal clear with vibrant colors. Some of the special effects look less than 100% realistic but it is the best it can be given the technology available in the early '80s. In addition, the remastered soundtrack in Dolby Digital sounds amazing.

Disappointingly, the DVD only offers one special feature. A documentary entitled “They are Here: The Real World of Poltergeists Revealed.” This is shown in two parts: “Science of the Spirits” and “Communing with the Dead.” Since I am a non-believer, I found this ridiculous and uninteresting as they spoke with real-life, self-proclaimed mediums and ghost hunters. I would have much preferred to see a making-of or a “behind the scenes documentary.” Especially since some consider the film to be cursed due to the early death of Heather O’Rourke, the murder of Dominique Dunne (who plays the older daughter Dana), and that they supposedly used real skeletons in some of the scenes.

Since there are no noteworthy special features, I can’t recommend that you run out and buy the DVD. If you are a fan of the film and would want it as a part of your collection to watch over and over again, you should be able to find it for less than $20. If not save the money and rent it on Halloween night instead.

About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS

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