Plot Details: This opinion reveals everything about the movie's plot.
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Regarding this review's title, this is an excuse whenever the family drops by for a visit and one of my craft projects (or clutter piles, if you ask my wife)happens to
be out in the living room. Now I know I seem like a fine, stable and well-grounded individual (why is my wife laughing?)but my family is a little strange. They as a group are really a little tough to take. Maybe someday I'll actually compile the Kidden family history....sedatives may be required before reading.
Poltergeist certainly stands out among Steven Spielberg's earlier works. It sports an excellent cast including JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson,Dominique Dunne, Oliver Robbins, Heather O'Rourke, and Zelda Rubenstein....so it really can't go wrong. Well, it does, a little, but we'll get to that.
The story revolves around the Freeling family; typical upper-middle-class suburbanites living in a Yuppie housing development named Cuesta Verde. Steve Freeling is a realtor for Cuesta Verde Estates, Diane Freeling is the quintessential Happy Homemaker, and they have a sixteen-year-old daughter, an eight-year-old son, and a five-year-old daughter, plus a bird named Tweety and a dog named E.Buzz. (a name that reminds me of the sound I hear after a really good spicy meal) If this family was any more WASP they'd be sporting stingers from their rear ends.
It seems that Carol Ann, the youngest child, has a peculiar habit. When the family falls asleep in front of the television, she has conversations with the white noise of the non-broadcasting channel, or as I prefer to call it, the electric fuzz. Now I'm thinking it may be time for this youngster to be examined rather thoroughly; but it would appear that the TV answers her; and not only that, during a stormy night eerie glowing streamers fly out of the television and into the Freeling's house. Carol Ann sagely announces "They're here," and the proverbial excrement slowly yet with rapid escalation hits the proverbial fan.
Mysterious unseen forces begin to rearrange the furniture, slide people and objects across the kitchen floor, and tease the dog. During a tremendously stormy night, all suddenly becomes much worse as a tree tries to eat 8-year-old son Robbie, the swimming pool being dug in the yard becomes a pool of muddy froth, and Carol Ann is sucked into the bedroom closet and into an alternate plane of reality; the "other side". The only trace of her is her voice, which can be heard coming through the white noise of the television.
Steve enlists the aid of a University parapsychological crew to study the wierd phenomena constantly astir in their home and hopefully find a way to rescue Carol Ann. A fine moment with this crew is when one of the student researchers on the team appears to tear his own face off...ouch. Myself, I prefer an electric razor for that stubborn stubble.
The spooky phenomena escalates wildy from this point on. A parade of ghosts troups from Carol Ann's bedroom down the stairs and out the wall, objects cascade from the ceiling, and electrical appliances go haywire. Dr. Lesch, the chief parapsychologist enlists the aid of a powerful psychic named Tangina Barrons to "clean" the house of supernatural forces and rescue Carol Ann, and the battle is on.
I won't go any further with the plot: it is a gripping story, with some nice freaky moments along the way. If anything, and this is where I feel it went wrong, it goes too far; there is so much happening and scares and shocks piled on top off each other that the viewer doesn't have adequate time to take it all in, or breathe for a minute.
The special effects are 1980's technology. Some are quite good, as ghosts stroll down the stairway, coffins rise from the mud, and a tree rips from the yard; others are fair, such as the demonic creatures that appear in the Freeling home a couple times, and some are rather cheesy, such as the aforementioned "face rip" where it is obvious the actor is trying to hold the fake head in place, and the pinkish goo that covers Diane and Carol Ann in the post-climatic sequence, which reminded me of chicken fat.
Craig T. Nelson is a great Steve Freeling: strong, brave, and charming, yet it is obvious he has no idea what is happening to his home and family, and is desperate to find a way to save his daughter.
JoBeth Williams does a fine Diane. She projects great warmth, emotes well, and comes apart extremely smoothly.
She is a very believable character, and plays the role with great skill.
Oliver Robbins and Dominique Dunne, who play Robbie and the older sister Dana play adequate roles. Both portray hysterical fear very well, although Dunne perhaps overdoes a little.
The diminutive, yet dynamite Zelda Rubenstein makes one want to call her to cast ghosts out of your house. Her performance is flawless and superb, and her tiny frame packs a poweful punch. Plus you just want to squeeze those itty bitty cheeks! Unfortunately, she plays her role all too well, as she has typecast herself into this movie series. This is a woman worthy of roles much taller than herself.
However, Heather O'Rourke steals the show as Carol Anne playing a cute little girl who can really give you the creeps. When she calmly intones, "They're here," you definately get the goosebumps. One moment in particular is comedic though, when she scrunches up her face while having the pink goo washed off, and her eyes flutter when her and her mother are "unconscious". All in all, though, for a young actress, 4 out of 5 stars. This was her best work, and she did not fare as well in the two sequels.
This is an eminently watchable movie despite the drawbacks. The story was original for the time, and very gripping. There is some great intensity and some nice light humorous bits. (Craig T. Nelson does a good Donald Duck) A decent package indeed.
Yours until Maxwell Smart and James Bond do a team-up film titled "Get Smart Another Day":
Hugh U. Kidden
(with a bit of editing done by the incredible, yet humble, Constant Leigh Kidden (who wrote the bit on Zelda and Heather, and this last line)
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Viewing Format: VHS
Video Occasion: Good for a Rainy Day
Suitability For Children: Not suitable for Children of any age