Making its DVD debut a quarter of a century after it spooked all the family on its theatrical run, Poltergeist headlines a 25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition package that boasts… a half-hour documentary. Entitled They Are Here: The Real World Of Poltergeists Revealed, said doc rounds up a ‘psychic medium’, a ‘cultural anthropologist’, a ‘paranormal investigator’ and a – wait for it – ‘ghost expert’ to tell us events in the movie are “somewhat accurate”. For those viewers whose German is a little rusty, meanwhile, author Colin Wilson (Poltergeist: A Study In Destructive Haunting) is on hand to explain that the fruity moniker derives from poltern, noisy, and Geist, ghost. “A poltergeist is a bloody nuisance,” he splutters. “It’s a spiritual juvenile delinquent.”
Sadly, maddeningly, the making of the film itself is ignored, perhaps because the question of authorship continues to rumble on. Watched now, as then, it’s the spirit of producer Steven Spielberg that haunts pretty much every blue-tinged frame, with the rough-hewn, hostile horrors of director Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre) smoothed out and glossed over. In fact, Poltergeist plays like E.T.’s evil (but not too evil) twin: a suburban family granted an otherworldly visit; silhouetted figures bathed in the Beard’s beloved “Godlight”; and showcase effects – some still special, some now shabby – serving, not swallowing, characters and plot.
A precursor to such family-friendly horror as Gremlins and Ghostbusters (both 1984, both superior), Poltergeist’s scares are clichéd and tame – a roll-call of helium-voiced psychics, houses built on burial grounds and portals to other dimensions. The performances are solid, the themes intriguing (an attack on godless American capitalism, the triumph of the nuclear family) and the whispery build-up effective, extracting shivers from such familiar objects as a rag doll clown, kitchen chairs and that hearthstone of the modern family – the TV. But any suspense is rapidly crushed by Jerry Goldsmith’s swollen orchestral score. A hit nonetheless, Poltergeist became a cultural (ahem) phenomenon and spawned two turgid sequels.