The following review was written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent, Tony Farinella.
“Poltergeist” is a film I haven’t watched in probably close to sixteen years. The last time I remember watching it was when I was preparing to interview the late Zelda Rubinstein for the DVD release of the film back in the day. Upon revisiting “Poltergeist,” I found it to be a mixed bag. There are certain aspects which feature solid special effects, some good scares, and intense moments of horror. There are also long-drawn-out scenes that drag the film down at other points. The film also feels very dated in many ways. I had trouble deciding my feelings on the film even after watching and sitting with it for a few hours.
“Poltergeist” introduces the audience to your average suburban husband and wife played by Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams. They are doing their best to raise their children: Carol Ann (Heather O’Rourke), Robbie (Oliver Robins), and Dana (Dominique Dunne). Carol Ann is the mischievous youngest child of the bunch, Robbie is the scared middle child, and Dana is the sixteen-year-old teenager with a bit of sass to her. Their world is turned upside down when strange and bizarre things start happening in their home. They find that the furniture is moving all around the house, and the house itself seems to have a mind of its own. When they lose their youngest, Carol Ann, to the TV, they start to become incredibly concerned about their living situation.
One of the positive aspects of “Poltergeist” is the fact that the family can’t just leave the house because their daughter is inside of it somewhere. In many haunted house films, it’s frustrating to watch as a viewer because you just want to scream, “Leave the house already! Get out of there!” It’s not that easy this time. They need to stay in the house in order to save their child. This is causing sleepless nights and a tremendous amount of anxiety for the parents. Dana ends up staying with a friend to get away from the chaos of the home while Robbie stays with his grandmother. Steve and Diane are determined to get to the bottom of this.
This is also where the film falls off the rails a little bit. They end up bringing in some experts to help them with this issue, as they want to find out if it’s a simple haunting or a poltergeist intrusion. All of this is new to them, and they are learning as they go along. They end up bringing in a spiritual medium, played by Zelda Rubinstein, in the hopes of finally getting to the bottom of this. She is attempting to help Steve and Diane communicate with their youngest daughter and figure out a way to get her back to them safe and sound. However, this is going to be much easier said than done because of all of the obstacles and roadblocks that are in their way. There is also a hidden secret that explains why Carol Ann says “they’re here” when she looks at the TV.
Overall, there is a good movie in here somewhere dying to come out. “Poltergeist” maybe needed a spiritual medium of its own to get the most out of its production. It’s directed by Tobe Hooper and produced by Steven Spielberg. Many have stated Spielberg was responsible for directing most of the film and, in turn, should have been labeled a co-director on the project at the very least. It has been a Hollywood inside story for a while, but it does feel like a movie in search of a tone and direction. The “ghost story” aspects are too convoluted at times, which is when it starts to feel a bit tedious and tiresome to watch. The straight-up horror aspects are the ones which really work and are incredibly effective. There are some set pieces and scenes which were really ahead of its time and truly terrifying. Sadly, those scenes are few and far in between.
“Poltergeist” is also bogged down by its PG rating. It feels like a crowd-pleasing PG horror movie instead of a horror thrill-ride. Once again, this feels like a film at odds with itself. The performances by Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams are really, really good. They show just the right amount of anguish and distress as the parents. The younger actors are not given a whole lot to do here, which is a shame, because young children in peril, when done right and with no agenda, can also add to the terror. Overall, this film was a mixed bag for me, so I can’t quite recommend it, even though I truly enjoyed certain scenes, the performances, and the special effects.
* * ½ out of * * * *
4K/Blu-ray Info: “Poltergeist” is released on a two-disc 4K/Blu-ray Combo Pack from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment. It is rated PG and has a running time of 114 minutes. It also comes with a digital copy of the film.
Video Info: The 4K HDR transfer of the film looks incredible. This film was released in 1982, and it looks better than ever here on 4K. Warner Brothers Home Entertainment has really stepped up their game with their 4K releases from their catalogue of films. The vivid and bright colors are really popping here while the dark and gloomy scenes are done just right. There is a warning for this film if you are susceptible to epilepsy or have trouble with photosensitivity, so keep that in mind if you are going to buy this film or watch it.
Audio Info: The film comes with two audio tracks in English: DTS-HD MA: English 5.1 and 2.0 along with Dolby Digital: French and Spanish to go along with it. Subtitles are included in English, French, and Spanish. The audio is really taken up a notch when it comes to the more intense horror scenes. It really enhances the strength of the scenes.
“They Are Here: The Real World of Poltergeists Pt. 1- Science of the Spirits”: 15:30
“They Are Here: The Real World of Poltergeists Pt. 2- Communing with the Dead”: 15:31
“The Making of Poltergeist”: 7:15
Should You Buy It?
As per usual, these special features have been previously released on the Blu-ray of the film. All in all, they are decent enough special features if you enjoyed the film. The more I thought about this film, the more I realized I was trying to talk myself into liking it. I didn’t hate it and it’s not a bad movie. It’s simply OK. It could have been a lot better considering the actors and the director and producer behind it. This should have been a great film and a horror classic. It’s overrated in many ways. It’s not a film that is going to have great repeat value or one that I think many will come back to time and time again. I can’t recommend that you purchase this film, even though I thought I was going to enjoy it quite a bit. It’s a disappointment, as the potential is there, and it’s shown in certain scenes and with the performances. It’s just not consistent enough throughout the film. The beginning and the end of the film are really good, but the middle is a mess and quite boring at times. The 4K of the film is impressive and a major upgrade. If you are a fan of the movie, you will enjoy the 4K transfer. If you aren’t a fan of the film or haven’t seen it before, I don’t think you need to spend your money on this 4K.
**Disclaimer** I received a copy of this film from Warner Brothers to review for free. The opinions and statements in the review are mine and mine alone.