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Vault Movie Review: "Poltergeist"

There are many movies that are worth seeing, but there are a lot of stinkers as well. My goal here is to weed out the good from the bad.

Poltergeist

Theatrical Release: 6/4/1982

Theatrical Release: 6/4/1982

Synopsis

Steve Freeling (Craig T. Nelson) is a real estate agent who sells model homes. The company he works for have already built whole neighborhoods, all of which consist of countless houses that look almost identical to one another, and they have bought more land to build even more. Steve lives with his family in one of the homes from the first phase of homes that the company built, and his family have been pretty happy with it. At least, they were happy with their model home until now.

It all started when Steve and his wife Diane (JoBeth Williams) woke up to the strange sight of their daughter Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke) sitting in front of the TV. The TV was all static, but Carol Anne was sitting directly in front of it, and she was talking as if she was having a conversation with someone—or something. From there, things only got stranger, as it soon became clear that the house was haunted. However, when Steve and Diane realized that their daughter Carol Anne is in great danger inside the home, they decided they needed to call paranormal experts. The experts came quickly, and the Freeling family began feeling hopeful, but the paranormal experts have never seen anything anywhere near as powerful as the poltergeist that has found its way into the Freelings' home.

Official Trailer

The Pros & Cons

All movies start with an average score of 75pts, points are then added or subtracted based on each Pro and Con. Each Pro or Con is designated points, ranging from 0-10, to convey how significant these Pros or Cons are.

The ProsThe Cons

The Poltergeist (+6pts)

Visual Effects (-1pts)

The Family (+6pts)

Too Easy (-3pts)

The Experts (+5pts)

The Climax (-3pts)

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Pro: The Poltergeist (+6pts)

I thought the poltergeist was interesting, and I liked how the filmmakers had the characters interacting with it. At first, it was just toying with the family, moving objects and furniture in playful ways, and I liked how amazed and almost happy Diane was about it. Then things quickly took a turn when it came after the kids. By the year 2020, I have seen countless haunted house stories, but this one felt especially dangerous.

The filmmakers made it feel almost pleasant, which will get your guard down, and it gave the entity somewhat of a personality. Then they had the poltergeist strike in a very calculated way—with distractions, and an actual objective—which made it feel smart. Then there was the wonder that the paranormal experts clearly had when witnessing what the poltergeist was capable of, making it obvious it was far more powerful than anything they had ever seen, which made the poltergeist feel dangerous. All of this came together to make the poltergeist feel like a real character, even though we hardly ever saw it. I have seen plenty of haunted house movies, but too few filmmakers have been able to develop their paranormal entities as well as this one.

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Con: Visual Effects (-1pts)

Okay, I do not fault the filmmakers for this at all, as this movie was simply a product of its time, and the filmmakers did the best they could with the tools they had in 1982—when this movie was released. That being said, I watched this movie in 2020, and a number of the visual effects were outdated. One example was when the poltergeist came out of the TV, and another was when objects were flying around the bedroom. The visual effects in this scene definitely took me out of the movie temporarily. Again, I know these effects were good for their time, but watching this movie in 2020 makes scenes comical that definitely should not have been.

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Pro: The Family (+6pts)

Another thing I thought the filmmakers did a great job of setting up was the family. None of these characters were very complex, nor did they have compelling character stories. The parents just wanted to protect their kids, the younger kids were just defenseless potential victims, and the older kid was just your typical teenaged character. None of their stories were very interesting, but together, they were a family that you will want to see get through this thing in one piece—except for maybe the teenager, I did not really care much about her. I liked seeing them basically playing with the ghost on the kitchen floor, I liked seeing the mom yelling at the kids over the kitchen chairs—while trying to figure out what on earth was going on—I liked the dad talking to his son about thunder, and I liked then seeing that the kids had taken over their parents bed. Their dynamic as a family just worked. There was nothing special about any of their stories individually, but I wanted to see this family get through this, and that made it pretty easy to get sucked into this story.

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Con: Too Easy (-3pts)

One thing I definitely did not like about this movie was that it just felt too easy. After the poltergeist struck, it then gave the family plenty of time to regroup. There was time for the family to reach out to paranormal experts, and then there was time for those experts to show up, figure out what was going on, and come up with a plan. The poltergeist was basically just very considerate, making sure the family had every opportunity to defeat it, and this was what made the latter half of the movie feel too easy, because everything just seemed to work out okay up until the climax of the movie. Whether or not the protagonists were victorious in the climax was irrelevant, but the fact that they were able to get as far as they did made the plot of this movie seem way too convenient.

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Pro: The Experts (+5pts)

Usually, paranormal expert characters are just generic side-characters that keep the plot moving in your typical haunted house story direction. However, I liked all of the experts in this movie. The first group came in, and they gave the family a sense of hope, as they came in with a plan and provided some additional support. I also liked the few comedic moments regarding how much more powerful this poltergeist was than anything they had seen before. Then there was an additional paranormal expert that came in later.

The additional paranormal expert was a little old lady, and she was perfect for this movie, as she was somehow both creepy and comforting at the same time. In some moments, her presence made it feel like the protagonists had a real shot. In other moments, the way she said things was somewhat eerie and unsettling. This story was all about this family’s fight to save their daughter, but this assortment of paranormal expert side-characters definitely helped marinate this movie with some extra flavor.

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Con: The Climax (-3pts)

I liked what the filmmakers did with the climax of this movie, as they sort of split it up into two climaxes, with a little false ending between them. However, I never thought the protagonists would fail, so I was never really worried about anyone. It also sort of tied into my issues with how easy things felt, as I did not think the protagonists faced anything that was all that scary or challenging. Plenty happened, but I would not count much of it as “horror”, and a lot of it just required characters to move out of the way. For a horror movie, it ended up feeling a little anti-climactic, but that may have more to do with the bigger scale of movies today than anything else.

Grading Scale

GradeCategoryPoints

A+

Amazing

95-100

A-

Great

90-94

B+

Good

85-89

B-

Decent

80-84

C+

Average

75-79

C-

Watchable

70-74

D+

Bad

65-69

D-

Terrible

60-64

F

Garbage

45-59

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Grade: B+ (85pts)

I had never seen this movie before, and what better night to do so than Halloween night? The visual effects were a bit comically outdated, but it did not have much of an impact on my enjoyment of the movie. I thought the filmmakers did a great job with the poltergeist, the family, and the paranormal experts. The poltergeist felt like a dangerous entity, and it felt like a real character in this story. The family did not consist of any individually interesting characters, but together they made a family that you will want to see get through this thing okay. The paranormal experts were just side-characters, but they gave the protagonists—and the audience—a sense of hope throughout this story, and they had their share of comedic moments along the way.

The climax of the movie was entertaining enough, but it felt too easy, although not as easy as most of the movie that led up to it. After the poltergeist struck initially, it gave the protagonists a ton of time to regroup, come up with a plan, prepare, and test some things out before trying to execute that plan. It just felt really convenient, but this movie was entertaining enough for me to mostly look past its issues. The filmmakers got a lot right with this movie, and while I never thought it was scary at all, it was a good haunted house story that I definitely enjoyed watching.