In honor of Halloween and our ever-growing dependence on technology, Anthology Film Archives will be running “The Medium is the Massacre” series, featuring horror films where media is the originator of the horror. Included in the series will be “Unfriended,” “Videodrome” and, of course, “Poltergeist.”
Written and produced by Steven Spielberg, “Poltergeist” is perhaps among the small handful of horror films that have transcended their times and eras to become verified classics which will remain relevant in the pop culture sphere. The simple premise of a house, and eventually an entire neighborhood, being overtaken by spirits is nothing extraordinary, but as with all the best films, the magic lies in the nuance. From the hands on the TV — something so common in every household that suddenly becomes corrupted and unsafe — to the nightmare-inducing moments in living rooms and kitchens, the fear comes from witnessing the horrors happen in spots we deem safe: our homes.
“Poltergeist,” however, succeeds on a far larger level than its scale alone. By allowing viewers to know each family member as their own, they understand why each moment of peril is so vitally terrifying. These moments are frightening not simply for the scares, but because losing any one of the characters would hurt us as deeply as it would if we had lost someone in our own lives.
Beyond the familiar characters is the actual pacing and structure of the film itself. We are given long stretches of normal life during the day where we watch their lives play out and even find whimsical joy in their relationships.
What highlights this the most is the moment where they find themselves giggling as the youngest daughter gets pulled across the room by supernatural forces. The moment is light, and feels as if one is watching her go down a slide instead of the sinister implications of what is truly happening. There is such a clear distinction between the times of safety and times of danger. In fact, it is as distinct as night and day (because it is night and day).
While its technical brilliance and wonderful special effects certainly elevate the quality of the film, what makes it so timeless is the ability to still scare, and scare well. From the utter creepiness of Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke) to the utter horror of watching a man peel his face off to the adrenaline-pumping climax where coffins shoot up through the ground with terrifying results, “Poltergeist” is never short of moments when you find yourself clutching the side of the couch and sweating, you find yourself clutching the side of the couch and sweating, anxiously awaiting the time when you can finally relax.
“Poltergeist” is the type of horror film that gives its viewers laughs, chills and genuine moments of love that help to make every other moment far more significant. It is by no means the scariest or most unsettling movie in the genre, but it does not need to be. The sum of its parts leads to a scary, heartwarming, scream-inducing, cathartic experience. “Poltergeist” is the perfect horror movie.
“The Medium is the Massacre” will be running from Oct. 28 to Nov. 13.
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