Classic Review: Poltergeist

Stars: ★★★★

Summary:  A distinctly Spielbergian piece of childlike terror and awe.

Review:  I’ve always been a paranormal enthusiast.  My instincts tell me that the world around us, especially popular media’s edited view of the world, is not all there is.  There are still unfathomable mysteries.  Not everything’s explained by bouncing particles together and making educated guesses.  It proves my geekhood, but when I consider how I approach the world, I immediately think of the Vulcans from ‘Star Trek’ and their philosophy IDIC, that is, Infinite Diversity (in) Infinite Combinations.  There are too many possible answers for every question.

Which brings me to a recent cinematic experience I had, Steven Spielberg’s story ‘Poltergeist’, a movie that’s equal parts wonder and horror.  The filmmakers wisely spent most of their time showing the unfolding supernatural events from a child’s point-of-view.  Children, of course, believe in IDIC.  They’re natural poets.  A rainstorm is more than part of a cycle, unfolding since the Earth’s beginning; it’s a harbinger of doom.  A tree isn’t a passive factory of useful materials; it’s a pensive, devious, patient monster.  A clown doll sitting at the foot of the bed isn’t a fun toy; at night, it transforms into a demon, waiting for you to fall asleep.  It’s the imagination’s dark side in full force.

What ‘Poltergeist’ does is it takes childhood fears — that your home is the devil’s playground — and brings them into the adult world.  Unlike most cinematic families, the family in ‘Poltergeist’ is unified, loving, and three-dimensional.  It’s the family every kid wants and deserves.  When the kids’ fears prove real — and ghosts kidnap the little girl — the parents don’t react with skepticism.  To combat a supernatural enemy, they need the same imagination and faith their children have.  This is what Jesus is talking about when He says, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  Not an impossible demand or a threat; a plea for open minds.

‘Poltergeist’ is indeed scary, but because it originated in Spielberg’s mind, it has the same sense of adventure and awe as ‘Jaws’ and ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’.  If you’ve got a stomach for horror, ‘Poltergeist’ is incredibly fun, and even inspiring.  Watching the father, played by Craig T. Nelson, interact with the kids, well, it made me want to be a Dad.  It’s increasingly rare that we get to see a purely positive role model.

I’ve referred to this as a Spielberg film, and it’s not because I have any illusions about who directed it.  That was Tobe Hooper.  The auteur is not always the director; its how we ought to pinpoint the chief creative force behind any project, no matter their role.  Here, it was certainly the co-writer and producer, Steven Spielberg, as the narrative is certainly his and every shot screams out his influence.

‘Poltergeist’ is my favorite horror film of all time.  It’s an experience akin to ‘Jaws’, ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ and the ‘Indiana Jones’ pictures.  I’ll be returning to that haunted house again.

Not-So-Classic Review: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

By contributor Patrick Zabriskie

Stars: ★☆☆☆

Summary: One of the worst films I have ever seen.

Review:  I wanted to like this film; I really did.  I wanted to be able to say that I enjoyed it and found it a great example of the horror genre.  Heck, it’s been on nearly every Top Horror Film list of the past few years.  But after watching ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ and seeing it’s gory sub-mediocrity play out on-screen, I came to the painful realization that this, in truth, is an awful film, and the only reason it has any notoriety at all is because it was just so disturbing.  But it’s long worn out its welcome.

Where do I begin?  The story is an incomprehensible mess.  It has something to do with a group of teenagers or twenty something’s stumbling upon a band of deranged psychopaths.  But really, you don’t care, because the movie starts killing them off shamelessly before you really figure anything out.
Even by later “slasher” film standards, our cast goes quickly.  Three of these teenagers are gruesomely murdered in a period of about ten minutes, and I should mention that there’s only five in this group.  What other film kills over half of its “good guys” so quickly?  Of course, I didn’t really care about those three, seeing as how they were all bland, underwritten, and poorly acted.  Nor was I particularly affected by their murders.  The film irreverently executed them with no suspense or satisfying buildup, just lots and lots of gore.  And then there’s this guy in a wheel chair.  I couldn’t figure out if the actor was bad or he was intentionally written to be so annoying, but either way I detested him, and I couldn’t help but breathe a sigh of relief when he was finally butchered and killed, because it at least meant I wouldn’t have to listen to him anymore.  This leaves one girl left.  And literally (I’m not exaggerating in the least) her entire dialogue for the second half of the film is nothing, and I mean NOTHING, but incomprehensible screaming.

And about these psychopaths, they may just be four of the most deranged, destructive, and masochistic people on earth.  They pile up bones in their house, raid graveyards, and kill people in any way possible.  It’s certainly revolting.

But it’s all so pointless because there is no STORY here.  Only murder, gore, and horrendous, horrendous imagery comprises this short movie of 80 minutes. And for all that, it goes absolutely nowhere with it.  There’s no pacing, no narrative tying it all together.  There are no characters to care about.  There was nothing to hold me over except gore, and frankly I just couldn’t stand that after a while.
I hate this movie.  I hate the story.  I hate the one-dimensional characters.  I hate that a narrator at the beginning reads aloud the opening crawl that we could just as easily read ourselves.  I hate that the last teenager alive literally spends the second half of the movie screaming.  I hate the ending, which resolves nothing and seems to glorify one of the villains.  I hate the villains who are creepy but never fleshed out.  I hate the nearly non-existent score.  I hate the disorienting cinematography.  I hate every last, little audience-insulting aspect of this movie.

This film should be banned.  It’s an insult to horror films.  It’s an insult to independent films.  It’s an insult to film-making in general.  Heck, it’s an insult to Art itself.  It sets the bar so low on all sides that literally anyone with half a working brain could have made something better.  This is exploitation of the worst order.  It is one of the most hateful, disappointingly unsatisfying, confusing, and downright mean-spirited “classics” that has ever been my misfortune to watch.  And worst of all, this film took from me an hour and a half of my life that I’m never ever getting back.  This is an awful, awful film.