Poltergeist: 25th Anniversary Edition
R1 - America - Warner Home Video
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (3rd November 2007).
The Film

"Poltergeist" is one of those films with an interesting production past, released in 1982 just a week after Steven Spielberg's "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial", both films were huge successes as that summer was dubbed 'The Spielberg Summer', it should also be known that Spielberg did not direct "Poltergeist"...or at least that's his stance on the matter. He chose newcomer Tobe Hooper to direct the supernatural spook-fest after seeing his intense and gritty feature "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" (1974). This is an odd choice considering they were going for a 'PG' ghost story.
During the film's production Spielberg worked on this movie and "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" back-to-back as he was on the set of "Poltergeist" virtually everyday as he basically took control of the production (according to various sources including some cast members), once post-production was in process he apparently took total control including the editing of the film. A question of who really directed the film eventually spilled out into the Hollywood community and as a result an investigation was opened by the Director's Guild of America, despite the fact that Spielberg published an open letter in the Hollywood reporter about Hooper's direction on the film.
At the end of the day the evidence of whether or not Spielberg directed the film or not is the finished film itself, which is in almost every way a Spielberg-esque film with very little Hooper influence. The story-line focusing on the family in peril, kid characters as a central force, the fact that the film's terror moments were designed to reflect Spielberg's own childhood fears (The clown and the old tree outside the bedroom window) : the score is also typical of the type of music Spielberg would use. With all these painfully clear signs how can he even begin to deny any directorial influence?
The sad thing is that despite the huge box office success of the film, Hooper couldn't catch a break due to the press regarding authorship and had been relegated making stock-standard horror movies and bad TV for years, not the fate I would have expected for someone that burst onto the scene with what would become one of the scariest films of all time and introducing the now iconic horror character, Leatherface.
"Poltergeist" tells the story of the Freeling family, who live in a new neighborhood development, Steve (Craig T. Nelson) is a real estate agent for the company developing the housing. It's a fairly typical American Neighborhood and the Freelings are a typical American family...but on a stormy night strange things start to happen and their youngest child, Carol Anne (Heather O'Rourke) starts seeing people in the TV static. These TV people are ghosts that haunt the house and have taken Carol Anne into their world. In an effort to stop the haunting and get their daughter back, the Freelings have contracted the help of paranormal experts which includes the rather odd Tangina (Zelda Rubinstein).
I remember seeing this film on television when I was 8-years-old and I haven't seen it since, in fact it's one of those DVD's that flew under my radar when I was buying all my favorite films as a kid. The one thing I remembered most clearly about the film was the creepy tree and the giant demon skull that bursts out of the closet when Steve is holding onto the rope in which his wife Diane (JoBeth Williams) is attached to, oh yeah and the creepy blond girl who says "They're here..." so I was anxious to see this film again.
The first thing that strikes you about this studio film is that there are no name stars, this was done deliberately as the filmmakers wanted unknown actors to the play the Freelings as that would help add realism and focus attention on the ghost story element rather than the stars playing the roles. The results are characters that feel realistic, Craig T. Nelson does a fine job of playing dad but the highlight is Heather O'Rourke who plays the film's iconic little girl and of course the haunting effects (which seem a bit dated now but still hold up especially when the kid's bedroom contents are being sucked into the closet). For a 'PG' film it has a few scared and creepy moments, among my favorite include the coffins bursting from the ground in the film's third act and Diane struggling to get out of the unfinished pool as skeletons surface around here. Before release the film was given an 'R' rating upon protest it was reduced to 'PG' (there was no PG-13 rating at the time), perhaps it's my own desensitization to horror but I didn't think the film originally warranted an 'R' rating unless there's footage that we've never seen?
Looking back on it the film is very much stuck in the 1980's, with a references to President at the time Ronald Reagan (check out the book that Steve reads near the start of the film), the fashion and also the overdone score which seems a bit cartoonish rather than something you'd associate with a horror, I felt they should have gone darker with the score and created a mood rather than the typical Hollywood orchestra number.
Overall "Poltergeist" is still a very entertaining spook-fest with some visually cool moments, it's not the best horror out there but it's pretty good considering the heavy handed Spielberg influence.

Video

Presented in the film's original theatrical ratio of 2.35:1 this anamorphic transfer has been given a clean up, this new transfer has been restored and the result is terrific. The overall image is sharp and clean, I couldn't spot a single speck of dirt throughout the entire film. Some of the effects shots appear a bit soft but that that has more to do with the optical compositing than anything else. The colors are nice and rich and skin tones appear natural, black levels are spot on and shadow detail remains consistently good throughout. There's very minor grain and I spotted no compression related problems or edge-enhancement.

Audio

Four audio tracks are included in English Dolby Digital 5.1, English Dolby Digital 2.0 surround, French Dolby Digital 2.0 surround and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 surround. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its 5.1 soundtrack, while the dialogue was clear and distortion free, I felt that the range and depth of this track was lacking. Up-mixed from its 2.0 surround track this 5.1 feels weak and tin-like with its effects. The surround channels are mainly used for some directional sounds and horror effects and score. It's not the best 5.1 track so purists might like to stick with the original 2.0 surround track which is included here.
Optional subtitles are included in Chinese, English for the hearing impaired, French, Portuguese and Spanish.

Extras

The one and only feature on this disc is a 2-part documentary entitled "They Are Here: The Real World of Poltergeists" which runs for 31 minutes 2 seconds, this feature has nothing to do with the making of the film but instead focuses on ghost-hunters and looks into the phenomenon of Poltergeist, the science of which these spirits are studied and also looks at speaking with the other world. The feature includes key sequences from the film to help its point along and also includes some interviews. The two parts of the documentary are, Part 1 : "Science of the Spirits" and Part 2 : "Communing with the Dead".

Packaging

This DVD is packaged in an amaray case housed in a cardboard slip-case.

Overall

Aside from the brilliant transfer I felt that Warner Brothers dropped the ball with this release and missed a great opportunity to produce an edition that would celebrate the film's 25th Anniversary, I would have expected at least an audio commentary and a documentary on the making of the film but instead we're stuck with the lackluster feature on the real world of Poltergeists...

The Film: B Video: A Audio: B Extras: D- Overall: C-

 


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