This entry is part 2 of 12 in the series Hallowe'en Horror Week

Released: 1982
Director: Tobe Hooper

Starring: JoBeth Williams, Heather O’Rourke, Craig T Nelson


They’re heeeeeere …. cute kids and irritating adults – must be Spielberg

I seem to have started something of a family outcry with my recent confession that I’m not seen that many horror films.  My husband is pretty appalled and keeps asking which films I’ve seen.  Or not seen as the case may be.  Many of the films he’s mentioned I have actually seen, but only once and not recently.  Then he said “But you must have seen Poltergeist?  I saw that (illegally) when I was about ten!”  I thought for a moment and realised that nope, I hadn’t actually seen this particular film – I wasn’t totally ignorant about it.  I recognised the imagery of the angelic little girl at the TV screen, knew the cry “They’re heeeeeere” and had heard of the rumoured curse which surrounded the untimely deaths of several people involved with the production of the Poltergeist films.  It has become my husband’s goal to educate me in the delights of the screen horror – starting with Poltergeist.

The Freeling family live a perfectly normal and happy life in a new Californian suburb.  Their idyll is destroyed when a host of poltergeists invade their home and kidnap five year-old Carol Anne.  In desperation they turn to a team of parapsychologists and a spiritual medium Tangina Barrons to rid their home of the evil spirits and rescue Carol Anne.  The attempts to exorcise the demons are made harder by the supernatural occurrences taking place including spinning furniture, the appearance of ghostly figures and strange phenomena affecting the investigators themselves.

Poltergeist was one of the first films created by Steven Spielberg and there’s some recognisable early 80s touches.  The cute little girl (almost played by Drew Barrymore) is present and the story centres on ordinary people who are faced with extraordinary circumstances.  Being the story of evil ghosts causing untold terror is isn’t however as optimistic and sentimental as some of Spielberg’s other work.  Including one film he directed that also came out in 1982, this one actually featuring Drew Barrymore.

Five year old Heather O’Rourke as Carol Anne, the little girl that the ghosts connect with, is very good.  Her performance outshines all of the adult actors in the film and it was a real loss to cinema that she died when she was only 12.  Craig T Nelson as the father of the family is also impressive, particularly after the abduction of Carol Anne when his haunted appearance is just right.  Other performers are not as good.  It takes a special talent to be over the top, wooden and irritating all at the same time.  There’s several people in Poltergeist who make the grade.

The adult characters are intensely annoying.  I took a particular dislike to the pot-smoking, idiotic mother played by JoBeth Williams.  Her teenage daughter is being sexually harassed by middle-aged workmen – she laughs.  Poltergeists are moving objects around the kitchen so she pops a helmet on her little girl and watches the ghosts use her as a plaything.  I’m not the mother of a teenage daughter nor has my kitchen been invaded by malevolent spirits, so I don’t speak from experience but these do not seem like logical reactions.  She’s a moron and I had no sympathy for her whatsoever.  The reaction of the parapsychologists also worried me.  They were either very bad at their jobs or scamsters given how scared they were at a couple of rotating beds and a flying protractor.

The scares were quite effective, particularly the creepy tree which stole a child.  I’ve said it before in my review of Hollow, trees with weird branches are ultra-scary and should be used by any film-maker who wants to give me the heebie-jeebies.  The first appearance of the ghosts from the television and the scene where a character appears to rip off his own face are both good and had me peeping out from behind my fingers.

Poltergeist is an effective enough scary movie with an appealing child star but is let down by the thoroughly unappealing adults.  It did cause me to squeal a couple of times and hide behind a cushion once or twice but I’m still waiting for those moments of genuine terror.  I think my husband may have his work cut out for him.

Previous and next posts in this series:<< The Collected Short Stories of Roald DahlThe Lost Boys >>
If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the RSS feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.


  1. Excellent review Louise. I’ve always enjoyed this one partly because I love haunted house films but I also think it is a very well made supernatural thriller.

    What also interests me is the amount of time Steven Spielberg’s name is mentioned in this review compared with director Tobe Hooper. I think, if I read correctly, Hooper’s name is never actually mentioned in the main body text while Spielberg is mentioned three times. Even though Hooper’s name is under the director’s credit this has always felt like a Spielberg film to me (hence why I wrote this article: http://www.top10films.co.uk/archives/3283)

    • Thanks, you’re right about how little credit Tobe Hooper gets for Poltergeist. I suppose when there’s someone as famous and as visionary as Spielberg involved everyone else gets forgotten. And Hooper isn’t really a big name. Other than this and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre I don’t think he’s done anything terribly memorable.

  2. Louise, this is one hell of a review. I laughed, I nodded, I said “yup” and “I know” and “wow, I didn’t know Drew Barrymore was going to play that part, lucky her”. Man, you were on it! Did you know that the skeletons featured in the pool scene were real? Crazy stuff. I saw it on a documentary. Maybe that has something to do with the curse of the movies??? I don’t know. Anyway, GREAT review!!

    • Thanks – I had heard that the bodies were real, but wasn’t sure. How spooky…. and frankly unnecessary.

Speak Your Mind