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HALLOWEEN: POLTERGEIST

From the June 4, 1982, Deseret News

POLTERGEIST — Jobeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson, Beatrice Straight; co-produced and co-written by Steven Spielberg; rated PG (intensity, violence, profanity).

"Poltergeist" will scare the socks off of you. It will also make you laugh, and perhaps even give you second thoughts about the suburb you live in and the television you watch.

Despite directing credit given Tobe Hooper ("Texas Chainsaw Massacre," "The Fun House"), this is without question a Steven Spielberg film and it's also without question the best horror film in many, many years.

"Poltergeist" is what "Ghost Story" should have been. Next to this, "The Amityville Horror" looks like an ad for real estate.

Spielberg & Co. offer us a typical family of five, living in a new California housing tract.

Steve Freeling (Craig T. Nelson, whom you may recall as the nasty guard in "Stir Crazy") helped design and sell the homes in their tract, and while he's busy helping families move in, his wife Diane (Jobeth Williams, the lawyer Gene Wilder fell for in "Stir Crazy") stays home, raising their three children.

Though the first scene, with their young daughter (Heather O'Rourke) being mesmerized by something beyond the blank television screen, sets the tone for what is to come, we come to know the family through a series of comic scenes in the neighborhood.

Their TV football, minor squabbles with the people next door and quiet evenings of reading in bed are soon to come to a screeching halt when something in the house begins conjuring up frightening events. To give any of these away specifically would be to spoil half the fun, but as he did with "Jaws" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark," Spielberg gets us into a car on his own special roller coaster, then proceeds to work us into a frenzy — in this case a frenzy of fright.

And just when you think it's over, it winds up all over again for a second ending that is even more frightening than the first.

Along the way, Spielberg indicts television, the suburbs, America's plastic lifestyle and even manages to pay homage to his friend George Lucas (the kids sleep in "Star Wars" blankets) and upcoming projects (Spielberg is scheduled to remake "A Guy Named Joe," and a scene from the old film crops up here).

The title, "Poltergeist," literally means "noisy ghost," and the film manages to build suspense in the Spielberg tradition without resorting to gore. (There is one scene that looks like it's headed that way, but it's an illusion that is over as quickly as it begins.)

By using an unknown cast and some very appealing children, the filmmakers have us in the palms of their hands. These people really could live next door in Sandy or Murray or West Jordan. The cast, by the way, is uniformly excellent, including the children.

The PG rating should be a warning to parents that younger children would be scared out of their skulls (Spielberg himself says he didn't intend the film for the "under-12" age group).

There is no real violence or extreme profanity, no sex or nudity — but "Poltergeist" is one of the most intense films you'll ever see. (There is one moment, with the "typical" couple lighting up a joint, that is unnecessary — and for a minute I wondered if this was a sign that it was perhaps not middle America at all; Spielberg's friends must not be less "middle" than mine.)

Loaded with special effects and some of Spielberg's favorite tricks (great blasts of light, terror-filled closets, toys that seem to have lives of their own) and a working sense of humor throughout, "Poltergeist" is welcome relief to horror film fans (myself included) who enjoy being scared but not nauseated.

Aside from the wonderfully terrifying evening of fun it provides, it should also point up to "splatter" film makers that scares can be had without blood ‘n guts.